Virginia Ironside’s Dilemmas: Will we be able to cope with living together in middle age?
Monday 18 January 2010
My partner and I have both been married before, and for the last five years we've lived apart, visiting each other regularly. This arrangement has been perfect, but now that my partner's salary has been cut drastically and I'm having to work fewer days a week, we've decided to pool our resources and move in together. As his house is bigger, I'm selling my flat. But we're both worried about how we'll cope with living together in middle age, having been single for so long. Any tips?
Yours sincerely, Aggie
Crikey! I have to say I don't envy you! Although perhaps that's not quite the response you expected. I suppose it's because, as an only child, the idea of sharing anything is anathema. I can do it, after a fashion, having observed how people do it, but it doesn't come naturally. And I really sympathise with both of you. Because, having been married, though obviously you've both shared your lives before, you've each lived for a while on your own and have now developed, no doubt, little single traits, and turned into kind of unadaptable, single shapes, like odd pieces in a jigsaw that haven't got any bumps or dips in them to slot into the other person.
However, my horror makes me realise where the friction is most likely to come from. So first of all, because you're the one who'll be losing most of the power, as it were, I think you ought to spend some of the money you're saving on having the entire house redecorated inside and out. Yes, even the rooms that you think you can live with. This act will stop you feeling too much like a guest. Then restructure each room either together, or agree that some rooms will be "his," some "mine" and some "ours," furnished with a selection of stuff from both your homes.
And if it's big enough I would, quite honestly, start off with separate bedrooms. You can always change your minds later, but it's much easier to start off apart and grow slowly together than to start together and then pull apart. It's kinder, too, to both of you. And in the end you'll probably end up in the same place. But if you do it my way, you'll end up with warmth and love rather than with resentment and hurt. The process is going to be terribly painful for both of you, of course, so try to be as charitable as possible to each other. You will feel you're giving up your autonomy and your own place of safety. He will feel invaded. Neither of these is a nice feeling. But if you can articulate the feelings before you start and acknowledge the pain the other is feeling, you'll be halfway to lessening them.
Then you've got to make agreements on as many things as you can in advance, before they come up and pop you on the nose. For instance, is he the sort of person who likes the television on all day, or the radio on while he's making breakfast? Or vice versa? Sort out your sound differences before you start. And bathroom habits. If you're remotely funny about towels on the floor, toothpaste caps, lavatory seats left up and all that, then go to any lengths to convert even the cupboard under the stairs into a separate bathroom. And space. Before you go ahead, do agree that each of you leave the house for a certain amount of time each day to give the other person some space. As you're both working you may think that it doesn't matter, but it's not the time you spend away from home that's important, it's the hours per week that the other person can spend at home completely alone.
Come to think of it, I think this isn't bad advice for anyone sharing a home, whether they've lived alone before or not!
Spend quality time
My partner and I moved in together for similar reasons, after living on different sides of London for a few years. It became clear very soon that living together full-time meant we made less effort to spend quality time together. This is a simplification, but whereas before we would spend a lot of time face to face over dinner, once sharing a house we increasingly spent time side by side on the sofa.
I think we became lazy with each other and our relationship soured. We then decided to make sure we had a dinner out at least once a week. This became a time for us to air some of our domestic issues over a fine wine and our favourite food. A civilised way to air some problems, though a discreet table in the corner is suggested!
Use some give and take
I am 59 and have been single all my life. I have never lived with anyone until four years ago when an acquaintance became more than that and moved in with me following a split from his wife.
Although I would not call myself house-proud, I was concerned about his tendency to leave things lying around and never clearing up after himself in the bathroom or kitchen.
We also have very different tastes in music, so I was worried that I or he would not be able to listen to our music all evening without upsetting the other one.
However, it has all turned out splendidly with a bit of give-and-take and I would say to Aggie that life is too short to worry about little things. It's the being together as a couple that counts.
Incidentally I would counsel Aggie to get the legal side sorted out and both make wills, as she could find herself homeless if his house passes to his relations on his death.
Name and address supplied
Try it out first
What a coincidence reading Aggie's problem after my "long-distance" partner of four years had an extended stay with me due to the snow. All his "funny ways" (and mine!), which were easy to deal with over our previous very enjoyable weekends, were thrown into sharp focus and resulted in some very unpleasant exchanges and resultant bad feeling. He lost his job a few months ago, and I'm a retired teacher and had previously considered sharing our costs. But this has highlighted how perfect, as you say, this kind of weekend relationship can be, and how one's own space and freedoms are too precious to relinquish.
I reckon a small flat each would be a better recipe for a continuing happy relationship as it would be difficult to get back into the housing market if sharing didn't work. Why not try an extended holiday, as a taster of life together, before you make a decision ?
By email, name supplied
Two is better than one
It will be a good move. You have known him for a long time and when we get older it is always better to be two than one. Tips? Be polite to each other. It is easy to forget ordinary good manners when we are together all the time. "Thank you" is a good thing to say. Oh, and get him to transfer the title of half of his house to your name before you move in.
A R Braithwaite
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