Breaking cohabitation – transitioning from living together to living apart

Major changes can make or break a relationship, and often the choice to live together is one of the big changes that can really show you if you can make a dynamic work with a person. But what about deciding not to cohabitate after having lived together?  That is a decision you rarely hear talked about, because it does not follow the traditional relationship escalator.  Can a relationship survive that sort of decision?  Does it mean the relationship is failing in some way?  Or is it possible it can even be a good thing? This is my story with that transition and what I learned from it.

A stable partnership

I’ve talked before about Kelev, the partner I have been with for eight years now.  We’ve been a central focus in each others lives basically since the start of the relationship.  He moved in about a year after we met, although I really count it happening even before that, since he pretty much started living with me about four months in to the relationship, it just took a little longer before a room opened up in my house and he moved his stuff over.  He was there through the house hunting six years ago, and the purchase of our home, the repairs, the experiment with urban farming, and all the ups and downs.  He supported me through me ex-fiance’s departure, through two years of school to become a certified vet tech, though alcoholism and overcoming it, through a job that felt like hell for a year as I worked to support us with my new career.  We share a bank account, four cats and three dogs, and eight years of amazing memories.

The unexpected announcement

This August Kelev approached me and told me he would be moving back to his Dad’s place, a couple miles across town.  My first reaction, after a bit of shock, because we had frequently confirmed a desire for the cohabitation to be a life long thing, was to try and understand why.  His reasons made sense to me, a mixture of needing to help his family, and a need for some sort of radical change in his life.  Especially with the monotony of daily life now that he couldn’t work, and often couldn’t move around well, I understood why it was so overbearing to be stuck in the same place day in and day out with no change.  To me, that wouldn’t be living, I thrive on radical change for my own growth.  On top of that, he was someone who had spent his lifetime moving every few years, I couldn’t relate to that personally since my childhood was largely stable and my own period of moving a lot was the first time in college.  Still, even without a personal reference, I could empathize with how it wasn’t easy after a life fueled by transitions and new beginnings, to settle down and have that feeling stagnate until you craved it. I also completely understood wanting to help his family, and to be able to spend time renewing his closeness with them.  It wasn’t that we didn’t see them on occasion at our home, but it was short visits that lacked the real depth you have when you are around someone every day.  I confirmed that there wasn’t a dysfunction in our relationship, and he was able to reassure me of that, along with the reassurance that he had every intention to move back within a year or two, and certainly was still 100% on board with our dreams to build a community together in the coming years and move there.  Still, it was terrifying.  I imagine when relationship dysfunction is the cause, it is even more uncertain and nerve wracking, but as is, this was a huge unexpected shift in how our relationship had been shaped almost from the beginning.

Adapting to change

Kelev moved out in August.  Through a series of other events living up, my need for more space, other housemates needs for more independence, or housemates moving to live with other partners, I ended up with the house completely to myself when he left.  I had largely worked through my codependency issues after my ex-fiance left, but it was my first time living completely alone.  That was both exhilarating and terrifying. It was lovely not having to worry to close the bathroom door (although that did increase the rate of cats-on-lap while using the toilet), but it was a bit uncomfortable at night knowing that no one else was home if someone broke in, or I somehow injured myself in my profound clumsiness.  The first couple weeks I kept very busy, I filled the emptiness in my life with action, mostly around the house to keep it functional.  Another big part of this change was that since I had been the one who attended school or worked, Kelev was the one who took care of our home, so suddenly I was figuring out how obnoxious it was to take out the trash, or scrambling around to get home by five to feed the critters in the evening. It’s strange how loading the dishwasher and then unloading it in the morning, or cleaning the cat boxes daily, made me feel more like an adult then bringing home a paycheck ever had.  It was the consistency, if I did not do every task, it just did not get done, so I made checklists and reminders and tried my best to keep on top of it all. After the first few weeks, when the new routine became, well, routine, I began to do a lot of introspection.  I worked a lot on myself, fostering greater independence and self confidence, and trying to really see what areas of my brain meats could use some improving. I also after a time began to discover both a great love of quiet and aloneness, a relaxation into it that I hadn’t experienced since I really began having adult relationships and always having someone around.  I enjoyed sitting with those moments, and also with the loneliness that sometimes came with them.  It was a relief to not have an easy access point to fill my loneliness with, and to instead have to become comfortable with being silent with my own self by necessity.  I did then in October have more housemates move in, other founders of the community who had traveled back to this side of the country so we could begin further working on that dream.  But the short period I had of living on my own is something I think I will cherish for the rest of my life, even if I may not pursue doing so again.

