(Originally appeared on YourTango.com as “Why Moving In With My Girlfriend Scares The Pants Off Of Me,” Sep 2012)
My girlfriend and I are moving in together, and I think I might throw up. Not because I don’t want to live with her, or because I was bullied, tricked, or pressured into signing a lease (my deepest sympathies to the guy on Maury who was threatened at gunpoint by his future mother-in-law). But let’s just say that sometimes I can be a bit…“skittish” when facing transitions.
Take the first wintery day of 2nd grade, for example, on which I refused to surrender my shorts.
“But it’s cold outside, Ethan,” my mother tried to reason. “Today is a Pants Day.”
Defying her logic, I attended school in a pair of beloved cut-offs, and would regret it by 1PM. Not solely out of embarrassment, mind you, for being the only kid in class to bear my bottom half to the elements — but also because I nearly froze my ass off at recess.
This wasn’t the only time I would stubbornly refuse an abrupt wardrobe change. The next year, I insisted on wearing a specific colorful safari cap to school every day. My mom had to literally pry it off my head once it became too filthy and tattered to wear, just in time to stave off Child Services from taking me on an involuntary vacation.
To uninformed outsiders, this behavior might be interpreted as the symptom of a highly limited fashion sense. Such was the popular, though misinformed assesment of my 7th grade classmates over the orange sweatpants I would famously wear three times a week. The truth is, a pre-approved outfit on the odd days we’d have gym class would resolve the dread I felt over changing clothes. No, I was not the 13-year old male Gaga — deep down my “eccentric” sartorial choices were a product of my inability to relinquish control.
Debbie and I have been dating for over two years now, and we both want to spend even more of each day together – clearly, our decision to share an apartment was both logically and emotionally sound. But give me a few hours to mull it over and pick at the holes in our plan, and suddenly I’m transported to second grade, frozen with rigidity.
Apparenty I still suffer from anxiety over changing on command.
Of course, historically, whenever I’ve had trepidation over a change, I’ve adjusted within days, if not minutes. We humans are adaptive creatures, and I am no exception. But even the seemingly reassuring fact that I voluntarily chose to move in with Deb is of no consolation, as it’s the transition which paralyzes me most. The simple thought of the impending disruption to my normal daily order looms over me like creeping death.
Furthermore, what makes these stakes so much higher than those of a seasonal wardrobe shift is that this time it’s not just the change itself that I’m fearing – it’s the fact that by sharing my living space with another person, I’m forfeiting some of my everyday control permanently. A stream of selfish questions steadily surface: When will I have alone time? How will our sleeping patterns mesh? Can she keep the bathroom clean enough? Will I have to give up porn?
I know that in order to experience the many exciting and wonderful benefits of cohabitation, I will need to make some sacrifices. Living with my girlfriend means that I won’t be able to blast Cannibal Corpse or Pig Destroyer at any hour of the day. Midnight Frosted Mini Wheat dinners and 11AM breakfasts of leftover Linguini ai Frutti de Mare will be replaced by time-appropriate meals shared at more reasonable hours. I will no longer be able to poop with the door open.
On top of all the freedoms I’ll concede, there are the adjustments I’ll need to make to her living style. The bed might not got made right away; the sink might get dirty. I’ll likely lose autonomy over temperature control, and I’ll definitely lose closet space. My living room might fill with lady-friends, cheap wine, and snuggies on a Friday night, while the DVR fills with all things Bachelorette (the episodes, the recaps, the reunions, and the fantasy league).
Thankfully, my girlfriend is a reasonable woman. More than reasonable, even. So for all the sacrifices I’ll be making, I know I can keep the habits and rituals that matter: She’s okay with my midnight vacuuming sessions. She’ll turn a blind eye to at-home happy hours set to episodes of Intervention. She thinks its funny when I talk to myself in different voices, and can tolerate the occasional fart (key word: occasional).Without judgment, she allows me to be me.
Of course, there are also the awesome things I’ll gain from a live-in girlfriend. While the financial boons are great (half-priced cable!), I’m mostly excited about the potential experiences. I’ll have a guinea pig for some of my more daring culinary experiments, and the joy of playing one for her on nights when I’m irresponsibly working through dinner. Massages and compliments will become commodities more regularly traded. Trivial fun facts and deeper idiosyncrasies of both parties will be uncovered. And potentially best of all, I’ll get the benefit of waking up next to the most attractive woman I know.
Life will be different when we move in together next month. But I know that ultimately, I’ll benefit from being forced to finally leave some rigidity behind. Sharing a living space with a partner can evolve one’s very core, helping to form a more selfless attitude. I want to learn how to be a better compromiser. Fortunately, Debbie is patient enough to know that when it comes to compromise, I can be a slow learner. I want to be more spontaneous, more accomodating. And with my love for her already making that possible in our relationship, I know sharing a home is just the next step.
In a recent moment of panic after being selected for jury duty (more specifically, a grand jury requiring a total of 30 days of service), I turned to a classic tome a friend of mine once recommended in times of distress: the Tao Te Ching, the text fundamental to Taoism. Huffing and puffing in frustration, I opened to a random passage and read the first line of translated Chinese:
“The flexible are preserved unbroken.”
Typically I dismiss any religious or spiritual writing as mere mumbo jumbo, but these words struck a chord. Perhaps I was simply desperate for some confirmation that serving on a grand jury is not, in fact, a death sentence (I later discovered that it’s not so bad), but I instantly found great solace in the ancient philosophical maxim. Finding flexibility is not always simple task — but doing so makes survival possible, and teaches us something new in the process.
We yearn for control and predictability because it’s so easy to feel helpless in such a mysterious, expanding universe. Helplessness lies at the root anxiety, depression, and obsessive compulsive disorder. But helplessness can also drive us to become artists, thinkers, inventors – it can give us a reason to strive for greatness, to find meaning for our existence. Perhaps most importantly, when harnessed for good, helplessness makes true love all the more beautiful and important. If you can share the struggle with another person, you might just make it out alright.
Hopefully I remember all of this the next time my girlfriend tells me it’s too cold outside for shorts.