My sister, who lives in the UK, has recently moved into in a charming, if slightly ramshackle apartment with her fiancé. The charm comes from the sunlight streaming through stained glass windows, the ramshackle aspect from the bath, which emits a paltry drizzle of water that alternates from scalding hot to glacially cold. But that’s England for you.
Out to lunch with Anna, a new friend, my sister heard about how Anna and her boyfriend of six years were going to try and have a baby in the spring. “That’s great!” my sister exclaimed, but then thought to ask, “So are you two going to finally move in together?” Anna baulked. “Not if I can bloody help it!” For Anna, things are perfect as they are. She loves her boyfriend, yes, but she doesn’t need him around all the time. In fact, she likes that he has to make a date to see her and that she has her own space with none of his dirty socks stuffed between her sofa cushions.
Though one might wonder what will happen when the baby arrives and Anna wants her boyfriend around to change a dirty nappy or steam up a colicky baby in the middle of the night, this story got my sister thinking about the state of modern living arrangements. “Yeah,” she told me, “some nights it’s great to live with your boyfriend—oh yeah, I mean fiancé. Those nights when you want to be cozy and drink Ovaltine. But sometimes you wish you didn’t get so domestic, like those nights when you peck each other goodnight and roll over to sleep and remember you are just twenty-six.” Suddenly Anna’s date-making was sounding appealing. Did Anna have the both of best worlds? The long-term loving relationship and the life of a single, independent, flat-owning girl (with a baby)?
Obviously, things are different now than when our parents got hitched. The usual story back then was boy meets girl, boy marries girl and soon there is boy, girl and baby. These days, a lot of people are waiting before getting married. They want to have fun, date different kinds of people, go teach English in Korea. So a lot of twentysomethings are drifting around having drunk conversations with good friends that go something like, “If we’re not married by the time we’re thirty—make that thirty-two—let’s promise to end up together.” Ah, the just-in-case backup plan.
This isn’t to say that people aren’t getting involved in fulfilling long-term relationships. It’s just that the trajectory is no longer so simple. It’s a wonderful thing to find the elusive One, but if you meet that someOne when you’re twenty-two, and you were planning on settling down at thirty, then eight years is a long time to nest.
Some of my friends are being quite clever about their living arrangements. Phillipa, a smart cookie, has a charming apartment in Mile End. Though she doesn’t live in the same building as her boyfriend, they share a fire escape. That way they have their own spaces, but can drop in and out at a whim. The arrangement suits her quite well. I did have to ask, though, what would happen should they ever break up. “Well, one of us would have to move,” she said decidedly, “and it would maybe have to be him.” Never mind that he’s been there six years—her apartment is much nicer.
But Phillipa is not the only one. My friend Kiera has a very cool postmodern mother who, after separating from Kiera’s dad many years ago, got seriously involved with a lovely gentleman. But instead of moving her partner in with her and her kids, Kiera’s mother had him rent out her basement apartment. He is now finally making the move upstairs, but Kiera thinks the basement arrangement was a great transition. She and her brother got used to having him around, but they still had their privacy with their mother, and Kiera got to watch TV movies with her mom in the queen-size bed.
People seem to be trying to perfect that fine balance between independence and codependence. Many of us may want to shack up with our honeys and do the common-law thing, but the process can’t be rushed. In fact, I have two friends here in town who have recently become engaged (not to each other). Both girls are in long-distance relationships, and though they’ll be happy when they can once again live in the same city as their honeys, for now they’re enjoying their Montreal lives while their betrotheds seek their fortunes in southwestern Ontario. Poor saps.
How feasible are such alternative living arrangements, though? Not every couple has the means to pay two rents. And long distance, though at times romantic, is expensive and often very trying—if not downright lonely. But for love or money, people are trying all kinds of things when setting up house. After all, if home is where the heart is, it doesn’t really matter much if you end up at his place or yours.