Here are the things I know for sure: I sleep better with socks on. I prefer Dutch chocolate to Swiss. I look lousy in black and will always wear it anyway. And I will never, EVER live with a man I love again.
Since I was a small child, I’ve wondered why people should have to live together. It’s wonderful when you want to be together, mind you, but what about when you don’t? Doesn’t it make more sense to have the option, either way?
I’m not talking about families here, of course. Obviously, children need to be with their parents, and parents need one another’s help with the kids (though I think, in principle, it might not be a bad idea for each parent to get a day or two off every week).
For everyone else, I just don’t see the point!
Not that I haven’t done it. For better or worse — and there’s always way too much “worse” for my taste — I’ve lived with three men in my life: One at the age of 22, one at 35 and one at 38.
In each case, it took about a year and a half of living together, inescapably, day after day, until the relationship fell apart. I’d been crazy about these guys before that — two of them I’d even planned to marry. The third proposed to me while we were sharing a home, and I said, “No.”
And so I’ve determined: I keep my place, he keeps his. Instant two-home family. I’m a person who values solitude. When I’m on a writing spree, I can go weeks without seeing him. The silence is transcendent.
There is no one moving books around, leaving socks on floors, misplacing ashtrays. No one dictates what time I eat or peeks through a door to catch me in the ungainly act of picking at a zit. No deliciously warm and tantalizing body lures me back into bed when the alarm goes off at 4 am and I should be — and want to be — writing.
Unless I want it that way.
My current boyfriend is one of the men I once lived with. Since then, he’s moved from our tiny apartment to a house — a real house with three bedrooms, an eat-in kitchen, an upstairs and a downstairs. Sometimes, I spend a few days there at a time. It is always difficult to leave. It is also always great to come home — at once comforting, liberating, exciting, even.
What adventures await me here, in my own place, in the soft white whispers of my own private sanctuary, between my pen, my notebooks and me? There are days I scarcely leave my desk. I don’t have to. I don’t want to. And that’s the end of it.
This time, our relationship is working.
The Best Of Both The Single Life And The Coupled Life
And that includes the romance. We make dates. When he arrives, I am showered, combed and my lipstick is fresh. Some might say that this isn’t real life, but it’s our real life. When he kisses me, even after seven years together (on and off), it’s new — it’s our first date, or a second or a third.
There is never a moment when we are together by hazard, just because we happen to live in the same house. We spend time with one another, because we want to.
Intrinsic to this is a kind of trust I don’t always see in my cohabiting friends. I have to (and I do) trust that he is home on the nights he is not with me. And he honors me with the same. There’s no resentment, no waiting for him to show up when he’s been out late, no annoyance on his part that he has to come home because I keep wondering where he is.
It is the purest form of shared life that I can imagine: He has his life. I have my life. WE have our life. All three are whole and rewardingly complete.
I have a friend who serves as a partner in crime. When her marriage broke up three years ago, she found the emptiness overwhelming. But eventually, she repainted a living room wall dark red and her hallway orange, reupholstered her couch in yellow tweed and lost 10 pounds.
Together, we have taught one another to do the stuff we always thought we needed men for — opening doors when we lock ourselves out, replacing light bulbs in complicated fixtures, repairing heaters. Last week, she tiled her own kitchen.
She, too, feels that she would never give up the freedom of living alone. Yes, some would argue that living with others is healthy, adaptive: One is forced to learn to compromise, to be tolerant, to share. But doesn’t any well-raised child learn those things anyway? Besides, if you haven’t mastered these things by the time you’re my age, it’s hard to have much of a life.
Living separately makes me a better person. Having a space all to myself makes it easier for me to be patient and generous with others on those occasions when I do have to share a bathroom or closet space.
And when I don’t, there is still someone important with whom to share the simple daily pleasures: Myself. Last week, I bought myself two large bouquets of purple roses. Today, I think I’ll go and get some daffodils and spread them all around my home, wherever my heart desires.