We submitted our application for our first apartment together on Thursday afternoon. Wednesday night, we had a touching conversation about starting to build our lives together and how awesome it will be to come home to one another on a daily basis, and how each of us is the best thing in the other’s life. We held each other tight and tears were shed. Living with him used to feel like an impossible idea, so much so that one of the disquieting questions that lives in the back of my mind used to be, “How does it feel to be in a relationship where living together will never be an option?”. I remind myself of that when “nevers” get tossed around in my head these days, because nothing is permanent. My daydream/procrastination time in the past few days has involved online window-shopping for console tables, patio furniture sets, area rugs, even a new bed frame. These things excite me. “Our apartment” excites me. I know there will be challenges, and days we get on one another’s nerves, and probably some nagging about cleanliness and general organization, and assorted other things that take some getting used to around living together, but on the whole I think about the next year of our life together and just feel sappy and goofy and exuberant.
I told him that I’m not completely unworried. I didn’t get into why. One of the biggest things that worries me, we’ve already thought about and talked about: the fact that my partner who I will be living with has another significant other who is long distance. She doesn’t have her own space here for them to spend time together in when she’s in town, which seems to point to either costly hotels or me needing to vacate my home for a period of time to give them space/time to spend together. Which, at face value, seems like it’s going to suck. I can barely handle her coming to town and me not getting to see him for a stretch of days as is. I was such a mess at the end of May when I didn’t get to see him for a week because of poor planning around her visit.
But some of that messiness was productive. In advance of her visit, I purchased The Jealousy Workbook: exercises and insights for managing open relationships
, after seeing a poly tumblr I follow recommend it in their FAQ. (I don’t remember whose FAQ it was, sorry!) Overall I think the book was helpful and constructive, but it was downright painful to go through at times. It made me name and confront feelings I want or have, like “knowing my partner will always prioritize me,” “having my partner’s abiding loyalty and commitment,” “spending most of our free time together,” “the stability of being able to plan our future together,” “feeling controlled or restricted,” “sexual problems: not enough sex, differences in sexual needs, loss of passion,” “not being sure what I can count on,” “not having guaranteed access to my partner,” and dealing with “lots of ‘surprises’ that can disrupt my life” in the form of a cost-benefit analysis. It made me think deeply about how important my needs for companionship, affection and touch, sexual satisfaction and compatibility, emotional intimacy and closeness, romantic love and romantic attention, intellectual rapport and compatibility, an adequate amount of quality time together, trust and emotional safety, long-term security and the stability of the relationship, sense of family and community, domestic partnership (compatibility in living together or spending time together), independence, personal autonomy, and privacy, shared interests and activities, similar values and worldviews, and financial compatibility are to me, and how well each of those needs is being met in my relationship. To make a long story short, this book put me through the fucking wringer. But some good insights came out of it.
Exercise 9 helped me to identify sadness as the primary emotion I experience in episodes of jealousy. Exercise 12 had me unwrapping that sadness and trying to figure out what it’s made of, examining the onion of that feeling. In so doing, it occurred to me for perhaps the first time that there is a chance that being around him literally all the time will make me less averse to having time apart. I’m about to move from a Time with JJ scarcity model to a Time with JJ abundance model. This could backfire, and my brain feel like NOPE WE’RE USED TO GETTING ALL THE TIME WITH JJ! I DON’T WANNA SHARE ANYYYYYYY! But there will be little things about being around one another all the time that are annoying, for sure, and even entirely outside of that, I can see my need for independence/personal autonomy becoming a thing I need to devote more time/energy to when my life is structured around our interdependence. Also, a significant portion of the sadness I feel when she’s in town now (and the gap between the importance of an adequate amount of quality time v. how well I feel that need is met in our relationship) revolves around feeling like I’m waiting for him to decide when he wants to see me again, and I don’t know when that will be. But that will no longer be the case when we’re living together. The situation now is that I only get a certain amount of days to spend with him, which usually feel as though they’re at his discretion, and whenever she comes to town I am losing days to her. But in six and a half weeks, I’ll start to spend literally every day with him unless one of us is out of town or she’s here. I expect that there are probably big emotional differences in those two realities, though I can’t quite predict exactly what they’ll be.
Our relationship has gone through a few distinct phases already, each of which came with its own sets of emotions, challenges, desires that felt untenable, fears, etc. When we first started dating, I wasn’t his primary partner, and I assumed that the person who was would always be. My big issues were how to ask for an amount of time to spend with him that felt “worth it” without causing undue stress upon their relationship, and a lot of complicated feelings around recognizing that I was falling in love for the first time in a relationship that I thought could never look “normal,” in a relationship I wasn’t even telling people about yet because of its unusual nature. The beginning was very future-unsure; every time I saw him could have been the last time. Once we got past that, and started talking about a future together as a thing we both wanted, the big issues were around reciprocity of investment and prioritization, feeling off-balance in how much I was giving versus how much I was getting. Phase two was actively future-wanting, but not being sure what that future looked like. Since the priority of the two of us as a team has been established, this third phase has involved preparing to make our lives look as wrapped around one another as they feel, while still making space for his other partner, because I don’t want her to feel the way I felt in phase one, and also recognizing and accepting that I may not ever want to have additional partners again, and recognizing and accepting that the feelings I have around his other partnerships may not ever completely go away. This has been a future-planning phase, as well as a self-reflective one. And again we are moving into uncharted territory, but this time we’ve scoped out what lies ahead and tried to draw preliminary maps. We’re embarking on the task of building a home. This is phase four, and if the previous phase-shifts have taught me anything, it’s that I can’t expect to feel then how I feel now.
