By Emily Kasper
One year ago this June, I moved in with my significant other. A one-bedroom, 678-square-foot space on the 18th floor of an apartment complex (with balcony views of the Atlanta skyline, ooh la la) became our home.
We moved to Atlanta together after about nine months of dating. Living together, and in this space in particular, took a bit of convincing for me. I’m traditionally a live-below-my-means kind of girl. But now that we’ve been living this high life in our little house in the sky, I really can’t imagine it any other way.
I expected to learn a lot about each other during this arrangement (little privacy, after all), but I’ve learned much more about myself than anticipated — more specifically, about the partner I am today and the one I want to be in the (near) future. Having this sort of awareness has always been important to me but has played an even larger part in my life once I started living with my SO. The type of partner I am has begun to define the kind of person I am day-to-day: my mood, perspective and attitude. So, I am continually working to be better and to get closer to where I'd like to be.
I am happy to report that Bryce, my SO, has been surprisingly cool and supportive of my desire to share publicly my learnings in living with him. These learnings (ever-changing) come to you in a list of dos and don’ts, inspired by long talks about my feelings (very much in my nature) and reflecting on a variety of situations that have come up this past year.
Here is my report out (examples contain both strengths and opportunities — can you tell I work in HR?):
Do: Communicate. Often and intentionally.
It’s a holiday weekend, and we have four full days at our disposal! Our options are to stay in town or travel to family in Florida.
Staying in Atlanta would be relaxing. We haven’t had a staycation since we moved here. We could do some of the things we’ve been wanting to do but haven’t had time for.
“The type of partner I am has begun to define the kind of person I am day-to-day: my mood, perspective and attitude.”
Going to Florida would also be relaxing because family time is the only time I’m not running around doing household chores. There’s the drive though — five hours each way is a deterrent. But, there is the beach and good weather and the tennis courts we like to play at in the morning.
We eventually decide to stay in town. OK, on the same page. Then again, maybe not: When we talked about relaxing, Bryce meant no alarms, ease into the day, enjoy that cup of coffee, we'll do what we feel like doing when we feel like doing it. I, on the other hand, wanted to have a rough plan for each day to ensure we were taking advantage of our time.
This is representative of how we value our time differently. Thankfully we talked this one through and found middle ground before the weekend came, but preemptive communication has not always been the case for us, and in those moments, we both end up frustrated.
Communicating proactively has helped us make good choices as a team. If we need to discuss an important decision or a topic that could be adversarial, we try to select a time and place for that conversation. Talking about it in advance of when we need to act upon the decision gives us time to sort through alternatives and hear the other’s perspective. Also, getting out of our most comfortable position (the house), usually puts us in a better mood to listen.
Don’t: Stop being an individual.
We are six months into our Atlanta life, and I find myself waiting on the couch for my SO to get home from work. I’m sad when his “one hour late” turns into two or three because there is a deadline he needs to meet. Suddenly, I don’t recognize myself: Who is this lady, moping around, lost without her man?
In Savannah, Georgia, where Bryce and I lived (separately) when we met, I had joined a choir; I went jogging around the park with friends after work; I was in a book club; I hosted dinner parties. But I didn’t pick these activities up right away when I moved to another city because I no longer needed to seek them out. I was living with my best friend, and every decision I made to do something on my own was now a decision to not hang with him. It became much harder to keep up with the things that motivate and excite me personally knowing that taking part in them meant leaving my SO at home.
I’ve since picked up a few new things I’m working on as an individual — not as Bryce's girlfriend — and it feels good. I can’t stay as busy as I once did because that doesn’t leave enough quality time for me and the roomie. However, selecting just a few intentional independent activities and making sure to consistently participate in them has put me back on track. I wish I would have done this sooner.
Do: Be patient.
