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Is Anyone Ever Truly 'Ready' for Cohabitation?

It's always a gamble, because you simply can't predict what it'll be like to merge your life, down to the smallest quirks and habits, with another person's.
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low angle view of a couple sitting on a couch and eating
low angle view of a couple sitting on a couch and eating

By Melanie Berliet for HowAboutWe

Last fall, my boyfriend was in the process of moving when my landlord decided to kick me out (I'd spent thousands of dollars to renovate the apartment she technically owned, all without her permission). On the upside of eviction, I saw a message: The universe wants me to live with my boyfriend -- in a place furnished with dimmers and proper faucets so I won't have to hire an unlicensed electrician and plumber to install them. My boyfriend agreed.

Some might call this "sliding, not deciding" to cohabit. But even after living alone for ten years, I didn't feel compelled to spend hours weighing the pros and cons of moving in together. If anything, since my divorcé of a boyfriend had already gone down the traditional relationship path, I was excited to "live in sin." It was something new for both of us. I didn't view it as all that serious, or some giant leap toward engagement.

To me, shacking up provided the perfect chance to spend more time with the person who makes me sickeningly happy. An opportunity to hang my entire wardrobe alongside his, to share an electric toothbrush and to take turns inscribing silly messages to each other on our foggy bathroom mirror. I didn't bother analyzing the situation beyond these hypothetical perks.

That is, until the day I found myself sobbing in the kitchen over a serving utensil.

A few weeks past our move-in date, I made the pilgrimage to Bed Bath & Beyond for some cooking essentials. Drunk with love and delighted to cross so many things off an endless list of Shit to Buy for the Apartment, neither my heavy purchases nor the rainy weather could bring me down as I walked home.

Before unpacking, I texted my boyfriend: "Wait til you see all the stuff I got for us at BB&B! #bestgirlfriendever."

But when he arrived home from work, I sensed a lack of enthusiasm for my display of new goods.

"What's the matter?" I asked, assuming he'd had a bad day.

"Nothing," he said. "Except that all this stuff needs to go back." Then, with one impossibly hurtful wave of the hand, he continued, "That's the ladle you chose?"

Shocked to tears, I wanted to scream: I saved you from an annoying shopping excursion, and this is how you repay me? I trudged through the rain for you! I traded Soho for the f*cking Financial District for you!

Instead, I continued to cry while placing my purchases back in the giant plastic bags.

Mostly, I was upset at the sudden reality check: Being judged for picking the wrong ladle was now something that could happen. In that moment, I realized I'd lost something precious without anticipating it -- complete independence. Never before had I needed to discuss every last detail of my life, down to which ladle I used, with anyone. The idea of doing so on an ongoing basis seemed overwhelming. Was I ready for this? Should I have thought it all through more carefully?

No match for waterworks, my boyfriend stopped me mid-pack to apologize. "I was hoping to buy all the stuff for the house together," he explained.

His confession melted my fears. Yes, I would have to run most decisions by someone else from now on -- but only because that someone wanted to make a home with me.

That tearjerker of a serving spoon finally got me to do some thinking, though not the kind I could have foreseen. While we've made it the norm -- just another step in a serious relationship -- cohabitation is a very big deal. It's always a gamble, because you simply can't predict what it'll be like to merge your life, down to the smallest quirks and habits, with another person's. It may be wise to proceed carefully, and there are plenty of precautionary cohabitation surveys out there warning you about what can go wrong.

But in an era in which nearly every couple is moving in together, it's important to consider that the most telling questions aren't just, "Have you discussed finances?" or "Do you have similar sleeping patterns?" but also, "Have you really considered the fact that whether you're ready for it or not, you will be building a life with someone else?"

Think I'm Alone? Hardly. Here are a few more Real Cohabitation Revelations:

My finacé doesn't think I clean well enough. I've gotten better since we've been together, but what it boils down to is that he's anal and I'm oblivious to the kind of miniscule dirt and grime that drives him of crazy. The funny thing is that my obliviousness works in his favor when it comes to chewing tobacco. The man falls asleep with chewing tobacco in his mouth all the time, and it gets all over our sheets. It looks like shit. But since I'm not anal, I think of it as cute and funny.

--Lauren Donnelly, Cleaning-Challenged Homemaker

I assumed one of the main benefits to living with my boyfriend would be that I'd have a man on hand to build, fix and install stuff. But after a few months, our place was a graveyard for Ikea mishaps. I've learned to confiscate assembly instructions before Sam can even try to follow them. I'm kind of sad that I'm the one who has to fix and install things, but not sadder than I would be single.

--Michelle Scott, Reluctant Ikea Assemblywoman

Historically, I have been one of the worst roommates in the world. I pilfered sips of my roommates' orange juice in college to the point that they put Post-it notes on the carton, which I then gleefully ripped off to swig away with an unwashed mouth. I also made sausages in another roommmate's rice cooker, appalling him, as he was Hindu. Karma got the best of me when I married a woman even more inconsiderate and boorish than myself. You don't know what a bad roommate is until you have been hectored for not having all your shirts facing the same way on your closet hangers. I must have said "Who gives a shit?" four thousand times in my first marriage. I knew empathy at long last, but by then it was too late to do anybody any good.

--Josh Ozersky, Self-Proclaimed "World's Worst Roommate"

I live with my boyfriend in a 300-square-foot studio and our television tastes are not at all in line. So if he's watching a boring show like "Charlie Rose," I have to take my iPad into the bathroom and lay in the tub with a pillow to watch "Dance Moms." My boyfriend also gave up weed, but I'm still a stoner. Ever since he failed a drug test at work because of the second-hand smoke in our tiny place, I have to toke from the tub now too.

--Sharon Lee, Pot Smoking "Bathtub Potato"

Soon after I moved in with Jeffrey, he greeted me at the door with a big smile one day. "I have a surprise for you," he said. As he led me into our bedroom, I imagined a new sex toy and a spontaneous afternoon romp. But then he dropped my hand, walked over to my closet and opened its doors. He'd spent the day creating Jeffrey's Dream Clean Closet, complete with special organizational cubes for the shelves. I took the hint that I was being too messy for him, but I don't think we'll ever agree on what "neat" means.

--Danielle Goldman, Married to Anal

Mélanie Berliet is a New York City-based writer and producer. Her work has appeared in Vanity Fair, New York, Elle, Cosmopolitan and Self among other publications. For more of her work, visit her website or follow her on Twitter.

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