What can you do?
by Bianca Smith
My boyfriend and I decided we were ready to move in with each other just before our one-year anniversary. A big step, sure, but we felt ready.
This would be my first go at living with a significant other. We were living on opposite ends of the city and had been spending days at a time at each others’ places, slowly and respectfully planting clothing and dental care and knick-nacks. I said farewell to my roommate of a few years and he said goodbye to a cozy, collectible-lover’s dream apartment—a garden unit nestled below a street called Sunnyside.
It’s not that I didn’t notice his pile of dishes in the sink, or the outfits abandon strewn across various surfaces in his room.
No need to mind them.
Let me be clear before we go any further here: My living quarters weren’t spotless, either. My sweet nugget of a cat, Pearl, loved to leave a trail of white fur wherever she went. (I have tried all the gadgets—it just seems to sew itself into the fabric before I could even whip out a lint-roller.) I didn’t rinse the dishes before throwing them into the washer. Notoriously, I’d leave scissors open (and in questionable places, like the ground) after opening up a package.
I wonder if I sound daft in saying I wasn’t actively thinking of this step for what it really is.
When you move in with your significant other, you become roommates. Duh, right? At the center of this situation, past the bells and whistles—sex and romance and love—are two people who have to figure out who the fuck is in charge of doing the dishes next.
Somehow I didn’t realize this when we made the decision.
In hindsight, I wish there was some hierarchical framework that could illustrate the nuance of this living situation, a lá Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. In the top tiers of the Significant-Other-And-Roommate Hierarchy of Needs, you’d be nurturing “the self” and “the relationship.” This includes taking care of yourself as an individual however you deem fit—personal space, care, and the like. The relationship tier holds most of what I thought was all we needed for our cohabitation to work—clear communication, empathy, intimacy. All that fun stuff.
The bottom tier, the foundation, is “the roommate” level. You’d find things like “chores” and “shared versus individual spaces.” It’s where we’d delineate ownership of certain objects, who gets which seat of the couch when, and so on.
If you live with your significant other, can you be happy and be a good partner if you aren’t good roommates to each other?
I suppose I assumed this foundation’s concrete was fully set from the jump. But how could it be? I have had a handful of unsuccessful roommate situations in the past. And if we’re being honest, the blame for their faults mostly sits on my shoulders. One of the success stories was the year I roomed with my sister—but we had almost two decades of time spent to understand how to live together.
The significant-other-as-roommate tightrope walk was (rather, is) never explained to me outright. Never modeled in a healthy way. I bet there’re movies out there that show said tightrope walk in a raw, honest way. If they do exist, though, I haven’t seen them.
Now, I know it’s a walk that’s riddled with the same challenges as roommates’ past and the new ones of relationships’ future.
I regret to inform you that this story has no resolution, as I plan to cohabitate with my boyfriend…well, forever. But, there are silver linings. We’ve come to (mostly) adore each others’ roommate quirks. We’ve established solid ways to poke each other about chores—and we even take turns.
We make sure that while caring for that roommate foundation, we still view each other as more-than. Rinse and repeat. Quite like doing those pesky dishes.
Bianca is a writer and strategist from Chicago. She helps run a digital community called Distant, spends too much time cuddling her two cats Pearl & Norman, and refuses to acknowledge that pasta sauce can also be called gravy. You can find more of her work at www.biancapsmith.com and you can find her on Instagram at @biancapsmith and @distant.community.