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Home » The Vine

The Vine: March 2, 2016

Submitted by on March 2, 2016 – 2:56 PM28 Comments


My main squeeze and I got engaged last year — fun! I will be moving into his house — and selling mine — this spring, and we are getting married in the fall.

I have a lot of friends who married in their 30s/40s, but almost all of them lived together first. As I look around, I realize that we are one of the few couples who will be cohabiting for the first time after many years of each of us living on our own. So my usual advisees can’t speak to this.

Ideally we would have moved into somewhere new to both of us, but circumstances are such that we can’t do that for a year or two. Any tips/recommendations/pitfalls to avoid as we transition from two households to one? We are both looking forward to it and are well aware of how important it is to communicate, but you don’t know what you don’t know. You know?


Dear E,

When Dirk and I got married, we functionally lived together, and had starting about six weeks into dating — but Dirk kept his one-bedroom, which we called The Vacation Manse, for another year after the wedding. We had a few ouchy moments when it came to downsizing our stuff and trying to carve out a little office for him and whatnot, but it was like, we were already married, so at least in my mind, I just assumed we’d work it out, because we always do. And we did.

So, maybe get married first? …Hee. You have two separate issues here: moving in together; and living together. On the first thing, I will tell you that things are just things, but understand: I LOVE THINGS. I have many many things. I acquire things I don’t need because I think that particular thing, that book or skirt, will solve my life. I also anthropomorphize things; I name my cars, I name the cats’ toys for them, I even scolded Dirk for speaking rudely about a refrigerator once. I got teased about it just yesterday, rightly, and it’s just a security neurosis, but that kind of thing gets amped up during major life changes big-time, and when said major life change is going to require me to say goodbye to…whatever, Bob O’Thesaurus and Chairy Grant? Shit got weird.

You’re probably not like that, but if you are, or all of a sudden now you are because you feel like your fiancé is “winning” the sofa? Just name it. Say it out loud. “Things are just things. Having to give up my couch is making me feel invisible. What if we get a divorce and we have to chop the couch in half? EVERYTHING IS TERRIFYING!” And then usually you feel much better and you can get on with it, so just keep it in mind: there will be feelings about stuff, and those feelings are totally okay, but it’s still just stuff, and if you wouldn’t save it if the building was burning down, consider giving in on it.

Living together is kind of the same, in that you shouldn’t keep score, because even if you’re “winning,” you aren’t — and as everyone else on earth has probably already told you, don’t make roommate shit a referendum on relationship shit. If he never empties the dishwasher, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t respect/care about you/your feelings. It means that he forgot, or hates doing it and knows he can wait for you to take care of it, or doesn’t realize that he’s supposed to because it’s Thursday or whatever your chore wheel says. Sometimes the red sock of Why Do You Always Leave Cabinet Doors Open For Me To Hit My Head On strays into the white load of the marriage. It happens. A long day takes you through a bunch of puddles, and then you come home and “SOMEBODY” drank the last diet Coke. You’ll get upset. Then you’ll get over it.

The readers will have plenty to add, but…you know. The only relationship you’re an expert in is your own, but hey, you’re an expert! You know how to do this, even if you think you don’t. A phrase we repeated a lot before our wedding was “this is how WE do things,” which started out as a slightly politer “…because, that’s why” for people who just didn’t understand why there weren’t bridesmaids’ dresses (or bridesmaids) or what was “wrong with” giving up Dan’s apartment, or whichever “but if you don’t do it like I did, my choices lack legitimacy” thing it was that day. But it became much more about the “we,” that our “we” was greater than the sum of the “I”s — stronger. Smarter. Able to have a mature, productive conversation about whether “someone” should bother doing the vacuuming if s/he is just going to scream swears the whole time.

So who do you think is the scream-swearing vacuumer?

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You, yourself, can do this. The you that’s the two of you can totally do this.




  • Sue says:

    Been there, didn’t enjoy it, but got through it. I moved into my husband’s place prior to marriage, giving up a considerable amount of furniture and such to do so. He freaked at seeing the pile of stuff post-movers, suggested I put some things away, and fled to his office. No such luck there; all of his stuff was in random cabinets (tools in the kitchen, boxes in closets) but i did what I could. We had a smart event that night; when we got there and came over, friends asked how the move had gone. Nasty look, followed by this gem: “There’s two boxes you could fit a dead body in, and she filled them with SHOES!” My friends died laughing, as did my parents.