That’s what I try to remember when I think about needing to decide whether to re-sign the lease after a year. Our move-in date would be 7/29/15, which means that we’d probably need to decide whether we want to renew or not by 5/29/16. The end of May 2016 has two large significances in my mind at the moment: his 5th Reunion, and the fact that the girl that he is dating long distance will have graduated from her master’s program in LA by then, and could possibly have decided or still be deciding whether she wants to move back to the DC area.
We wandered around in downtown Silver Spring last Saturday afternoon after looking at four apartment buildings, including the one we submitted our application for, and got really delicious burgers at this place called Burgerfi. While we were waiting for our food to be ready, we started talking about lease lengths, because the leasing consultant we were working with at the last place we visited asked him what we’d think about a 15 month lease instead a year-long lease while I was in the bathroom. He told her we hadn’t talked about it, and so we started to talk about it in the restaurant. He hadn’t been aware that the lease term can be something more random than a year. We were both okay with the idea of 15 months — it’s not that long of an additional commitment, and it would mean we can stop moving in the summertime, which is better for the actual moving process and no longer peak season in terms of apartment-hunting in this area. I asked him how long of a lease he would be down to consider, and he asked how long they can be. I said the longest I’ve seen is 2 years. He said he wasn’t sure. He turned the question back on me, but conveniently our buzzer started going off, letting us know that our food was ready, and we went to go get it and conversation drifted to other topics.
I have said to other people, but not to him, that I would not be willing to consider a 2 year lease with him at this time. For the people I share fewer intimate details about our life with, I generally say something to the effect of, “That’s as long as we’ve been dating,” which is the truth. But for the people I can be real with, I bring up the potential for the other girl to move back here, and how I don’t know what the best way to handle that would be. He and I have only discussed it once, in the hypothetical, and of the living situation he said it could be dope if she lived nearby, and that he anticipates tension around him living with me and not living with her, that in fact some of that tension is already playing out. The implication that her moving back here wouldn’t have a bearing on whether he and I continue to live together is probably supposed to reassure me that we’re a team, that we’re growing and building together, that wanting some sort of a future with her does not substantively change the future we are creating for ourselves.
But I honestly don’t know that I’d want to continue to live with him if he were going to be splitting his time between us. I don’t want to come home to an empty apartment a couple of nights a week. I’ve never wanted to live by myself, and I already imagine the weight of his absence in bed with me and during our morning routine being crushing. But what’s the alternative? Will I want us to go back to living apart after I was the one to suggest we live together? Will I go looking for a room in a house again, spend my time with roommates, see him a few days a week at his discretion like I do now? Would she want to move in with him if I don’t want to live with him anymore? Would I be able to handle that? Would our relationship survive downgrading from being live-in partners? Could it survive the emotional turmoil I suspect that I’ll go through knowing he’s spending the night with her while I’m sad alone in our bed? Is there a way she could move back here without the everyday reality of our relationship suffering critical losses? Is survival in either of these scenarios dependent largely (if not entirely) on the degree to which I’m fine taking what I can get? And what is that if not settling?
He thinks about the farther away future than I do. I don’t feel capable of making plans past what I know to be true or can reasonably predict. And him having another significant other that I do not know and do not communicate with means that my prediction range is short. Whenever anything happens with her, it’s a surprise that feels disruptive. (How can it not? How are she and I not diametrically opposed, even if neither of us is actively trying to “win”?) Him loving someone else makes me feel like the ground I stand on isn’t solid long-term. The terrain is inevitably going to change in ways I cannot predict or control. My choice will always be adapt or flee. But committing to adaptation before I know for sure what I’ll need to adapt to is going to be terrifying. I can feel it already. I feel great about the next year in our life together, but from where I stand right now, it’s hard to see where we’ll go beyond that.
But then I think about where we were a year ago today, and how much has changed. It was a lot harder for me to see how he prioritized our relationship then, and commitment to one another was a thing we talked about occasionally, but that commitment wasn’t nearly as reflected in our day-to-day as it is now or will be in six and a half weeks. We were figuring it out as we went alone then, and we’re figuring it out as we go along now, and for as long as we go along, we’ll be figuring ourselves, one another, and our relationship out as we go along. What’s going to happen is always an unanswerable question, whereas do we want to move in together is a resounding yes on both sides. Do we want to make this work is a resounding yes on both sides. Are we willing to put in emotional work and have hard conversations and make some sacrifices to put the relationship first is a resounding yes on both sides. We are moving into uncharted territory, but we’ve been building the skills to deal with the challenges we’ll find there from day one.