I’m not afraid of living with a man. I did it once in my twenties, (though afterward, I swore I wouldn’t do it again), I lived with the man I married (though my union was, at best, part-time), and the man I’ve been seeing for several years now – well, we’ve spent periods of time when we’ve been living together, more or less.
Summers, mostly, when his work schedule changes entirely and he’s with me or I’m with him – I’m working and writing, he’s doing this and that.
It works. It has from the beginning. And it continues to work.
Lately, we’ve been dancing around next stages, without actually using words that risk making either of us uncomfortable. E words. M words. Hell, the LT phrase – living together – is challenge enough for both of us.
Like me, he’s divorced, though he was married for more than 20 years, and also like me, has been on his own long enough to be well past the post-divorce “playtime” phase.
He also enjoys a life and a place he’s settled in. And he laughs when I point out that we’ve already lived together, though for short periods – two to three months at a time.
But here’s the thing. I’m finally “free” – free in the sense that I’m done feeling buried by “must-do’s” that are about running a household with kids, just barely getting by, counting down to a few hours when I might catch my breath.
I’m done with the 3,300 loads of laundry I once estimated I’d washed; done with the 3,600 school lunches I prepared, bagged and labeled; done with the endless homework help and the agita-inducing driving lessons; done with the middle-of-the-night catching up on my own work, and the middle-of-the-night terror that I wouldn’t make it through raising my kids.
But I did. Bone-tired and a little spaced out at the finish line, but I did.
I’m also done with putting myself last, though putting myself first is foreign and I’m not sure I’ll ever arrive at achieving it, much less believing that it’s okay.
But I love my freedom. I loved it before marriage and have only regained it since Empty Nest. I have my ways of doing things, and no one interferes. I love when my guy and I are together, and I also love when I have the silence of my little place without interruptions. I can throw myself into a 14-hour stretch of writing if I like, or a 14-hour stretch of client work, or for that matter, a few hours of chick flicks or old films on the rare occasion I indulge.
I don’t have to answer to anyone. I think that’s what I like best.
And I sense he feels the same way – about his life, his place, his freedom.
Yet we’re crazy about each other, we love being together, and we’re shuttling here and there with duplicate bottles of vitamins and Advil, razors and shampoo, underwear and belts… not to mention his pots at my place and my pans at his. When something has gone missing, we laugh that it’s wherever we aren’t, but were, last.
So with the new year, we look forward, though we’re careful to focus on the present.
“I’m happy with you,” he says.
“I’m happy with you, too,” I reply.
“So what do we do about that?” he asks.
I shrug… my upper torso variation of dancing the Maybe Mambo when it comes to figuring out how to live together, sauntering to the Hesitation Hula as I consider what I would gain if we did, dipping down into the Trepidation Tango as the fear hits and I conclude: We’re good now, why mess with it?
And I know this is the fallout from the divorce, the disastrous years after, the shadows of looking over my shoulder. I still struggle to trust – my judgment, the possibility of a relationship staying good, moving on to whatever might come next. I’m resolutely in the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” camp, at least, when it comes to relationships.
My ideal living arrangement?
That would have been an easy one to answer two years ago. My own little place, someone I love when I feel like company, and otherwise, the freedom to do as I please – at last – assuming of course that I had the financial means to do so.
Now? Two years later? It’s not that a great deal has changed, except the relationship has deepened, separation when he leaves (or I leave) after a few weeks or months together is more difficult, and I’m very much aware that cherishing the person you love is a gift, and one not to be taken lightly.
So I think about what I give, and I am certain I continue to hold back, wanting to give “enough” but not too much, so that I don’t inadvertently give myself away (as we so often do in marriage).
And I try to concentrate on the present: warm feelings when he walks through the door with a bag of produce from Whole Foods, laughter when he’s wondering if his toothbrush is at my place or his place, the sound of his breathing as he sleeps – so easily – and I sit up in bed beside him, writing and editing into the night, and dreaming the dance we master now, as things are, together when we can be, when we want to be, and freely respecting the sanctity of hard-won space.