You have to admire the optimism of couples who move in with each other early on. It takes incredible faith, or a naÃ¯ve recklessness of heart, to assume all will go well when you don’t really know each other. So much can go wrong. And the logistics involve manual labour! Couch carrying and box packing should be enough to put off even the most hard-core of romantics. And yet I know couples who have moved in together after only two weeks of dating. That’s barely long enough for the sheets to have been changed from their first date.
Is it a Germanic need for efficiency and speed? Living together lets you know pretty quickly whether or not the relationship can work. So maybe those whirlwinders just don’t want to waste any time in their quest for a growing-old-together buddy. They want to find out, sooner rather than later, if they are really compatible. Moving in together is the real speed-dating.
And, it seems to me, that gay guys are much more likely to do it than our straight compatriots. Why do so many gay couples move in so quickly? Is it that we feel the need to prove to ourselves that we take relationships seriously? Are we lonelier? Or just more impulsive? Are our friends so enchanted with the idea of a Big Gay Wedding that they don’t step up and try to stop us when they think it’s a bad idea?
Who says that moving in together should be the logical next step in a relationship? There is an unspoken and largely unquestioned rule that states: relationships follow a predetermined path from the first symbolic handing over of a key, to leaving a toothbrush at his place, to moving in, getting a cat, getting married and adopting 2.3 little girls. (We could call them the “adult bases”, to mirror the more infamous high school versions involving exciting things like hand jobs, kisses and ‘gropage’).
Why do we feel the need for all our relationships to conform to this path? It makes them so bland and generic – like our actual partners are just filling in the role of “partner” in the inherited script of our lives. What if it’s not a question of inevitable progression, but rather of personality types? Some guys need more space than others, and will always find the idea of sharing a home a little uncomfortable.
“Great romance should survive closeness, and flourish. But it requires both of you to be strong, to fight the laziness that comes from how comfortable you are…”
I have a friend who has recently decided to stop living with his boyfriend, after five years in the same flat. They are not breaking up, but they feel like living together may make them hate each other. There is no magic left, there is no romance. Living together has amplified what annoys them about each other, and now they irritate each other more than anything. But because they also love one another, they want to salvage what they can of their relationship by giving themselves space. Absence, as the old saying goes, makes the heart grow fonder.
And I have had my fingers burnt badly too. I lived with a boyfriend for two years at varsity, and felt the relationship drift from all-consuming obsession to brotherly love. We enjoyed each other’s company so much that we never left one another’s side. And all of a sudden nothing was special anymore. We bickered. We snapped at each other. We were, after all, flatmates. And flatmates don’t always do the dishes, or remember to take out the rubbish. Routine eventually drowned out the butterflies. And in the end, he had an affair and we broke up. We continued to live together as friends, which I realised was incredibly stupid as I lay in the spare room imagining their sex on the other side of the wall.
So it’s no surprise that I have a fairly strong fear of losing my independence again.
The decision on whether or not to live together is a war between love and claustrophobia. There are prosaic details to consider, like living expenses and cupboard space, but essentially it’s an emotional decision. Those who have had bad experiences, or who simply require a lot of space as people, will have Man-Size portions of the claustrophobia. So agreeing to keep the space they need can help, whether it’s a spare bedroom or a night out apart every week. Knowing the space is there, they probably won’t even need or use it, and the good guys win.
And living together can be fantastic. It means you get to wake up with the person you adore every morning. You grow to love them more as you learn their little idiosyncrasies and hidden habits. And of course you see their imperfections and their blemishes. They can no longer decide not to call you for a few days if they’re feeling down. They cannot pull a Facebook and filter your experience of them, because they have nowhere else to go and nowhere to hide. But those vulnerabilities, if you are right for one another, should make your love more real, more specific, and more tangible.
Great romance should survive closeness, and flourish. But it requires both of you to be strong, to fight the laziness that comes from how comfortable you are. Complacency suffocates any spontaneity or spark. The greatest trap of living together is thinking that because you spend all your time together, you don’t need to spend any quality time together. Vegging in front of the TV together is not the same as sitting down together with some wine and talking. The one is co-existing, the other is companionship. And happily-ever-afters are stories of companionship.
So I don’t think moving in together is a question of timing. There are no templates or checkboxes to fill. Each relationship is as unique as the people in it. And making it work requires understanding how much closeness the two of you want, and exactly what each of you needs in order to balance the love you feel with the claustrophobic need for independence.
Don’t do it because it’s expected, or because it’s the next base, or because you think it proves something to yourself or to anyone else. And definitely don’t do it in the throes of infatuation, when you are blinded to the things that will irritate you in close proximity. But if you simply want to spend most of your time with the person you love, it’ll be an adventure. Whether you’re ready to go on the adventure with your partner is a feeling in your gut, not a date in the calendar. And a little faith never did anyone any harm.