Six months into a bad move-in with a significant other, and even the best of intentions will feel like the worst of decisions. Small idiosyncrasies overlooked in the beginning can become the large reasons later on that lead to your relationship’s demise. Take my last live-in girlfriend’s dirty dishes, for instance—they tortured me. They clogged the sink for days until they formed a rickety, rotting pinnacle that preyed upon my most deep-seated Freudian fears. But if you asked her, I was the mad scientist responsible for our “high” utility bills, frying the electrodes in our apartment walls with my incessant electricity usage and burning down the house with gas-guzzling cooking experiments. When she complained that our shared electric and gas bills were too high, I wound up having to pay for most of them myself.
As comical as it is now, in that “one-day-we’ll-laugh-about-this” kind of way, the bottom line is that we were incompatible. I had gone from having a great girlfriend I really liked to being stuck with the worst roommate imaginable! But fast forward a couple of timidly approached relationships, and I’m back in the move-in saddle once again. This time, however, I’ve approached the experience with considerably more wisdom. If you’re even considering moving in with your L’il Shnoogums, follow these relatively simple steps to avoid sure move-in disaster. They can make all the difference between an enjoyable relationship experience and one of the worst decisions you’ve ever made.
1. Make Sure You Are Really Compatible . . . No, Really
Since most relationship strife is caused by two incompatible people who should have run away screaming from one another right from the start, knowing that you are compatible is absolutely essential. Compatibility may sound like common sense, but when the rose-tinted blinders of love and lust enter into the picture, compatibility can become a relative term. New love can be ridiculously blind in ways that other types of relationships would never be.
Think of it this way: A romantic partnership is a lot like a business partnership. You’d never see two companies partner with each other, no matter how much they “like” one another, without first going through extensive analyses to see if they were a good fit from many different perspectives. Moving in is a partnership that could potentially dip into your savings, sour your days at work and, in some cases, damage your property, ruin your good credit, and even transform you into one of those “jaded-about-love-so-now-I’m-noncommital” people.
Like starting a business with someone, you need to make sure that you have the same goals and the same game plan for how living together is going to work. On the simplest level, you already have a plan—to bask in the glow of each other’s love in close, snuggly quarters, but to make it work, you’ve got to take it one step further. Start by scrutinizing both of your personal living standards and styles.
Everyone has their own ideal quality of living they are comfortable with and wish to strive for—what do you expect to have once you live together? Are you a private person, but your partner someone who constantly needs interaction with others? You don’t want to live with a party girl who goes out daily if you need peace and quiet every night. If you are a night owl but she is an early riser, this might make one of you feel jetlagged for the rest of your life. Does your girlfriend need to make out with you eight times a day, while you’d rather re-read Isaac Asimov? Is one of you incapable of going to bed while a dirty fork is in the sink, but the other one leaves the peanut butter and jelly out all night without even bothering to close the lids (and didn’t even use separate knives)?
Things like this are easy to avoid or forgive when your girlfriend has her own place, where you don’t have to see her every day. But when it’s in your house, and it’s your things, it can feel like rudeness, an invasion, or even a trap! (Okay, but that’s in the later stages of a bad partnership when everything starts to feel like an emotional conspiracy . . . In all seriousness, differences in these areas may seem surmountable at first, but over time they can prove to be sources of genuine aggravation. Plain and simple—just make sure that you’re really compatible with one another before you move in. To find out what real compatibility is, check out the 29 Dimensions of Compatibility.
2. Tackle the Deal Breakers—Together Since living together harmoniously is essentially about making agreements, you’ll also need to make sure you discuss these three potential deal breakers that drive many unsuspecting couples to despair and ruin.
The first issue is money. You need to be honest about whether the apartment or house you are moving into can be covered by your two combined incomes. That doesn’t mean you both have to pay fifty-fifty—if your girlfriend or boyfriend can’t pay as much in rent, make up the slack in other ways. My girlfriend’s a starving student, so we came up with a compromise where I pay a couple hundred dollars more in rent per month, but I also get to use the big downstairs laundry room as a place to practice and store my musical equipment. My reward for covering the spread is an awesome rock-and-roll clubhouse! So no one feels cheated (except maybe the neighbors, when I play the “Buzzsaw Synth” setting on my Casio). And when prearranging your money situation, don’t forget bills.
Everyone hates that friend who goes to lunch and doesn’t pitch in for tax and tip. Yet some foolish people budget just for the rent, without setting aside money for utilities or the cable bill (ahem, first live-in girlfriend who probably still believes that candlelight is the way to power the lighting, and not for romantic reasons). Be forewarned! Make sure you both agree on how to pay for gas, electricity, bottled water, housekeeping, novelty ice-sculpture delivery, and whatever else the two of you are paying on top of your base rent.
