Moving in with a romantic partner is one of the last rites of passage on the way to adulthood—saying "I love you" and getting idyllically drunk on a fire escape while the sun sets is cute, but sharing a bathroom and bills is real. Once you move in with someone you're announcing to the world that you're settling down to a degree, entering a phase of life where marriage and children and growing old are all shit that could happen to you, possibly in the near future.
I've never lived with a significant other, but a few weeks ago my girlfriend and I took care of a cohabitating couple's dog, which was real enough for me, thank you very much. But the experience made me wonder: What the hell is it like to move in with someone for the first time? How do you change as a person? How do you force the other person to change? What happens when you want to masturbate?
I have no idea, so I reached out to a bunch of coupled people of various ages and sexual orientations and asked them to remember what it was like when they first moved in with their partners. Here are their answers, which I've kept anonymous in the name of preserving domestic harmony.
What changed when you first moved in together?
"I stay in a lot more. It's weird: When you live alone, there's nothing more pathetic than spending a Saturday night eating takeout and watching Netflix in your underwear. But when you live with your significant other, that's a very legitimate (and very enjoyable!) way to spend the weekend. It feels like you're "doing something" even when you're doing nothing, simply because there's someone else there with you. The other big change was that I became more conscious about sweeping up my hair. I shed a lot and I never noticed it until my boyfriend and I moved in together, and he'd be like, 'WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS HAIR TUMBLEWEED IN THE BATHROOM?'"
"I probably don't eat as much shit food as I used to."
"My masturbation routine was definitely affected. That was a big one, definitely a huge change. As much as I love my wife, I wanted something special that she couldn't take away from me. I wanted to have sex as much as possible, too, but I still wanted me time. I couldn't blast out in the open so I'd try to hide it by going to town while she was shitting or showering. I started putting a lock on my phone; I started using private browsing. I became a masturbation ninja."
"A peak in previously inconceivable pet peeves."
"I have absolutely forgotten how to cook for myself. My girlfriend is from Haiti and is an incredible Haitian chef. Cooking incredible and healthy meals is not just fun for her, it's also easy. So frustrating! It works out because she gets such joy from cooking. But I still need to brush up on my meal-planning skills since she's starting school this fall."
When did it feel real?
"It was very early on in the living arrangement. I got home from work one evening and my girlfriend, who was working from home at the time, greeted me a long hug: The sort of hug where neither person says anything for a minute, but the feeling is mutual. It was an otherwise unremarkable moment, just two people hugging, but at that moment it went off in my head, like, Wow, yeah, I am definitely living with this person."
"You go to bed together and wake up together and you're there when things are at their messiest and saddest."
"Definitely the first time I had to run the faucet while pooing to muffle the bathroom acoustics so he wouldn't hear me shit. Our bathroom is not that far from our bed."
"One time I left the apartment while she was watching a movie on the couch. When I got home, she had gone through my shit. If I was living alone, she wouldn't have gone through my stuff. Suddenly everything that was mine was hers—my weird baggage, my ex-girlfriend nostalgic stuff. I was like, Holy shit why would you do this? but then it was like, Right, we live together; it's our stuff, our computer."
"His mom died unexpectedly a couple months after we moved in together. I remember sitting on the floor with him after he got the call. He's a fairly big guy who usually errs on the side of stoic, but he was just kind of crumpled and crying. I'd dated other people who had big, bad losses while we were together, but you get the next-day, sanitized version when you don't live together. If we didn't live together, it would have been hard to picture him crying on the ground. That was probably the first time I realized what it is to live with someone—you go to bed together and wake up together and you're there when things are at their messiest and saddest."
Did either of you have to change to fit the other one?
"He was a marathon runner and an alcoholic, so I started to run and drink a lot more. I love cats so we adopted one. When I threatened to break up with him for being a sloppy, disgusting, drunken mess, he let me get a kitten. We stayed together another year after that. He's still an alcoholic, but no longer runs. I now run and have two cats."