    The stuff battle is hard. He’s ruined some of my things, I’ve not adequately cleaned/revered his things. But we manage to balance it and deal. Some things have lingered, and finally been deaccessioned (or given to the urban market) on both sides. Books were, thankfully, not the main problem (we both have too many but we like it that way). Now that the small child (nickname – Destroyer of Worlds) can pull things off shelves, we are having to move faster to deal with it. My particular peeve here is having him say “his” instead of “ours” and not really having a say in furniture (designers are very particular). But he has given way on certain things that are important to me, and I have done the same for him. It’s a give and take. Good luck finding a balance without actually keeping score. Because that won’t help anyone.

  • Laura says:

    Be polite to one another. Say please and thank you. It goes a long, long way. It might take a while to sync up the daily/weekly routines of cleaning, cooking, laundry, grocery shopping. Try to come up with a system that is (and feels) fair to both of you and be flexible. There will likely be a few things that each of you feel strongly about and will need to negotiate: beloved brands or things like the tube of toothpaste — to share or not to share, squeeze from the bottom or the middle, remembering to recap it, etc. Good luck and best wishes on your upcoming marriage.

  • heatherkay says:

    Married at 36 here, with no roommates since 21. My number one piece of advice is don’t to ANYTHING because you’re “supposed” to do it. You’re a grown person, with a fully formed personality and life. At this point, you’re getting married because you really dig this other person, not because you need this other person. Negotiate with your partner to figure out what you do and do not want and roll with that.

    For example, my spouse is a Tossy McTurnsalot nightmare when he’s sleeping. Like legitimately flailing. We came to the conclusion pretty quickly that if either of us was going to get a good nights sleep, we had to sleep in separate beds. We have plenty of fun times, but now I don’t run the risk of getting a black eye from my slumbering bedmate. People sometimes give me a little pity look when they realize we have separate bedrooms, but it’s definitely what works for us.

  • Mary Ann says:

    My mom remarried in her late 40s, to a man she’d been dating for seventeen years. He lived twenty miles away and they hung out a couple times a week. After the wedding, it took six more months before they got to cohabitating. Within a couple years, she was talking about buying herself a little pied-a-terre for during the week. Her relationship was fine, she just wanted to live somewhere else sometimes. Do what makes sense to you and makes you happy.

    (I’ll never forget when she showed me a mark on the floor. “See that? [Stepfather] set his gun down and marked the brand new linoleum first! I was so glad that happened. It really took the pressure off.” That’s the right attitude to have.)

  • Botts says:

    This is such good advice. So spot on and one of the big challenges of early marriage that’s so hard to articulate. I’m saving it for my kids to read if they end up getting married.

  • attica says:

    Not for nothing, but I have known more than one really douchey refrigerator in my day. Mighta had it coming, is my point. :)

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @attica, that point was made, and MY point was that he should save those remarks for out of earshot, lest it get even douchier.

  • The Bloody Munchkin says:

    If you think the refrigerator is not listening and that the jam inside it (who is sentient) hasn’t left random stains for your hands to find whilst trying to get the last yogurt in the back of the shelf you’d be wrong. You mind what you say around the refrigerator lest the olives and the rest of the condiments in the fridge door decide to revolt one day right onto your nicely manicured toes. I learned that one the hard way.

  • The Bloody Munchkin says:

    Also, thanks to ditching the carpet for hardwoods, I am no longer a scream-swearing vacuumer. I am died in the wool scream-swear swifferer though, especially if the dog is in the room. Trying to swiffer with a puppy in close vacinity is going to be in the olympics one day, and when it is, I will win gold.

  • Jennifer Snook-Tracy says:

    Sars, you are clearly the swear screamer, since I can picture you as a cross between a sailor on shore leave and Dylan Thomas six pints in waxing rhapsodic to the Rhoomba clear as day.

  • Jem says:

    This was me! Married at 40 and moved into my place after having lived alone for a decade. You’re right to recognize the challenge. For me, I knew waiting until we were married was the answer though, otherwise I may have kicked him out immediately, and I still deep down think a His and Hers twin would be my dream home, but I digress. If you can’t afford to keep your own Vacation Manse, I highly recommend a storage unit for a while. I found that having one made the transition easier and gave us some time to consolidate and rehome our duplicate belongings gradually. It was also easier to part with things, knowing the decision could be reversed later, and easier to part with them permanently after they’d been in storage for a year and not missed.

