My boyfriend of seven years and I live together, but we have separate bedrooms.
When I tell people this — why do I constantly feel the need to tell people this? — I get responses on a sliding scale from “Oh my goodness, how are you still together?” to “That is a brilliant idea. I wish I’d thought of it.”
I understand why it’s not the norm for a couple to split up into two different rooms in their own apartment. Obviously, it’s more expensive to share the bills of a two bedroom apartment. And, money aside, it doesn’t align with the romantic fodder that movies and my college friends’ engagement photoshoots imply: that when you’re in love, you never get sick of each other. “You’re the best person I know. You’re the answer to my prayers. Can’t wait to wake up every morning to this perfect human.” I swear that’s what I’m reading daily on my Facebook feed!
However, everyone’s love is different. My boyfriend, let’s call him Jordan, basically grew up as an only child, and I grew up carving a quiet space for myself in a big family. We love alone time almost as much as we love each other. We actually learned this the hard way.
Funny story: Two years into our relationship, Jordan and I moved in together and had to UN-move in together soon after.
We were living in London (that’s another story for another time) and cash was tight. When we found a small bedroom being rented out by a British constable (that’s definitely another story), we applauded ourselves for being so thrifty. But the space was tighter than our budget. Jordan wakes up optimistic, bright-eyed, tail as bushy as can be. I, on the other hand, don’t so much wake up as crawl out of an existential pit. This clash between us took up the little space we had. It sucked the air out of the already tiny room. We were constantly fake smiling at each other.
Even though we pride ourselves on being good at communicating, Jordan and I had to acknowledge our habits before we could talk about what we needed to change. Sometimes our conversations would run into hurtful dead ends because we didn’t quite understand the problem: it wasn’t our relationship that was faulty, it was spending so much time three inches away from each other. Once we figured that out, we were relieved. That was a problem with a solution, and the solution wasn’t to break up. Instead, we just needed to change our space.
Three years after un-moving in with each other (so, that’s two years ago from now *points to blackboard covered in numbers*), a room in Jordan’s two bedroom apartment opened up right as I was trying to move out of my old studio. It felt like a sign from the Los Angeles housing market gods. I took the room and, with the help of lots of sage and the children’s bedding department at Target, made it very much my own.
For me, living in separate rooms is all about the door. There is such freedom in being able to close a door.
My door. Closing my bedroom door in our apartment can signal that I’m busy or that I need alone time or that I want complete silence to stare lovingly into my cat’s eyes. Has your significant other ever knocked on your door, heard you say that you need some time to yourself, and then… walked away? With no hard feelings or guilt on your end? It’s a revelation!
There are just as many messages I can send to Jordan by leaving my door open. “Come in,” the open door says. “Talk about your day, tell me about what you heard on NPR. You can sleep here if you want.”
Like any couple that’s been together for seven years, we have sweet spots in our routines for optimal us-time. We make each other breakfast and ask questions we already know the answers to: “Do you want coffee?” When we have time, we fall down binge-watching rabbit holes together, turning one of our bedrooms into a pillow fort meant only for sleeping, eating, and “next episode”-ing. During our busiest days, Jordan stays up until the wee hours working while I spend the day in bed glued to my computer (a habit I’m half-heartedly trying to break). We don’t have to worry about disturbing the other’s sleep cycle or work momentum, but I can still poke my head in his room for a kiss goodnight.
My favorite part of our living arrangement is when we decide to sleep together.
Being invited to spend the night in my boyfriend’s bed reminds me of when we first started dating — it’s so lovely to hear him ask. When we spend time together, it’s not because we are situationally forced to, it’s because we genuinely want to.
And, honestly, the same goes for when we spend time alone. Virginia Woolf had the right idea when she said a woman needs a room of her own. A room where one can watch as many Vine compilations on YouTube as one wants without judgement. A room where one can leave one’s pants on the floor. A room where she can send flirty texts to her boyfriend, even though he’s right down the hall.