Living arrangements come in all shapes, sizes, and distances from one another.
“What? I can’t hear you,” I yelled back, hoping my partner might make out my response through shared walls.
We were learning to communicate in our new living arrangement — two small condominium units, next door but not connected, with access through the public hallway or via the shared exterior balcony.
The two of us, age 62 and 67, have been in a committed relationship for the past 16 years. We returned recently from traveling overseas where, for two months, we shared small spaces — hotels, apartments, or co-joined airplane seats.
The experience offered much. We:
- Improved our ability to read one another’s non-verbalizations and avoid conflict.
- Strengthened our shared interests and concerns (politics, Rhythm and Blues, health, walking/biking/skiing/kayaking);
- Recognized we each had activities we wanted to develop individually (boats and fishing for him; writing and friends for me).
Separate, but nearby, would help us meet our newly defined needs.
Making this living arrangement happen was not as easy as we had projected. There were a lot of mis-starts and moments where one, or both, of us felt rejected. We agreed to refer to our two places as #4 and #5 — not “mine and yours.” And, we concurred each of us had final approval on one space but heard and considered the suggestions made by our partner on the other.
When our friends heard of our new concept, few stayed mum. One asked if we’re having relationship problems. Another wanted to improve the space flow, suggesting we take out one or more walls between the two units. And still others proclaimed, “That’s brilliant!” or “Wish I’d thought of that before our last move.”
We’ve been in our pair of residences for about two weeks and so far there have been a lot of plusses and just a few minuses for our living arrangement “together.”
- When discussions cycle out of control, it’s easy to say, “I’m going next door,” without rejecting the partner;
- The units look and feel different and serve slightly different functions suggesting we have more room that we truly do: we cook and sleep in #4. We escape to #5. We read in #4. I write in #5;
- We don’t trip over one another in a shared bath or closet;
- When we have guests, we give them their privacy in more in a full apartment, not just a bedroom; and
- When I brought home a bass drum to use as a table in #5, my partner rolled his eyes but didn’t object.
Occasionally, we have lost one another in the space we now call “ours.” On Friday, it happened. We each walked counter-clock-wise. As my partner entered #4 from the balcony, I entered #5 from the hallway. Our consistent footsteps kept us wondering where the other had disappeared to.
And, as in so many new spaces, I still misplace my glasses and keys constantly.
Our efforts might not be an example to the U.S. Congress of how to reach across the aisle, but it will surely get us to our 17th year living together.
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Judy O Haselhoef, a social artist, story-teller, and author of “GIVE & TAKE: Doing Our Damnedest NOT to be Another Charity in Haiti,” blogs regularly at her website, www.JOHaselhoef.com.
Copyright @2017: If you’d like to use any part of it (up to 200 words), please give full attribution and this website, www.JOHaselhoef.com.