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Why Moving in Together is Not Like Test-Driving a Car

This morning, Liz discussed how for some of us, moving in together is easy. Now, Emily is here to talk about how for others of us, moving in together can be damn hard. And you know what, no matter what camp you fall in (or maybe you fall in both camps on different days) you’re doing just fine. I also love that these posts explore moving in together both before and after marriage (because yes, both are totally valid options). Let’s do it.

“So how is living together going?!” My cousin is standing over the stove, working on dinner with beautiful photos of her recent wedding over her head. I’m sitting at the table, thankful that her back is turned to me, staring down at the napkin I’m twisting ever tighter in my lap.

“Okay.” I say tersely. I’m going for nonchalant, but I’m clearly unable to remove the anxiety from my voice. I’m definitely surprised when she starts laughing at me.

“Sounds about right.” She says sagely with a grin.

C and I met on a crowded metro platform at rush hour, and I was in love with him by the time I stepped off the train. We’d been dating for a year and a half when our leases simultaneously came up for renewal. We’d been living together for about three months as I sat with my cousin in her kitchen. I was losing my mind. Just the sound of C’s voice from the basement where he was playing video games with my cousin’s husband was setting my teeth on edge and prickling the hairs on my arms.

I was totally against living together before becoming engaged. I just wasn’t willing to put myself out there like that, especially when I was so sure about C. His desire to live together first made me feel like he wasn’t sure about me. Like he wanted to test-drive me, and I did not want to go back to the dealer, dammit. But I accommodated him, telling myself that the children of ugly divorces deserve a little extra patience. I’m so glad I did.

One of the hardest parts of moving in together is that it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s a very public move towards commitment, and it’s hard not to feel like everyone is looking at you, scrutinizing your relationship and betting on whether you’ll make it. Subsequently, you start scrutinizing your relationship with a truly unfair magnifying glass. “He doesn’t fold his socks! He’s not responsible! He doesn’t love me! We’re doomed!!!!” Those are just the silly arguments—you also can’t avoid all of the real, gritty and emotional stuff that you used to be able to walk away from. You actually have to sit there and watch the reactions of someone you love while they find out everything about you—like the fact that you don’t share the remote. Ever.

In the first six months we yelled and fought so much, I couldn’t believe we were still finding things to fight about. I thought about moving out constantly, dreaming of a place of my own. I could barely face our friends and family knowing that I had miscalculated our relationship so badly.

And then it stopped. I remember lying on my back on our bedroom floor, tears running down my face. C was sitting on the edge of the bed with his face in his hands. He dropped to the ground and wrapped his arms around me, and we decided, out loud, that we loved each other and wanted to be together, even if it meant fighting like this all the time.

It was exactly what I needed to hear. I’d been on the defensive from the moment we signed the lease because I felt like I was being tested. I’m still not sure why that caused me to act like the most horrible version of myself, but it did. Once I knew that fighting was okay, I suddenly didn’t need to anymore. It was a moment of profound transformation where we went from being a couple in love to being a team.

That’s what my cousin was laughing about in her kitchen three months earlier. Moving in together is not just about the merging of the stuff and convincing C to put the toilet seat down, though that part is really challenging too. It’s hard. And fighting (or discussing, if you’re lucky enough to be a calm couple) about everything from the way the covers should be tucked to what it means to treat your partner respectfully is part of the deal. She knew we were ready to kill each other because she’d been there, just like lots of couples have. I remember how relieved I felt to hear that—we were normal. We could make it!

I used to believe that having a piece of paper and some rings would keep us safe from those horrible fights. I thought that if we were already married I wouldn’t be terrified of C finding out how selfish and mean I can be. The truth is that relationships are never “safe.” Even if you are married, your partner can leave or die or change their heart. Some of the strongest couples we know aren’t even able to get that stupid piece of paper! What did I think it was going to save me from?

For us, living together was a crucial step towards trusting each other and more importantly, accepting ourselves. Looking back, I think those are the two most important things a couple can have to protect them from losing each other. As we plan our wedding, we find new, creative (and most of the time, beyond silly) things to fight about, I’m so thankful for the things I’ve learned by living together. We’re already a team, and trusting that C won’t leave me, even if I can’t make an evenly spaced bunting garland, is so reassuring. I don’t think that every couple builds trust this way, and I hope most people considering cohabitating aren’t as insecure as I was, but if you are, remember that fighting is okay. It is just part of the journey, and one day, you’ll laugh about it.

Photo: Emily’s personal collection

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