"I felt like I suddenly had to be accountable of my time. I don't really care about what other people say: There's something wrong about coming home super fucked-up on drugs and alcohol while your partner isn't. It's a bad move. If we're fucked-up together it's fine, but not by myself. I stopped going out as much and partying as much, unless it was with her."
"I go to bed earlier now. I used to sleep five hours a night, starting around 2 or 3 AM, but he sleeps so much more and gets in bed around midnight. My sleeping habits were kind of stupid, anyway, so I adapted to his. Now I just wake up earlier than him, do some things on my own, and then start making noise in the apartment after a couple hours so that he'll 'wake up naturally.' He knows what I'm doing, but we pretend the noises aren't intentional."
How has your masturbation routine and sex life changed?
"I don't think either of ours have! I rarely masturbate, and he masturbates like every morning, and neither of those things have changed as a result of living together. He just wakes up hard and then masturbates before he gets up. I'm always like, 'I don't have time for this shit,' and then I go brush my teeth or get ready. We're sometimes disgustingly comfortable around each other."
"I miss being able to be bummed out and be openly bummed out without it turning into a conversation."
"The level of sneakiness jumped tenfold for me. She knew I was beating off most of the time even though I thought I was soooo clever about it. We had more sex before we lived together... :("
"We are both on antidepressants so neither of us have super high sex drives, but he seems to be able to find time to jerk off. I rarely feel motivated to, but when I do it's usually when I'm drunk and awake and he's asleep. We still don't have sex super often, but it's easier now that we live together since we share the same bed every night."
What do you miss most about living alone?
"I miss being able to be bummed out and be openly bummed out without it turning into a conversation. If I'm sad or pissed off and I'm at home, it's going to be a conversation because she'll wonder what's wrong. I have no privacy of emotions. I miss that and don't have that any more. Now it's all in my head and I have to choose if I share those feelings with other people. I think I used to spend more time at home when I was living alone. You don't need to be in your head; I could be thrashing around my room, all pissed off."
"What I miss most about living by myself after sharing a space with a partner is the level of acceptable muteness that you can indulge in after a full day of jabbering."
"There was a time when I didn't have to explain things to anyone. No one was wondering why I felt compelled to stay up until 3 AM, making something or being out late after work. There's a mental tax you pay when you live with someone who has every right to be curious about what you're up to. No single question is unreasonable, but the total volume of questions feels heavy."
"Whenever I'm home, I always feel safe, able to be my full self, and truly home. She is my home."
"The worst part—and I want to word this carefully—about moving in with your partner is that you can't undo that change to your relationship. I am very, very in love with my boyfriend and happy to be with him, and I don't expect that we'll break up—but then again, what if we did? You can't really 'turn back' after moving in with someone. I don't spend very much time thinking about my relationship future (marriage, family life, whatever) but I guess, since we live together, that's really the only direction to go in."
What's the best part about living with your partner?
"One of the best parts is that we have a queer home. It's us and two awesome queer roommates (we are the only couple). I've never been able to afford to live by myself and have struggled with terrible sublets for years. Our home feels like a refuge from all the bullshit in the world: the stares and harassment we constantly get as an interracial, butch-femme couple; misogynist and homophobic harassment we each get on our own; and the regular bullshit the comes with living in the city: delayed trains, horrible commutes, whatever. So whenever I'm home, I always feel safe, able to be my full self, and truly home. She is my home."
"The small things and the big things would be harder and worse without him."
"The real benefit of living together is metaphysical. It's about what that change does to your relationship. You become more like each others' family rather than each others' sex companion; your well-being becomes more inseparable from the other person's well-being."
"If I had to choose one thing I appreciate most, I find that when I'm living alone a lot of stuff I do at home might not have happened. It goes out into the ether or it's all in my head. My home life is now a part of the broad story of the relationship. Because of that, the things I do at home have meaning. If I want to listen to music at home, it has meaning in our relationship and both of our lives. It's like if a tree falls in the forest... kind of vibe. If I did something by myself then it might as well not have happened. Living with a partner is easily the best thing I've ever done. It has made my life better in every possible way... But I fucking hate that she never refills the ice tray. It's not that hard. Jesus."
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