The 3D printer has been on our kitchen table for a week and a half. Last weekend Bryce took it out to start designing on his own again. Now the massive contraption and newly formed plastic models take up the only designated place to eat in our house. His side of the bed remains littered with clothes from the week. He cooks an amazing dinner for us, but manages to dirty the entire kitchen in the process.
“I’m sad when his 'one hour late' turns into two or three because there is a deadline he needs to meet. Suddenly, I don’t recognize myself: Who is this lady, moping around, lost without her man?”
In this household, we each gravitate towards the chores we can tolerate and avoid the ones we hate. For us that means he cooks, I clean, and we take turns with the rest of it.
I’m continually working on being OK with the fact that not every “chore” will be done on my own timeline. If I want something to be done a particular way at a particular moment, I have learned to recognize that I’m cleaning for me because it will give me peace of mind to have it done now — I’m doing myself a favor, not him. The alternative is to allow my SO to do things at his own pace. This might mean something sits around the house for a week as he tinkers, but this makes him happy, and I can deal.
I learn a lot from him in this area as I watch him be patient with me. I have plenty of my own non-ideal character traits that I bring to the relationship, but Bryce never makes me feel like I need to change who I am. He is patient when I deliberate excessively over making a decision, when I take a long time to get ready and when I’m just being emotional. He doesn’t get frustrated but instead tries to put things into perspective in hopes of making my life easier.
Don’t: Hold onto a vision of what you thought your life would be like.
We wake up to another morning in the apartment. I’m a no-nonsense early riser, armed with a list of tasks to accomplish before the start of my work day. Bryce is not a morning person — he enjoys easing into the day, being silly and spending time together before heading out.
At the beginning, It was tough to find a balance that left us both feeling good and ready for our day ahead. Once I started adjusting my own expectations and allowed time for us to be together, to talk or read or whatever, we operated just fine, and I even started to enjoy our morning routine.
I found myself putting expectations on my SO that he was totally unaware of. I thought that since we were dating, he was now a reflection of me, and that the things he did or said that I would not do myself or did not agree with were a problem. I also found myself thinking, I don’t want future husband to do this or say that….
“I thought that since we were dating, he was now a reflection of me, and that the things he did or said that I would not do myself or did not agree with were a problem.”
Both of these mindsets are not productive. They are derived from this idea in my head that my SO and our life together needs to be a certain way — the way I always imagined my relationship to be, the way I have seen other couples engaging — but it doesn’t. He is not a morning person; he is not a serious guy; he, like me, can be an over-sharer of things in our life with others. His traits don’t always match up with my own or what I envisioned, but they are also the root of some of my favorite qualities about him.
When I remember this, and embrace these things, my life right now seems even better than the vision I had for it.
Do: Practice gratitude.
We do the daily grind: work annoys us, people annoy us, we annoy each other, and unexpected roadblocks, like a smashed bumper, take up our time. Bryce and I are grateful, of course, when the good things happen. But we live together now. Often it feels like just another day.
I say “practice” because gratitude doesn’t always come naturally. When I choose to recognize and verbalize (an important step when you’re talking about something that impacts two people) the good things in our life, we both feel better. There are a lot of things to be grateful for, so from time to time, one of the two of us needs to remind the other of that. I also find that when I look for the good things he does for me and verbalize his shortcomings less, we both do more of those good things for each other.
It’s like we are going on a jog around Atlanta’s Piedmont Park: When one person gets tired, the other needs to say, “You’re doing great — keep it up!” He shouldn’t run further ahead to increase the space between us; he shouldn’t slow down to my pace either. The goal is that we both become better versions of ourselves together. This means pulling weight for the other person knowing that the same will be done for you in the future.
We’ve spent many nights on the apartment balcony pictured above, watching the sunset and talking about the things that we have to be grateful for. It’s a habit I intend to keep.
We just purchased our first condo, making this couple living arrangement a bit more permanent. And we’ll keep living the high life, no matter where we reside.
Emily Kasper is a planner, a people-person, an avid self-help reader and new condo owner living in Atlanta.