The second issue is chores. The sitcom stereotype is that ladies love to clean, whereas the men prefer to sit on the couch with their feet propped up on the coffee table and drink beer. But the laziness gene sits on both X and Y chromosomes. Just like cheap rent versus a backbreaking mortgage, chores are a matter of equality and personal taste. If two people are both happy to live amongst filth, more power to them! However, if you want to live in a clean and happy home, plan things with your partner so you don’t get stuck scraping someone else’s nacho cheese off the microwave tray every night. My girlfriend and I actually made a “chore chart” to put on the fridge.
We assigned tasks by talent and temperament: we agreed that since sweeping and mopping puts me in a rhythmic state of Zen, I would do ALL of that, in every room, including the sticky pine needles on our patio—and as gross as it seems to me, she doesn’t mind cleaning bathrooms, so she agreed to lead the bowl brigade. We both hate doing dishes, though, so we decided to take turns. This kind of thing can be fine-tuned later, but as long as both people in a relationship feel they are sharing the load, the relationship won’t suffer resentment, and you’ll get the kind of cleanliness (or lack thereof) you both deserve. It may sound overly detailed, but it works for us. With open communication two people will find their own right balance when it comes to how chores are meted out.
Believe it or not, the third issue is interior decorating. There are some guys who are more than happy to let the missus pick out curtain patterns while they choose their fantasy football picks, but both guys and girls can be quite particular about what their shared home should look like. Before moving in, it’s best to come to an agreement on whether you’re going to stucco the ceilings or hang any velvet paintings of Tom Selleck or the “Hoff.” Some people really like to rearrange and renovate, and other folks are content with whatever fake-brass fixtures the house came with thirty years ago—you need to agree beforehand on whether you have the same zeal for remodeling the kitchen five times in a row that he or she may have! So long as you’ve talked it out, you won’t have any 3 a.m. fights about drill noises or soggy grout, and you’ll both feel comfortable in your own home.
3. Plan the Logistics of Moving The stress of a difficult move can tear two hearts that beat as one into two hearts beating a path back to their old roommate’s place, so make sure you get your timing down, and move at a time that is convenient for you both. Avoid the week school ends or the weekend after a new job starts. Avoid the holidays if they’re usually stressful for you. And be realistic about how long it’s going to take you to move—don’t be rushing to get the U-Haul back by five when he’s still trying to drain the aquarium and find the missing hermit crab. When doing the actual moving, especially if you have hired movers or friends who can help, try to load things immediately into place the moment you get there, right off the truck (even if it’s a little more tiring).
If your file cabinets are already in the study and your fridge in the kitchen, you’re halfway finished already! The less boxes and furniture you have stacked against the walls, the sooner you can stop moving and start living (and loving). For those things that aren’t unpacked yet, make a schedule of weekends and nights when you’re both free for unpacking. It can be stressful, cutting open box after box just to find the strainer or the boxes of tea.
So work together to put those random, rogue items in their place. For items you don’t have yet but need to buy (furniture, lamps, blenders, Chia Pets, perhaps?), look for them on the Internet and make a list of what you’ll be getting. Window shopping online will help you both compromise on money (you can agree on what price to spend, and how much you’ll both be chipping in) and with interior decorating (you can agree beforehand on what style of furniture or carpet you want to get). Whether on Craigslist, or at Ikea, or Target, or eBay, it’s also a fun way to spend some time together and discover fun quirks about each other that will remind you just why you like each other so much. My girlfriend and I were simply looking for a couch, but wound up finding a free Ping-Pong table, and got a fantastic idea for our cement backyard (Astroturf!), all from a little Internet browsing.
Finally, when you’re nearing the finish line, create an unfinished task list. Don’t just list “set up the kitchen”—have one task be “hang kitchen curtains,” another “unpack the blender and coffee maker,” another “fill up the spice rack,” etc. That way, even if you just got home and only have fifteen minutes before you need to hit the sack for tomorrow, you can still find time to check at least one thing off.
And make sure the last step on your list is “housewarming party,” so you can have some friends or family over to ogle your great place, be jealous of your new lifestyle (kidding), and know that you two are loving and well-suited for each other. All in all, a successful move doesn’t mean a relationship will last, but a bad move-in can lead you down a rough path you’d never thought you’d go. But if you follow these three move-in must-dos, you two will have a relationship that’s less about roommates, and much, much more about romance, discovery and the enjoyment of being a big part of each other’s life.