Our contributor Chloë Browne, who’s pursuing an Honors Major in Gender and Sexuality Studies at at Swarthmore College, has a confession to make:
About a month ago, tethered to my parents’ couch by a recent wisdom tooth surgery, I found myself in pursuit of life advice from my technological bestie, Google. I was about to move in with my boyfriend, and — perhaps unsurprisingly — was rather underwhelmed by Google’s offerings in response to my query for “Advice for New Cohabitants.” I rolled my eyes through pages and pages of bulleted lists that advised me to “talk about expectations before move-in,” “share household duties” and “be prepared to see a less alluring side of your partner.”
Ugh! Of course I, a progressive and responsible young person, have already done all of of these things. Of course we’re starting on equal footing! Of course we’re sharing household duties! Of course my partner will not picture me as some delicate porcelain goddess who never farts, shaves, or plucks. Stupid lists, you underestimate me! I am together! I am a feminist! I have modern relationship ideals! I’ve totally got this!”
Back then I would have scoffed at the idea that a measly month later I would actually be compiling such a list. But here I am. Needless to say, my expectations of a seamless transition into egalitarian and paradisaical cohabitation were perhaps a smidge far-fetched. Some background: I’m an only child who has managed to get through two years of college with a roommate and maintain my sense of autonomous personal domain. I got to school and, to my delight, found that my roommate had approximately the same approach to organization and storage that I did. That is to say, she didn’t have one. We stayed out of each other’s hair and out of each other’s mess and coasted, individual dens of comfort intact.
A few weeks ago, though, things changed. Dramatically. I became a real-life, space-sharing, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed first-time romantic cohabitant. I moved into a cozy studio apartment with my wonderful boyfriend, planning to spend the next few months in shacked-up bliss before I return to school and he embarks on his first post-grad year. All semester, through the grind of all-nighters, the anxiety of anticipating the next year’s changes, and the horrendous sprint to the finish called finals week, we clung to one refrain: “I can’t wait for the summer.” We had envisioned some sort of effortless state of perpetual bliss, an existence suspended in a euphoric and extended game of playing house. Whoops.
The experience of sleeping, commuting, grocery shopping, cooking, and just plain coexisting with my best buddy has been incredible, but effortless and wholly euphoric it is not. The past few weeks have been an education on a steep learning curve, an exercise in negotiation, compromise, and flexibility. Although my experience has been brief thus far, such close quarters breed ample learning opportunities, and, despite the fact that I’m still a 101 level student, I feel like I’m sussing out a few addenda to the aforementioned bullet points.
Turns out it’s not the big things that were the trickiest to handle. Those felt fairly intuitive. I anticipated them, thought them over, and had a battle plan. We discussed swapping responsibility for cooking and cleaning every other night, were ready to tackle bashful bladder, and prepared to get caught mid-mortifying tweezer routines. It’s the little things that I didn’t think to anticipate that really caught me off guard. Like the all-important revelation that there are, apparently, at least two appropriate temperatures at which to cook an egg, two methods of hanging up pants, two conceptions of what exactly constitutes a laundry night. I was even less prepared for the unexplained tightening in my chest that occurred as I watched an egg cooked at too high a temperature, as my pants hung unceremoniously by their hems, or as I as I argued in favor of washing whites separately. What’s more, it turns out that the unequivocating argument “But I’ve always done it this way!” does not a home-run point make. Who knew?
Of course, a thousand stupid sitcom jokes about which way to hang the toilet paper should have prepared me for this. But I was naive. I knew we wouldn’t fight about the actual toilet roll. What I didn’t realize is that the figurative “toilet roll” is just a stand-in term for whatever inane household decision you will fight about. And you will.
So the past few weeks have been much more intentional-balancing-act than stress-free-hooneymoon — but I wouldn’t trade them in for the disconnected euphoria that honeymoons promise. I’m coming to realize that we didn’t shack up to “get away from it all”; we’re living together to build the “it” to which that very phrase refers. Each egg temperature negotiated, each post-laundry-tiff make-out stands as a small victory towards building a comfortable, integrated, and yet still independent life. Am I there yet? Not by any stretch of the imagination. I expect we won’t settle on the “right” way to hang up trousers for quite some time. I anticipate any number of chest-tightening, compulsion-inspiring moments of total, irrational frustration.
But I also know that despite, or, perhaps more likely, because of, those moments, I am feeling a baseline of happiness more thorough, sacharrine, and all around disgusting than I knew possible, sunny-side-up eggs be damned.