    Congratulations and best wishes on your new life together!

  • Meri says:

    Considering my fridge just yesterday dropped a bottle of crème de menthe off the top… behind it… where it broke… I think I get to win the douchey fridge award for the year.

  • Mingles' Mommy says:

    I don’t blame the refrigerator; I blame my mother, who has all kinds of control and territorial issues, and has a deep seated, neurotic need to shove everything that’s mine all the way in the back so I can waste precious time every morning of my life trying to find them when I’m trying to rush out the door to get to work.

    She has also deliberately and maliciously moved other items of mine where they do not belong, which results at times in their disappearing entirely for months, if not forever. She is convinced she never touches anything, I am not home during the day, and yet somehow things move frequently.

    God forbid I ever want to get married – I think I’m prepared.

  • Ann_Margrock says:

    In my case, hubby moved in with me. But…he was Hubby#2 – I had a starter marriage in my mid-20s. I hadn’t lived with anyone in 18 years before Hubby #2 moved into my home. Although he’s 11 years younger than I (yeaaaahh!), he was much wiser than I was about the whole thing.

    He asked for two concessions from me before moving in:
    1) Choose three things in each of my rooms that I could live without so that he could replace them with 3 things of his.
    2) Count all the photos that lined the stairway and hallway, and then remove exactly half of them. He would replace the blank spots with his own photo choices from his collection.
    I balked at first at both suggestions. He waited me out, and I gave in feeling like I had ‘lost’ somehow. Within 2 months the home felt like it was ours and not mine. I never missed the items I removed and packed away. I enjoyed asking questions about the history in the pictures he added to the mix and actually got to know him better from these conversations. We’ve stayed in this house because it made complete financial sense to do so, but it’s not MY house. It become OUR house because he understood that he needed to imprint on it, not just for his comfort but for mine as well.
    We’re about to put this house up for sale and leave this part of NJ (will always be a METS fans, though). I wonder what it will feel like to actually purchase a new house together. Who knows…maybe THAT will be the sticky issue!

  • Faux McCoy says:

    Been married 23 years, but lived in separate states during the engagement and first 5 months of marriage due to work and school commitments. When we finally managed to get into the same time zone (and apartment), it was overseas, thanks to the military. That kind of forced us to work through things because it was not easy to run home to mom or crash with a buddy when things got rough…and they did. I’d gotten used to flying solo a lot. I’d be halfway out the door to go somewhere when I’d remember I might want to let him know or ask him to come with. Sometimes you compromise, sometimes you give in, and sometimes you have to power through.

    I can also say that moving around forces you to take a hard look at your stuff and what’s important. If you have to pack it up and take it with you every 2-3 years, you figure out what is necessity versus nicety pretty quickly. I’ve had 3500 lbs. of crap in storage for 8 years due to living overseas…I no longer even remember what it all is. Obviously not important, and probably should have chucked it.

  • Ann_Margrock says:

    @Jem – I still think the best married arrangement is a two-family house. One house. Me-upstairs, He-downstairs. Frequent sleepovers and meals together. But separate spaces.

  • c8h10n4o2 says:

    @Ann_Margrock: I decided around the age of 14 or 15 that the only way that I’d be married is if we have a side-by-side duplex with those hotel connecting doors on each floor. I want my own bathroom and kitchen. And alone time.

  • Emily says:

    In my case, it was my house that was moved into, and he had moved across an ocean, so had very few THINGS. But we were both in our mid-30s at the time, and neither of us had ever lived with a partner before. We’re still negotiating my tendency to fill every space with stuff vs his minimalism, but I will share one useful phrase we’ve landed on.

    Several years ago, my BFF/long-time roommate and I started using the phrase “who has the marble about this?” (Long story, but it comes from the phrase “losing one’s marbles”). The idea is that if you have the marble about something, you are primarily responsible for the coordinating/planning of it – you can ask for help and delegate, but it’s your deal. So as my partner and I have been settling in together, we agree on certain marble distributions – I have the marble about our finances, he has the marble about house-cleaning. I have the marble about our social calendar, he has the marble about buying groceries. Now we both have opinions about these things – and we have to talk out our differences – but if it’s someone else’s marble, you have to let them manage it.

    The other thing we’ve done is every couple of months, we’ve rearranged furniture in one of our rooms – so it went from being “my living room” to “our living room”. We couldn’t afford to buy lots of new stuff, so that’s the closest we could come. Hope that helps!

