A Surprising Thing I Learned After Moving in Together

We couldn't have done it without you, IKEA.

I used to think those people who sat alone at Starbucks writing on their laptops were pretentious posers. Now I know: They are people who have recently moved in with someone.

                                                                        – Carrie Bradshaw, Sex and the City 

A week before Tom and I moved in together, my friend Erica called.

“So how excited are you?”

I was excited, but also anxious, mostly about the logistics of the move itself. Would Chinese Mover come on time? No. Would our cheap furniture remain intact during the move? Yes.

But I hadn’t really thought about the harder question: how well would we actually live together?My parents, contrary to what people might assume about fairly conservative Asian parents, have long been in favor of a couple living together before marriage. My cousins did, my brother did, and now I am. Though I don’t think my parents did – their parents would not have approved.

I thought my parents progressive and reasonable. When I asked my father why he was okay when many of my friends’ parents said “no” and “never”, he said, “Well, when you live with someone, you really get to know them.”

My dad essentially saw living with someone before marriage as a sort of trial to see if they were life-partner material. If it didn’t work out, you moved out, started over. No vows exchanged.

When we were first discussing moving in together, I brought up my dad’s point to Tom.

“I can see where he’s coming from,” Tom said, “But if you need to live with someone to figure out if they’re really right for you, then you probably have bigger issues.”

“That makes sense too,” I said. I had never thought of it that way.

Neither my parents nor Tom are wrong; every couple is different. Some people learn after moving in that their significant other is significantly other in the way they live or want to live; incompatible after all. Some people find that everything they learned about the person before moving in remained the same, and that the biggest changes came from themselves.

I thought I was a neat freak, but it turns out I can deal with a bit of mess…just not for too long. Tom probably didn’t know I was as big a stickler for recycling and turning off the lights as I am, so now he recycles and I let him leave the lights on in broad daylight. I still think it’s stupid. I eat more bacon than ever; he eats about a handful more vegetables per week than he used to.

After more serious arguments, we both benefit from never going to bed angry, as there is just one bed.

And the biggest surprise of all?

I felt more independent from Tom after we moved in together.

Not that I depended on him in any immoderate way, but I struggled with wanting our relationship to grow while allowing both him and myself to maintain other ties. Because I wanted to see him, I was more likely to try and plan things to a T (sometimes to Tom’s more schedule-free spirit’s ire). This meant a lot of schedule shuffling, leaving early from Tom-less gatherings I was otherwise enjoying just so I could talk to Tom before the night was over. There were hundreds of foot-tapping impatient subway rides and, on Tom’s part, a considerable amount spent on late night Ubers that picked me up from the Upper West Side, where I was invariably getting ready for bed just as Tom was getting home from happy hours gone long, to south Hell’s Kitchen, where he lived at the time.

Our relationship progressed in the same way many modern relationships do – eventually we did spend every night together – either at his place or mine – and comforting as it was to know we both welcomed it, the expectation became cumbersome in its own way.

They say you shouldn’t want to move in with someone to save money, and that was neither of our top concerns, though one evening a keen, elderly Uber driver pointed out it would be a welcome side-effect of cohabitation.

“How long you been dating?”

“A little over a year,” I said.

“Then maybe you should move in together soon,” he said, nodding wisely at me in the rearview mirror, “I see young couples like you spending so much money on this Uber. It is very expensive!”

And then he asked if I was from Kazakhstan, but that’s neither here nor there.

But of increased independence, my friend Erica put it this way: “After we moved in together, it was so much easier if we wanted to do our own thing after work sometimes or wanted to hang out with other people, because we were guaranteed time together at the end of the day.”

And it was true for us too. A week after we moved in together, Tom took one last ten-day business trip to London before starting a new job. We chatted a bit every day, but I didn’t worry about whether either of us would make time to spend together when he returned. Instead, I relished the time I had to myself in our new apartment, doing all the things I used to do when I lived alone in my studio – mostly, eat potato chips and ice cream at the kitchen sink while reading fashion magazines in my underwear. I realized this new rarity was something to be cherished, like finding my younger self in an old diary.

When Tom returned I was happy to shelve those old habits for another time and focus on our time together, which though “guaranteed,” was no less welcome.

Also: Why I Chose to Live in Sin (And So Should You!) and Interesting Reads about Moving in Together

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