The Pandora’s Box of Cohabitation

So remember awhile back when I asked for your advice on sharing space with a partner and not losing your mind? Well, I’m happy to report that it’s been about three months of cohab-ing and things seem to be going along swimmingly. I think in my effort to make sure that my body wasn’t invaded by sexist body snatchers (laundry, dishes, dinner oh my!) the second he moved in, I forgot how much fun he is, how much I adore watching TV with him, and telling one another jokes while we try to fall asleep. We just make a lot of sense, which, it turns out, is one major protection against stupid gender role defaults.
Having said that, I do have to admit that, from time to time, I’m watching myself fall into what feels like a pretty common struggle. Case in point: the box.
Nikolai left a cardboard box filled with “the etcetera” of his move sitting on the floor of our bedroom for awhile. It was on the floor on his side of the bed, hidden from view. If I was careful about it, I could almost forget it existed, even in our 700 square foot one bedroom apartment. But instead, I thought about it frequently.
I had asked him, with all the nonchalance I could muster, if he wouldn’t mind cleaning it up. Sure, he said. Soon. We took the train to his mom’s house in Brooklyn for a meat-filled Thanksgiving and returned. It was still there. We went away and visited my parents in Santa Fe for Christmas and returned. It was still there.
I felt anger at Nikolai creep up. I felt the urge to unpack the box myself but quickly slapped the impulse away. I expended Herculean energy trying not to say anything, trying to ignore the box and pretend it didn’t matter. And, in fact, to him, it didn’t matter.
He eventually cleaned up the box in anticipation of a house guest. And like that–poof!–it was gone. But I can’t help feeling like I’m left with the first taste of a struggle I will be battling for years to come.
The box today is a baby tomorrow. He means to get up for the 2am feeding, but he’s just so exhausted from work. Next time, he tells me, I should shake him harder until he wakes up. But I don’t. He looks peaceful. I enjoy the time with the baby even if I’m catatonic. The baby tomorrow becomes a pimply tween in ten years. We were so determined to split parenting responsibilities 50/50, but his workplace is more traditional than mine; slowly my writing time gets eroded and we both shrug and fall asleep watching The Daily Show. I miss my work but I love the kid. I’m good at being a mom. The pimply tween in ten years becomes a know-it-all college kid in twenty. The empty nest is more like an echoing cavern. Twenty years of sacrificed sleep and shrugged-away work opportunities and lost autonomy wake me up in the night and I look over at him, sleeping soundly, and feel righteously angry. The kid is amazing–more dynamic and courageous than we ever could have imagined. But where did my–not ours, but my–life go?
I know. I know. It’s just a box. As Nikolai rightly pointed out, he would treat an unpacked box far different than a living, breathing baby. But it’s brought up new ideas for me about what I value vs. what he values and how we can negotiate common space and a common life when those contrasts get in the way. I want to learn how to let go when it doesn’t matter. And how to own my choices wholeheartedly when it does. I don’t want to resent him. And I don’t want him to resent me. Is that possible?

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