My boyfriend and I joke that we’re not going to move in together until we can do it like French royals. (This probably doesn’t mean what you think it means.) We both tilt toward introversion. He has lots of guitars. I have lots of books. We want lots and lots of space. You know, doors that can be shut without shutting each other out. Breathing room. By living like French royals, I mean having big old palaces with big old rooms—specifically, the king and queen’s separate quarters.
No, we’re not holding out for Versailles. But if finances and timing allow, we’ll probably go for a less expensive version of the aristocratic lifestyle—a place with enough extra bedrooms and/or outdoor space for us to each have a private area. Seems pretty cool, right?
Now what if I told you we’ve been dating for three and a half years?
I don’t always get the best reaction when I tell people how long we’ve been dating and that we don’t yet cohabitate. Living together is seen as a necessary progression in a relationship; wait too long to take that step, and it’s often assumed that something is “wrong” with the relationship (unless you have more conservative beliefs—then you do your thing).
There are LOTS of reasons why we decided not to move in together at this exact moment in time. (Look up ‘Living Alone Together,’ or LAT – it’s a thing and it’s not just for Woody Allen and Mia Farrow. And most of the time it works much better than it did for them.) But I’m not going to talk too much more about the “we” reasons, or even his reasons, because he’s his own person, and he hasn’t decided to write an article about this. You see, it’s not that I don’t want to live with my boyfriend. It’s that I want to live alone.
I shared a room for all four years of college. Then I had a roommate for two years following college. One of these roommates was really shitty. The others were all great. But when you live with other people for so long, you never really own your space, even if you have the kind of Joey-Chandler friendship where you go in on foosball tables together.
Through various happenstances, I arrived at age twenty-four owning only bedroom furniture and kitchen supplies. Shared spaces always felt more like they belonged to my current roommate. Surrounded by other people’s stuff, none of which reflected me or my personality, I felt like an intruder. After six years of close quarters, it’s natural to want your own couch instead of someone else’s.
But there’s also this other thing, which is that I am a shitty roommate.
Let’s back up—I’m actually sort of an awesome roommate. I’m clean. I’m quiet. I will tell you of important comings and goings and I will never bring people over without checking with you first. I also make killer gluten-free banana muffins. If I go broke soon and I need a roommate, please consider living with me, because I’m really quite lovely.
[pi_wiloke_quote quote=”It’s not that I don’t want to live with my boyfriend. It’s that I want to live alone.” author=””]
But I honestly don’t like who I am as a person when I’m being a roommate. If you are one of my past roommates, chances are I resented the hell out of you at some point. Not because any of you (except that one super bitchy roommate) did anything wrong. You were just there. You were using the kitchen when I wanted to have a meal prep marathon. You were bingeing a Netflix show we both like when I was two seasons behind. You were having friends over when I wanted to sit quietly and read. You were in my space when I wanted to be alone. And you probably resented the hell out of me sometimes too.
After living with people for six years, I have run out of patience for my feelings of resentment. I want to move beyond it, and I don’t want to bring that kind of resentment into my relationship. Part of the reason I’ve spent so much time feeling this way is that I’m not always great at expressing what I need. Problems seethe under the surface, sometimes forever, sometimes with explosions of tears and incoherence that do little to solve things.
But the other reason I’m not great at telling people what I need? I don’t actually know what I need. Because I’ve never had the chance to find out. So many of us spend our lives sharing ourselves—with family, roommates, friends, children, significant others. As fulfilling as sharing a life with someone can be, a certain part of that sharing means sacrificing a tiny piece of you to someone else’s needs and desires. Wouldn’t it be great if you didn’t have to do as much of that for a little while? Wouldn’t it be great if you had the space to figure out what you need, and how to say what you need, so that when the time comes to not be alone anymore, you can figure out how to do it without frustration or resentment?
Right now, I’m twenty-four. I’m in a place where financially, it’s sort of feasible (haha not really I’m so poor right now) to pay for a place on my own. I don’t have kids. I’m not married. I’m fortunate to be living a relatively privileged life where all the cogs are moving just right for this to work. When my most recent roommate decided to move out, I realized that this could be my only chance to practice the art of living alone. So why not take it?
I moved to my new just-me place in the middle of August. Two days later my boyfriend and I took a trip to California. The night after we got back, I spent my first real night alone in my new place. First I cried. After a wonderful trip full of inseparability, the contrast between together and alone was a little intense. My brain started to run all over the place, shouting “The rent is too damn high!” and I think I even called my boyfriend and said something like, “Remind me why I’m living alone again? Being a feminist is too expensive!”
But then I took a breath. I pulled out a canvas and lost myself in an art project. I made a big old mess in the middle of the floor, and since no one else but me would be in the living room later, I didn’t bother cleaning up. The next morning, I woke up alone and felt amazing. The anxiety of wondering when I’d have time to myself—an anxiety I often felt with roommates—was completely gone.
In the weeks since then, my anxiety continues to recede, opening up space for me to truly get to know myself for the first time. I’m learning how to share myself with others without over-extending, without compromising my own needs. Plus I only wear pants when I feel like it.
Living with a significant other is a huge and important developmental step. But just as important—if not more—is learning to sit with who you are. Just you. Just me. There are ways to do that while living with someone else, of course, but if you have the chance to live completely alone for a while, you should take it.
My hot Friday night plans? I’ll be in My Very Own Apartment assembling My Very Own Dining Chairs for My Very Own Dining Table. Because right now, that’s what I need.