Even though our adult years should bring new levels of independence we often find ourselves sharing more of our space than ever before.
After flying the nest, few of us are fortunate enough to waltz straight into a home of our own. Instead we seek out shared spaces with friends, other halves or total strangers. That first experience of living with people who aren’t your family can be liberating, eye-opening, soul-destroying and, all too often, all of the above. So what can you expect from your first shared home? And how exactly does one cope with a living dynamic that’s less than cosy?
Scenario #1 – Living With a Friend
So you and your BFF decide to move in together. You picture sitcom worthy hijinks and upbeat montages of the two of you decorating, bestie-style (you’re not naïve; you foresee the occasional fallout over the dishes, too). Move-in day comes and it’s magical – like a never-ending sleepover. But you quickly discover that Friends and How I Met Your Mother lied to you. One of you forgets to pay a bill, uses up the other’s shower gel, or refuses to take out the rubbish (ever!) and tensions spike. Your friend is not the person you thought they were, and you’ve had to suppress violent rage towards them more than a few times, which makes you feel miserable. Even more so if the friend in question is the person you’d usually vent to.
Funnily enough, your closeness means you’re actually less likely to be considerate of one another. Chances are you were so tight when you agreed to move in that each of you thought the other would expect and accept any shortcomings out of love. You take advantage of each other without ever meaning to, each letting the other pick up the slack on things you don’t want to deal with. Over time this builds up resentment, which is poisonous to any relationship.
Arrange to go for coffee or a drink (depending on the severity of the tension) outside the house, and hash it out. Make it clear that this isn’t a confrontation: this is a way to figure out what’s driving each of you crazy and find a solution for the sake of your friendship. Set hard policies on household duties, bills, and guests/parties. Make sure you set aside time to hang out together away from home, too, so that you can get enough distance to remember how much fun you have together. Above all, try to remember that you’re friends for a reason.
Scenario #2 – Living With a Romantic Partner
You’ve been a couple forever, you’re madly in love and you spend all of your time together anyway – moving in just makes sense. It’s an exciting time. There’s something unexpectedly intimate about picking out crockery and towels with someone you’re dating. You feel oh-so sophisticated, and the novelty of waking up beside them every day gives you butterflies – it feels like the honeymoon all over again. But you haven’t shared a bedroom with someone since you were 5 years old, and you never thought it would mean having half the space and double the clean-up. You haven’t had a minute to yourself since you signed the lease, and their blanket-hogging, freezing feet and bedtime reading habits are leaving you sleep-deprived and cranky. When you inevitably have an argument, it’s not even like you can slink off to your bedroom for a sulk – because it’s not just your bedroom.
Living with a significant other poses all the risks of living with a friend – only on top of any household drama; you’ve got to share a bedroom, too. When you move in with a partner there’s no longer any space in the world that belongs to you and you alone. Growing up, a bedroom is a magical, sacred place where even your all-powerful parents have to knock for permission to enter. When you live with a partner you forfeit that sanctuary, and it’s really quite the commitment.
Get used to spending your usual solitary time in each other’s company. Have a totally silent hour of reading or browsing the web separately, and try not to disturb one another. Above all, compromise! If one of you wants a mountain of throw pillows on the bed, maybe the other should be allowed to hang their favourite Marvel posters on the walls. You’ve both agreed to share your precious personal space: it needs to be a place where you both feel comfortable and happy.
Scenario #3 – Living With a Stranger
Weird as it seems objectively, there’re so many reasons you’d end up living with someone you don’t know. You’ve moved to a new city, your landlord leases their place by room, or you just fancy broadening your horizons. Whatever the circumstances, total strangers all over the world are willing to shack up together and the results (good or bad) are always interesting. No matter how thorough your screening process, there’s no foolproof way of gauging a stranger’s daily habits and at-home personality (until you move in and discover that they like to watch loud, late night TV in their underwear until 4am).
Often the new people we end up living with are totally removed from our own social scene; they’ve got a different schedule, different interests and have had a different upbringing. This isn’t surprising, but it can make for some boundary clashes. Their family might’ve taught them that it’s perfectly fine to clip their toenails in the kitchen, and in turn, perhaps they find it totally infuriating that you take cutlery out of the dishwasher as needed rather than just emptying it. The worst part is that because we don’t know these people it’s often harder to articulate our grievances to them, so you’re left silently seething with pent up frustration.
Get to know them! Figure out what makes them tick and get an insight into why they act the way they do. You might just find that their good qualities outweigh their weird habits. If you’re more introverted or really can’t see a friendship blossoming, your only real option is to be politely upfront about what’s bothering you (as long as it’s something they can reasonably address – don’t go tell them that you can’t stand their squeaky laugh or anything equally personal). Let them know that you’d appreciate it if they could quit their bad habit(s) because you find it difficult to live with, and assure them that they can approach you if there’s anything you can do to make the home a more pleasant place to be.
No matter who you live with, remember that it’s their home too. If you find it hard to share your space there’s every chance they feel the same way, so do your best to be as considerate as you’d expect your housemates to be. Building a happy, hospitable home is a shared responsibility and when we communicate and compromise we make it so much easier on ourselves.
Do you have a housemate horror story? Comment below, message us on Facebook or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. The best anecdote will win a small prize, and you might just see your story featured in an upcoming article!
Featured image by Reader of the Pack.