Confession: Cohabitation Is No Honeymoon

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.


  1. It is hilarious how much this article duplicates my life right now…I’m completing my second year of college, an only child, and my bf and I are about to spend the coming summer sharing a room in the house I’m renting with my friends. We say to each other on a DAILY basis, “I can’t wait for summer!” There is no doubt about it- we are dreaming of an idyllic summer of cooking meals together, long walks in the evening, and floating lazily down the river which runs through campus. Our cohabitation will last for a short 3 months until he goes back to a separate college, but I feel after reading this article, I’m a bit more prepared for the random little disagreements (I hope!) …we’ve already had our own version of the egg boiling debate- Spray butter- better for you than regular butter, or a man-made sad excuse for flavor? …we’ve agreed to disagree, but the playful nagging still happens every time he pulls the damn spray butter out of the fridge. Here goes, off into the uncharted territory of cohabitation….and the challenge of fitting two people in a twin sized bed for the summer!

  2. I actually didn’t have that much trouble when I moved in with my boyfriend (now husband). We pretty much had the same view point and what we didn’t we made sure we talked about it almost immediately, calmly and rationally. I have to admit that I am entirely anal about the laundry. How it’s washed, folded and how it’s put away in the drawers, but I HATE to do the dishes. So we decided at the very beginning as long as he would do dishes, I’d wash the laundry every time. So far it hasn’t been a big deal. We have our issues, arguments and fights, but we deal with them and move on. That’s what all couples do isn’t it?

  3. After my first (and only) cohabiting boyfriend and I broke up, I cringed in shame at the memory of a no-holds-barred fight we had, instigated by me, about….the proper way to wash dishes. He likes to rinse the dishes in a sink filled with water. I hate to see ‘dirty’ water slopping over my clean dishes. Luckily for me our relationship survived two more years, and we never argued about dishwashing again.

  4. This is so funny—I am in almost exactly this situation. Only child, made it through 2 years of college, about to start on my third, and I just moved in with my bf of a year and a half.

    We haven’t had too much of a rough start…I have noticed that he is mystified about some of the things I do (a fan must be on in the room if I am in it for an extended period), just as I don’t understand the point of making the bed exactly 30 seconds before you get into it to sleep and leave it undone for the rest of the day.

    I’d say the biggest lesson I’ve learned is communication. We HAVE TO talk about it. Not necessarily in the heat of the moment, but you can’t sweep important issues under the rug and let them fester. You have to be open and honest but also careful to take the other persons feelings into account.

    I can’t wait to keep learning and moving forward 🙂 It’s not easy, but I wouldn’t trade my time with him for anything.

  5. oh man…a studio? that was your first mistake! always always always go for the one bedroom – then you can escape each other at least a little! 🙂

  6. ^If you and your GF both feel that way, Philipp, you’ve got a great thing going. The problems start when only one partner feels that way, but the other feels entitled to act like an asshole if his or her preferences are unfulfilled.

  7. Jonny got the most important piece right. I can never understand why these issues can be problematic (and, yes, I do live with my GF since quite some time), because there is always a very simple solution: Don’t like the way I do something? Do it yourself! Not only I do it like this, my GF has the same approach.

    As long as this is not abused (say, one partner tries to do everything as terrible as possible to the end that he/she is not responsible for anything anymore), it’s the most natural solution for everybody. It also has a very nice sideeffect: since naturally the partner with the stronger opinion on useless subtleties has to do more work him/herself, it will ultimately lead to that partner getting more and more relaxed over time.

  8. Co-habitation is a bit of a pain in the ass. I’m very independent, don’t like being told what to do (let alone nagged), and prefer to make decisions unilaterally.

    My biggest problem is, I feel that if you’re particular about something, you should take care of it yourself. Don’t like how I hang my pants? Fine, YOU hang my pants. That’s ok with me. But don’t watch over my shoulder and tell me how I should be hanging pants.

    Some people don’t feel that way, and think it’s ok to enforce their obsessisions on others. Drives me nuts.

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