My boyfriend and I moved in together almost a year ago. At that point, we had been dating for only a year. At 23 years old we thought we knew everything about each other since we spent most of our weekends in college together (surprise, we didn’t). Friends and family warned us about taking such a big step. “You’re too young,” they said. But despite my learning of his secret talent of leaving empty seltzer cans all over our place, we had similar living habits and it wasn’t as big of a deal as people made it out to be. We had found what worked for us, and nothing was going to change. That is until the introduction of quarantining at home. Living with my significant other in 2020 posed some new challenges.
I was nervous when we were forced to stay home. Spending so much time together inside would cause us to fall out of love. Reports of the pandemic wreaking havoc on relationships began to pop up everywhere. To my surprise, it had the exact opposite effect. We were able to shed the weight of our previously busy schedules and ultimately, reconnect.
The year started out with us performing our normal routines, which entailed practically never being home. We would wake up at 5:30 a.m., hit the gym, get ready for work and my boyfriend would drop me off at the train station. Around 7 p.m., he’d pick me up to go home, I’d cook, we would eat dinner together and then sit on the couch drained from our day staring at the TV until bedtime.
That was our life every day, for months. Our weeks were structured, but we barely spent three hours a day in each other’s company. Although we made up for it on weekends, we still hardly spent much time together during the week. Our busy schedules ruled our lives and ultimately kept us apart.
Then, of course, the shutdown of the tri-state area happened. We went from being in each other’s company for three hours a day to 24. We were both mandatory work-from-home, which essentially made us honorary coworkers. However, this was a blessing in disguise for both of us. It was a nice change of pace to just wake up, work and relax.
Now, here we are five months later, and our lives and the relationship has evolved. Before the pandemic, I thought our relationship was mature considering how young we are but it actually matured even further. What I learned living with my significant other in 2020 are relationship skills that will last me a lifetime.
1. The Number One Secret is Space
I know you just read that and questioned how it is possible to have your own space when living with someone during a pandemic but it’s true. In the beginning, we both started off working at the dining room table together. Thankfully, I am the type of person who can work on my laptop anywhere. I started to transition to the living room chair, couch and sometimes my bed. It wasn’t always the most ideal work condition but this was space enough for us. Even if we did work together, we stayed focused. We kept conversations during work hours to advice and current events. By doing so, when it was dinner time, we had a lot to chat about.
I am a firm believer that everyone needs their alone time—even the simplest things. Sometimes I’d go for a run alone or watch reruns of “The Real Housewives” franchise while he watched the news. These small tidbits of alone time helped us value our active time together.
In March, I was temporarily furloughed and I knew I had to keep myself busy. I did this by expanding my skills and establishing goals for myself which led to me rediscovering my passion for writing and I sought out a different career opportunity in an industry I always wanted to be a part of. I could have easily latched onto my significant other to keep me entertained, but he had his own career. Just his support and reassurance that everything was going to work out was enough to keep me going.
Of course, a long-term relationship should be a partnership. Just because you move-in with someone or even date someone for a long time, it doesn’t mean you have to lose yourself. If you want to volunteer, go run errands alone or choose to spend your weekends differently, that’s fine. Having your alone time gives you more of a reason to catch up or chat about things you’ve experienced throughout your day.
2. Strive to Put in Effort
Pandemic or not, whether you’ve been together six months or five years, you should always contribute effort into your relationship. I’m not saying one of you needs to shower each other with gifts like silly knick-knacks or flowers every week. Contributing effort in a relationship can be as simple as asking how your partner’s day went. It’s important to be present with your significant other at the end of the day, if possible.
At one point during this pandemic, I was worried we were going to run out of things to talk about. That was never the case. The pandemic alone was material enough, but we didn’t let those current events consume us. Every day there was something new to discuss. We picked each other’s brains, we learned from each other. Even while working from home, we dove into each other’s profession and industry. I feel like I took a crash course on finance these last few months, yet there are some concepts that just still blow my mind that I don’t think I can ever understand.
We didn’t spend our time on trivial disputes like what we were watching. We compromised and picked up on each other’s interests. If you truly want to spend time with someone, you’ll compromise for each other and even sometimes pick up on your partner’s likes and/or interests. At the beginning of quarantine, I still had to keep up with my go-to shows and the drama from Bravo’s reality tv series “Vanderpump Rules” eventually drew him in. We looked forward to watching new episodes of the current season every week. Then, his passion for finance led us to watch episodes of Netflix’s “Dirty Money” series until 2 a.m one night. Who knew?
3. Stay Busy as a Couple & Individually
Going out and making plans together is one of the joys of being in a relationship. Of course, it was hard to have a date night in the middle of this year, but my boyfriend and I made sure to go on long drives, walks—just to get out and not feel trapped. Even now with places somewhat open, after dinner, we go out for a walk and let the night take us to wherever. Being spontaneous in a relationship usually leads to the best memories.
2020 has definitely redefined date night for us. Before the pandemic, we fell victim to always going out to upscale places or racking up the bill thinking that’s what it meant to have a good time. However, we were reminded that a fun date night can be at our local pizzeria, diner, ice cream shop or just even grabbing drinks. There is no price minimum for a date night; as a couple, you should enjoy anything, anywhere.
On the other hand, when you’re in a relationship, it’s important to be independent and stay busy on your own. When I was furloughed I took it as the perfect opportunity to work on myself and what I wanted. When you’re in a relationship that shares the same work ethic and values as you, you truly inspire each other. As a couple, you’re supposed to push each other to excel in life because that’s a partnership.
4. Know When to Pick Your Battles
It’s never worth getting into it over little things because that’s what they are, little. Did I find myself getting sick and tired of cleaning up Bubbly seltzer cans every other minute? Yes. Did I let that ruin my day? Absolutely not. It was as easy as communicating respectfully, from a good state of mind. In the end, it became an inside joke. Don’t let things escalate.
When you’re living with someone, you possibly know them better than they know themselves. Therefore, you need to know when it’s time to walk away from a conversation and drop it. Again, the idea of space is very important; take your time to collect your thoughts and know when to be alone. Also, if you know you’re not in the best mood one day because of outside factors, you need to know when it’s time to be alone until you’re in a better mood. Taking it out on your partner is not fair to them. Lastly, don’t shut out your partner if they are trying to console you. Accept it, or if you’re someone who needs space when you’re in that mood, appreciate the effort and then communicate that you need to be alone for a bit.
I knew quarantine didn’t affect us negatively when boyfriend said to me, “This quarantine helped our relationship and brought us closer together.” Even though the stress from our jobs hasn’t slowed down during this time, we’ve become each other’s support system when we need advice. Not to mention, we were both able to rejuvenate from our crazy schedules and enjoy the little moments instead of feeling like zombies 24/7.
No, I am not a relationship coach. I’m 23 years old in 2020 living with my significant other for the first time. But in doing so, I learned that moving in together isn’t the end of who you are as an individual. Rather, the beginning of your journey together. No matter where it may lead to, you both grow and change but ultimately, learn to be independent together.