  • Cora says:

    Be prepared to make some agreements over what at first looks like really petty shit. It’s your relationship and you get be as weird as you want in your agreements. For example, I’m weird about combining cooking implements in drawers (“it’s not SUPPOSED to go there!!”) and he’s really weird about the way the teabags should go (“They’re not SUPPOSED to face that way!!”). Our second year of marriage, tired of pointless arguments, we agreed: he made sure the colored plastic things did not go into the black-and-silver drawer; I made sure the teabags faced the correct way. Promises were kept, trust was built, neither person diminished the other for having deep-seated weirdness for random stuff. Respect the deep-seated weirdness. You won’t believe just how far the trust from “she’s never let me down with the teabags” will go in other parts of the relationship.

  • Lis says:

    My rule in general is to figure out if you really (all caps) CARE about the issue you’re talking about (for us things like paint color, desk placement, picture choices) or if you have an opinion but ultimately don’t (all caps) CARE. Like, I pick a bunch of paint colors for the kitchen, husband haaaaates all of them, picks a different one I would not have chosen, I start to argue and then realize “OH, I don’t actually CARE, I just like this green color… but my life will not change one bit if I go with his choice and he does CARE” so we go with his choice, or vice versa, I really love love love a couch, husband isn’t into the chaise lounge part of it then realizes that “Oh, I can just sit on the other end and I don’t really CARE about what’s going on in my non sitting part and she does CARE so let’s go with her choice” because I’ve discovered often when we really pay attention to our disagreements one of us is arguing because we do have an opinion but in reality we don’t really have much CARE behind it. IDGAF if our walls are green or white, hubby does, he DGAF if our plates are round or square, but I do. We have yet to come upon something where we both really CARE but are at odds… which is probably why we married each other in the first place.

  • Haras25 says:

    So timely! I’m getting married in April and we are not moving into (his place) together until after the big day. I’m 37 and have lived alone since 23…it’s gonna be an adjustment for sure. It is NOT the same as staying overnight there frequently, I know that much.
    I like Lis’ comment about the CARE factor. It seems like we are making it through a lot of the wedding plans with that “who CAREs about this item the most” mentality, so I’m hoping we can carry that forward into co-habitating.
    We both get a little testy over feeling overwhelmed with chores, but I think that is because we are both trying to help each other with a second house at this point and frankly, that’s just too many chores to divvy up.
    I’m certainly nervous about the “bringing my things to his space” aspect, because I’m so sensitive to his feelings about being invaded. The funny thing is, he CARES a lot less about that than I do, so I’m trying to remember to start making it my home and not tiptoeing around that all of the time. He made peace with losing half his closet space before he proposed to me…I just need to catch up to him and relax about it all.
    Thank goodness we aren’t trying to fit it all in a NY apartment though…I honestly don’t know how you all did that without killing each other.

  • Megan says:

    My suggestion is that both of you keep in mind that you are not choosing the final outcome of the room/drawers/house for ever and ever. You may set up a room, live in it and change it six months later. How you arrange a room is not fixed in stone. It doesn’t even have to be ideal. Sometimes we live in room arrangements that aren’t ideal (even though we know we like the convenience of something else) for a few months to see if it gives us any insight about the house or our furniture. Trying a couple different set-ups over a few months might give you some insight about what to ask for for the wedding.

  • Jo says:

    Pick your battles. Does it really MATTER if he doesn’t put the cap back on the toothpaste? Is it worth arguing about the gross shaving gunk in the sink, or can you just roll your eyes when you wash it away for the 50th day in a row and then complain to a girlfriend later?

    Don’t complain about the way your spouse does housework unless something is actually getting damaged. If you have a husband who does dishes without being nagged, it doesn’t matter if he loads the dishwasher differently or leaves the pots and pans for you. If he gags at the sight of rotten food but you’re too much of an obsessive recycler to throw away Gladware, clean the fridge yourself.

    Find time to spend alone. Don’t feel bad about hiding out in your bedroom with a good book or a movie on your laptop if he wants to watch something you hate or play a video game. (As long as you occasionally get to take over the couch alone).

    Compromise on decor. If he has a painting or chair that you hate, consider that he loves it. Don’t flat-out refuse to use it. Just deal. (But that means he has to accept your favorite weird throw pillow).

