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Letters From the World of Cohabitation

by Tamara Shayne Kagel

April 26, 2013 | 10:07 am

The view from our bedroom.

It's been a few months since I've moved in with my boyfriend and I'm happy to report that I couldn't be happier. I was more nervous than I probably let on before it happened but now that it has, I'm ever more resolute that I've made the right decision. Of course, that's not to say every moment is perfection despite my best efforts at trying to make them so. After a few weeks, you start to get sloppier and sloppier in holding up that homey-hologram projecting how you want to appear to the other person.  We had already been dating a year and a half by the time we moved in so there were no big secrets to discover, however, I don't even think I lasted a month before he realized how infrequently I actually wear lingerie as compared with sweats. I also discovered we have a big glaring issue when it comes to our TV watching that I didn't anticipate.  He refuses to watch the "scenes from next week" alleging that it's tantamount to a spoiler whereas I'm desperate for every snippet of next week's episode. This really turned out to be one of the most difficult things for us to navigate in our relationship and while still not completely resolved, it has settled somewhat into a detente where oftentimes, I force him into the kitchen while I watch the last minute on our DVR but sometimes the DVR just cuts the show off and I've tacitly agreed not to adjust the settings to extend the recording by a minute. (I often wonder if every relationship ends up like this -- a holding pattern of give and takes regarding the most mundane aspects of life -- no wonder great love stories always stop once they finally get together.)

But despite these hurdles, things have transitioned pretty smoothly. Yes, I watch a lot less Bravo, but he's given in on rinsing out the sink after brushing his teeth, and I've agreed for now to buy cheese with fat (he had low-fat cheese for the first time when I bought it and said it tasted like cardboard) and he's come to accept I will never be ready in "five" minutes. 

So I would say there's very little to report except that our recent move did seem to complicate things for everyone else. Being an unmarried couple living together apparently gives everyone you come across carte blanche to inquire as to your status as a couple. Our lives seem very happy but our status seemed to agitate more than a few people.

At first these comments seemed to be mere outliers. But as they became more common, I realized that many people's interest had been piqued by our living arrangements and they wanted to know: were we just trying our relationship out or were we going to get married, or were we the type of people who are against marriage?  But everyone had some inquiry as to our plans and they also didn't quite know how to ask about it:

A neighbor kept apologizing for calling my boyfriend my husband. I told her it didn't matter to me and she didn't have to keep apologizing but she said something along the lines of I don't judge as I'm sure you have your reasons.

A window treatment specialist started chatting me up on the house tour wanting to know all about my plans.  I see you're not engaged but are you getting married?  I told her no, thinking maybe unmarrieds seem poorer and she'd give me a discount but the quote still came out to six grand.

At our neighborhood association holiday party, someone introduced us and an older woman replied, oh you're the professional unmarried couple.  I didn't know whether I disliked being known as professional or unmarried more but none of it felt particularly complimentary.

And it wasn't just socially.  Insurance agencies, the power company, home designers, the mailman, credit card companies, Home Depot -- they all want me to give them the magic answer to just what are we? Of course there are also a few folks who are inquiring simply to let me know they disapprove. Usually women, they often let me know I'm an embarrassment to my gender and a failure in the how to snag a man department. But these were just a select few; by and large, most people's questions seemed to be more genuine than critical.

So at first I thought most of these people wanted some reassurance that this step was temporary. That we we are still the kind of people that believed in marriage. But then I realized that it was more nuanced. They seem to be struggling because they can't figure out where we belong without the appropriate label. People just don't have a reference point in their head for what our status is: they're looking for a mental box to put us in to understand what stage of our lives we are in. It would almost be easier if I said I don't believe in marriage because then people could just think of us as unconventional-types.  But that not being our position, there's not a lot one can say. 

So in fact, I've been wondering what am I supposed to say? I'm left in a status conundrum.  I have no good answer. But I do have a happy life.  So for now, I just tell people the truth: we're cohabiting, we're proud, and we're very happy.  Hopefully, that's enough.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Tamara Shayne Kagel is a twenty-something fixture on the Los Angeles scene currently living in Santa Monica.  Currently, Tamara is a successful freelance writer (just ask her...

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