This November, I’m moving in with my boyfriend, and it will be my third time living with a significant other. Needless to say, the first two times didn’t work out. At 22, my first love moved into my already furnished apartment; we split soon after. Later, at 25, my ex and I signed a lease for a one-bedroom in upper Manhattan. We had basically no furniture, so we embarked on an adventure to the Ikea in Paramus, New Jersey. That was the beginning of our demise.
After hours of arguing over which umlaut-titled contraption to bring into our nest, we lost track of time and missed the last shuttle to the nearest bus station. We ended up begging the only remaining car in the parking lot to give us a lift (not safe, I know), and by the time they dropped us off, I’m sure that the good Samaritans—no doubt sensing the tension between us—were silently begging us to get out.
A trip to the furniture store is a potential landmine for couples on the verge of cohabitation. You are both paying for that Karlstad couch, both planning to sit at that corner workstation with shelf unit and drawers. For my ex and me, the Ikea journey marked the onset of a new kind of animosity. We began resenting the things— the seemingly insignificant tables and chairs—that were no longer “mine,” but rather “ours.”
So when my current boyfriend suggested we go to Ikea to scope out beds and desks, my neck turned red with anxiety. We’ve been excited about this move for months. No more overnight bags; no more traveling to see each other; no more keeping quiet during sex out of respect for roommates.
Nonetheless, I agreed to go, this time to the Red Hook, Brooklyn location. Conditions were perfect for losing one’s mind: I was wearing three-inch heels from Saturday night (had forgotten my overnight bag the day before); we made a bad transportation decision and ended up hoofing it through a sketchy part of Brooklyn; it was so hot out that crossing the mammoth parking lot was like stumbling through the Sahara; and it was a Sunday during back-to-school time, so the place was teeming with cantankerous NYU students and their exasperated parents. It wasn’t looking good.
The trip, though, ended up being really positive. This comforted me immensely, but, of course, one successful trip to Ikea does not the perfect move-in make. Although you can take steps to make it go as smoothly as possibly, you can’t predict whether or not living together will work.
Something else about that trip—something other than the fact that we didn’t want to tear each other’s faces off—got my brain moving. While there, my man, who’s quite flexible but knows how stubborn I am, popped this question: “If I adored a piece of art that you hated, and I wanted to hang it in the living room, would you be OK with that?”
I’m incredibly picky about that stuff, but I took a deep breath and said, “If it really made you happy—and as long as it wasn’t offensive to me in any way—I would be OK with it.” I meant it. If I’m finally ready to make those sorts of compromises, maybe I’m really ready to move in this time.
But here’s the most important part—what I’m hoping is the big difference between this move-in and the last two: He and I have a mutual purpose. Over wine the other night, we were chatting about the big day, and we started to get down to the “why” of our wanting to live together. I mean, this is a big decision. We should be able to say out loud the reason that we want to share a space for an indefinite period of time. So we did say it out loud. And we do agree on where we want our relationship to go. And we’re excited.
The last two times I did this, my exes and I moved in for the sake of convenience and swept everything else under the rug. Then one day we pulled the wrong thread, and the whole thing fell apart. I remember that feeling of it all unraveling, and I don’t want to feel it again. That’s too bad, though, because I can’t control where the relationship goes. As Dan Savage says, every relationship fails until one doesn’t. I guess all we can do is tell each other what we want, acknowledge that living with someone can get sticky, and dive in. Here’s hoping the third time’s a charm.