In the lives of young lovers, the decision to cohabitate can arise out of a wide range of circumstances. Perhaps you two dated for years before making a well thought out plan to take the leap and live together. Most often, however, being the wild, optimistic, impetuous, young things we are, the decision to live with a significant other is less calculated; maybe one of you moved to another city so you could be together, and living together seemed an unspoken assumption. Perhaps your roommate bailed without notice, so you moved in with your love “just for a while until you found a new place” which is always code for “hey boo, we live together now.” However it came about, it happened. It happens.
And so do breakups.
In a perfect world of fat bank accounts and a line of friends with magically empty bedrooms, you would be able to retreat to friendlier real estate as soon as your relationship crumbled. But in real life (ugh, real life), you have a job that leaves very little time to look for a new place, let alone actually move, and you’re broke anyway. Barring any physical violence, jealous new people, or other active volatility, there’s not really any reason to rush into a hasty move. During the post-breakup interim while one or both of you scrambles to assemble the backup plan you previously neglected in favor of sex and intense domestic love, you find yourself stuck living with your now-ex.
The specifics of each relationship will obviously vary, but more or less, this is how you do that:
- Wait for the dust to settle. Spend a few days at a friend’s place, or with your parents. Grow tired of either for various obvious reasons, and go home. Do not talk to your ex for several days.
- Slowly begin to engage each other in superficial, brief ways. Mention the need to buy toilet paper. Ask if the other person picked up the mail today.
- Realize that this period of post-love cohabitation might last longer than you initially thought. It always does. Mentally settle in, and begin to imagine that you and your ex could probably just be friends, maybe even good roommates.
- Go to bed early every night. Try to not think about them on the couch. Leave earlier than you need to every morning, before they wake up. Try to not look at them on the couch.
- In hopeful moments, tell yourself this arrangement won’t last forever.
- In very hopeful moments, tell yourself that although it won’t last forever, it totally could. Feel sure that you’re both such well-adjusted people that you could indefinitely cohabitate in a blissful state of mutual appreciation and respect, made deeper by the fact that you were able to kill the bad romance but keep the love. Know deep down that moments of feeling like that are tenuous and fleeting, but enjoy them nonetheless.
- On bad days, hate that they’re there. Hate that they can see you. Hate that they aren’t sitting somewhere wondering if you’re crying and depressed, because they can see that you are, in person, with glaring, intrusive clarity. Understand finally why people can’t go directly from lovers to friends without a buffer period during which to hide out, mourn, eat, sulk, and slowly build yourself back into the amazing creature you are. Even amazing creatures have dark days, and you hate that you haven’t the privacy you need on those days.
- When you are feeling sad, your ex will almost certainly be having a good day. They will be having a day of strength and togetherness, or even just mild plainness, all of which will seem bewildering and offensive to you, the sad one. How can they be okay? Don’t they see that you’re living in a tragic graveyard, tripping over artifacts of the now abandoned civilization you wrought together? Isn’t that too desperately upsetting to live with and still be happy? Wonder what emotional deficiencies must exist in your ex to allow them such peaceful oblivion to the pain they ought to feel. Later wonder what emotional deficiencies must exist in you that you can’t do the same.
- When you’re feeling strong and completely free of pain for a minute, your ex will almost certainly be having a sad day. Wonder what the hell their problem is. Yes, you loved and it ended, but you’re both still alive and healthy and have your futures ahead of you, futures that will undoubtedly be traversed with more grace and wisdom as a result of your experience together. So really, you should be grateful for all of it, because you learned and grew to know better. Feel superior in your ability to see that. And then feel guilty for feeling superior.
- Realize that passive aggressive behavior is sometimes necessary. Like when you need to communicate that you are displeased or hurt, but directly addressing the cause of those feelings would only stir up a fight that you’ve had a million times. You can’t get sucked into that unproductive black hole of miscommunication again. You lack neither the emotional nor physical fortitude to kick up the same, tired, hostile exchange. So you sigh loudly, and get quiet, and make a big show of putting their dishes in the dishwasher.
- Tell your friends that you’re fine. Tell them it works. Tell them that things between you and your formerly beloved are so supremely amiable that living together is actually “kinda great sometimes.” Almost believe it when you say it. It’s not that you’re trying to lie, or to shut them out, but remaining under one roof with someone after the dissolution of your romance can be seen two ways by outside parties: If things are bad and painful, it makes you weak, and elicits comments from friends about how you should “just kick him out” or “just leave already,” and judgment when you don’t. But if things are friendly, allowing you to take your time figuring out the best next housing arrangement for you both, then you look mature and highly evolved. You need your friends to see you as the latter, because to see “sad, spineless, little you” reflected in their eyes will only fuel your darkest thoughts that you are, in fact, just that. Living with an ex means focusing on self-sustainment by any means, even if it means sugarcoating the situation to your friends so you can still believe the best sometimes.
- Honestly, wholeheartedly believe the best sometimes. Have an easy day with your ex. Have coffee together and watch a funny video he saw online. Watch The Daily Show from last night on DVR, and feel tempted toward neither fighting nor fucking.
- Make plans with friends as many nights as possible. Feel gratitude that your ex appears to be doing the same. Feel the silent pact between you to make every attempt at not ending up home all night together.
- Inevitably, end up staying in on the same night one time. Stay in your room, listen to music, and clean. Like, the real dusting-under-and-behind-everything kind of cleaning that you never get around to doing. Laugh about how cliché you are, going on a cleaning binge post breakup. Quickly realize that this isn’t the same; those clichés portray people cleaning as a ritualistic cleansing after a breakup. You’re not doing that. You’re hiding. There can be no cleansing, no purging of the cluttered bad energy left in the wake of your broken love because he’s still here. Suddenly feel trapped, and horribly restricted in your ability to move forward. Go to sleep in your dust-free room.
- End up home together again the next night after a friend cancels dinner plans. Decide to just get drunk and try to be friends. Be surprised at how game your ex is; you almost forgot how tense and exhausting this arrangement has been for them too. For a few hours, the relief of breaking booze together keeps the conversation light and enjoyable. Briefly entertain thoughts that you could work it out. Blame the alcohol and text your friend who canceled on you: if you sleep with your ex tonight, it’s their fault.
- Sleep with them. It’s only okay. It hasn’t been long enough for the absence of each other to make the sex awesome. It feels…good, but you’re both mentally already playing out the next morning’s regret, and it robs the moment. The inevitability of this happening almost makes it feel like a relief that you’re getting it over with. This will lead to a conversation about whether or not reconciling is a good idea, which also was inevitable, and as such, feels boring and perfunctory. You both think the short separation has given you adequate perspective to discuss old problems with fresh clarity and calmness. You cannot. Have the same fights again, made even more painful by the collective weariness of your past, and the knowledge that you were SO CLOSE to being past this, if only you hadn’t had sex. Go to bed realizing the night had effectively hit the reset button on your breakup.
- Go back to step one. Leave for a few days. Come back. Repeat all previous steps. Don’t have sex this time. Feel sad, but better. You know it’s really over.
- Let time pass mercifully uneventfully. Start to feel secure in your routine, and in your alone togetherness. Passively note the increasingly dull neutrality of the painful feelings that used to burn with white hot acuteness.
- Come to observe this person objectively. Presently lacking any active emotions, you are still able to identify what attracted you to this person in the beginning, like remembering what used to occupy a now vacant building. View your former love detachedly, with equal parts appreciation for how great they truly are, and resignation for how fundamentally incorrect they are for you. Realize that this is probably the most perfect way you can ever hope to feel about an ex.