    Last, if you’re mad about small things, talk about them nicely. Don’t let yourself blow up. When you’re not in the moment, ask him if he could please wash the shaving gunk away in exchange for you trying to remember to fix whatever annoying habit of yours he doesn’t like.

  • Christine says:

    When I moved into my boyfriend’s place, which was just a student rental that his last roommate had moved out of, but it was still me moving into his rather than both of us starting somewhere new, I had the urge to clean a lot of things (because boys) and I also found it imperative that I rearrange all the books on his shelves to fit some arbitrary pattern I decided was the One Right Way. In hindsight, I was feeling insecure and needing to somehow put my stamp on the place. He was very patient and didn’t complain about my messing up his books. So just recognise that there might be some seemingly slightly irrational behavior as things settle down.

    But I woke up every morning filled with joy and the feeling that I was finally, after all this time, exactly where I wanted to be. Moving in together is the best. I wish you both all the happiness.

  • Jo says:

    Just reading my comment again and it hasn’t been moderated yet, but it sounds like I’m saying, “Just let your husband be obnoxious.” But that’s not what I meant. You both should pick battles and decide what’s worth letting yourselves get irritated about. :)

  • Liz Rich says:

    E here.

    I just moved on Friday, so there are still boxes everywhere. He’s been great–start to finish. As we continue to settle in, I am surprised that immediately upon moving, my opinion about certain items changed. The loveseat that was the first piece of “grown up” furniture I ever bought? Last week I couldn’t have imagined getting rid of it. Now? I still love it, but in its new home, I can see that it isn’t as new as it once was and my kitty loved it as much as I did, so if we can’t find a place for it, that will be okay. Happily, the troublemaker refrigerator was replaced yesterday!

    Thanks for all the great advice. Some of it is new, some of it reinforces what I already knew, all of it is helpful.

  • Judi says:

    Omg, just last night I went on this out-of-nowhere kick to finally overcome the paralyzing part of anthropomorphization, because I’d rather be able to find the ring from my fiance that’s gone missing for four years, than every single local paper that’s come out in those same four years, or the Redbook from ’96 with Michael J. Fox and Tracy Pollan on the cover. During this manic cleaning I cried over, among other things, a broken wine bottle opener because I had it for so long, but couldn’t save it and finally had to say goodbye.

    Thanks for making me laugh; it will help steel my resolve as I finish the closet and tackle the garage! Also, my first week of my first marriage, I got sad that my ex had our broken fridge replaced before I could bid it goodbye.

    On a more serious note, thank you for the kickass advice on living together. It’s something I need to remember more often, and hahahah to the chore wheel. Though I will say that vacuuming most be a more polarizing chore than I realized — to me it is the WORST and I hate it more than absolutely anything else. My fiance blessedly does it and is amazing at it. But I’m more than happy to scrub every inch of a nasty bathroom, or absolutely ANYthing ELSE but vacuuming!!!

  • Robin Barbour says:

    Sarah, I’ve been away from TN for a LONG time and tgis is the piece I picked when I decided to jump back in.
    I would love to read an update on how the lovin’ couple is getting along. Space can be very hard to share. When I was married in an earlier century, the Ex and I spent almost 20 years in a 3rd floor walkup “1 bedroom” apartment; really a small studio with a kitchenette the size of a small closet, and a bedroom barely big enough to hold the bed and some clothes. It was the stuff of nightmares. There was literally NO PLACE to go be alone for even a few minutes. Due to multiple other problems, NOT directly caused by tiny home, we stuck in that miserable space. When I finally threw Ex out and got a divorce, I kept the apartment, but within a few months I was forced out by a fire in the building. I quickly found a better apartment, and now I own my building, which has two apartments. Had a tenant in the first floor for a couple of years, and a second tenant after her, but decided to keep the whole place to myself after that. Meanwhile, I also made a HUGE improvement in relationship, and now have a lovely boyfriend, about 20 years duration so far. He has a small house of his own, a little cottage about a block away from my house. I’m here to tell you, that for us, the secret of a long happy friendship is two houses and three bathrooms. We’re close enough to be right there for each other when we’re needed, and to see each other as often as we like. We can happily disagree about paint colors, furniture choices, brand of toothpaste, or when to do laundry. And I get to keep my cats, while he can go home and breathe and not die of allergies. Sorry this is so long, but like the stuff in my house, I didn’t know what to chuck out!

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