The effect, what our relationship has become

If you’re facing a recent split in cohabitation with a partner, or it’s on the table, this might be the part you really have been wondering about, how did it effect our relationship?  It was such a huge change.  We have gone through many times where we tweaked our dynamic, added a title here, took off all titles there, removed a bdsm component, got involved with other partners, added a bdsm component, stopped sharing a bed every night, experimented with sharing a bedroom, and so on.  Most of those changes had some effect on our interactions, but none permeated our daily lives so completely as this change.

There was a lot that I really learned to love about this.  I found that the time we spent together was often more exciting, more filled with laughter and emotional intensity, because suddenly it was a commodity that wasn’t always readily available.  Visiting his place at Dad’s felt like an adventure, lounging on his bed with his stereo blasting Alice Cooper or Hailstorm while while he fiddled with his wrestling figures and I read a book, reminded me so much of my teenage years visiting a friend or boyfriend’s house, and I felt younger and more alive.  Talking on the phone was a fun new treat, now we had hilarious conversations, sometimes with his sister or niece joining in from his side of the phone, where before phone conversations were mostly limited to checking if I needed to pick up groceries on the way home from work.  The whole experience really had a very youthful feel.  I also found a lot of joy in the separation of  time-to-social and time-to-alone.  I savored the drives home from Dad’s, as I could lose myself in music and appreciate the transition from the warm loved feeling of their home and being near my partner, to the clear peaceful emptiness of being alone again.  And something kind of magical happened, we started really doing things that we hadn’t before.  Our relationship was always so saturated with the every day, we were comfortable in spending hours relaxing while he watched tv and I played on my phone or read a book, and going out seemed like a difficult task, a departure from the comfortable and usual.  Once he moved it, it suddenly opened up a door for all sorts of new experiences.  We went to a concert together for the first time, the aquarium, tried new restaurants, and began going out to community events that we usually would have just been too tired and too low on spoons for.  I also began going to things on my own, without the guilt that I was leaving him home alone (though he never minded and would encourage me to go), I was able to have my own adventures and feel like I could really decided to spend my time however I chose in any moment.  I still choose to spend a good bit of that time with him, our emotional intensity is on an upswing and I’m loving the increased connection that has come of this venture, but I also am nurturing myself as a separate person more, so I bring more stories and experience to the table of our dynamic each day.

There are downsides though.  Sometimes the cats do something hilarious, or I manage to make a spectacular mistake in my clumsiness or absent mindedness, and while I try and remember it to tell him when we talk later, I know many moments are lost in the day and never get shared.  It’s sad, those little things, relatively unimportant, but also the fabric that makes up the majority of the day, are not longer all a shared part of our tapestry.  I wish that every surprised laugh as the cat falls off the counter or I drop my phone in the litter box, could be followed by looking up and meeting his eyes and seeing the laugh lines crinkle as he laughs with me (or at me).  I miss his snores at night.  I never have trouble falling asleep, but I wake early and often with panic attacks, and that noise was my comfort for many years.  Though, the nights he is here each week I just savor it more, my gruff lullaby that says everything is okay.  I worry about his health, it has been getting worse over the years and often I’ve taken the role of remembering the doctor’s instructions and making sure they are applied.  I still go to every appointment and try to remind him of what he needs to do when we get back, but I have a nervous inkling always in the back of my mind that things are slipping through the cracks and one day it will be something important.  My health is also not as good as it was.  I love to cook, but I have much more trouble motivating myself to do so just for myself.  My new housemates are wonderful, but they can cook, so while I do make family meals at times, I’m not -needed- to.  Having Kelev to take care of and cook healthy food for, really helped me stick to eating better as well.  Mostly though, I just miss the endless opportunity.  When someone is there almost every moment, there are no barriers to making each day a love affair or an adventure with them.  I didn’t take advantage of that very often when we lived together and I’ve learned to cherish now what I once took for granted.  That lesson though is something I am every grateful for, because when he does move back in, I will strive not to take those opportunities for granted again and will make every day a wonder.

 

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