A White Leather Couch
Everyone reaches a point, in a dysfunctional relationship, when differences become irreconcilable. This reckoning can be painful and develop slowly over time with no foreseeable resolve due to complications around finances, housing, family structure, or simply comfort and fear of being alone. Or, it can all come to a head immediately, ending in a dramatic fashion tantamount to Romeo & Juliet, daggers and all. And these endings wouldn't be so painful if they came with some sort of signed statement where both parties predetermine their breakup strategy. That way no one is surprised when the honeymoon phase wears off and reality sets in. From my experience, there’s really no way to judge how, when, or why it'll all shake out. But, after 6 years with someone I considered to be my “other half”, it was really hard to come to terms with the fact that we were moving into different directions as young adults.
It’s possible that we moved in together at a time when it was not financially viable for us to do so. It’s possible that we moved in together before we were emotionally mature enough to handle living with a significant other. Whatever the major contributing factor was, living together lead to a depth of intimacy that opened a window into the many ways we were incompatible. When I look back on spring 2015, I genuinely feel empathy towards the two foolish kids we were. The way I often overreacted to the silly, small things he did wrong was ineffective. I was too hard on him for not having his dreams and future plans chiseled into stone the way, I thought, I had. And all of these anxieties made it impossible for me to relax and embrace spontaneity and fun within our relationship, which, is kind of the point of your early 20s. But, regardless of these glaring realities, he moved into my two bedroom apartment when his plans to move into a house with his friends fell through—as plans often do when organized by 20 somethings.
"The first six months that we lived together felt like a progressive step towards a more serious relationship, and that was exciting.
To say I didn’t enjoy living with him would be a lie, he was a great roommate in many ways. I enjoyed when his friends came over and inevitably crashed on our couch for the night. I enjoyed stashing his hockey sticks at the top of the stairwell to the basement for him to put into his car as he was leaving for practice. I liked it when he came home, tired and heavy from work, and we would sit on the back deck amassing mosquito bites on our legs and playing with the constellation app on his phone. The first six months that we lived together felt like a progressive step towards a more serious relationship, and that was exciting.
I was more willing, in the beginning, to set aside unevenly distributed household duties because this new feeling of security brought butterflies to my stomach for the first time in a while. Then, when the polar vortex hit that winter, my ex’s car became substantively less reliable. Many mornings were spent fixing wire cables between our popped hoods and shivering over subzero temperatures as we fretted about getting to work on time. The stress in our relationship began to boil over as spring rolled around, and I began working at a tech company with demanding deadlines and 24-hour accountability. Suddenly, coming home to a sink full of dirty dishes, and his friends playing Xbox in the basement, started to feel like an abuse of my willingness to do the tidying up, and the excitement faded.
I started to ask myself a very serious, perhaps destructive, question: "Would 9-year-old Hannah feel proud of 23-year-old Hannah's accomplishments?" And the answer, time and time again, was an overwhelming "no". When I posed the same question, as it was relevant to him and his childhood dreams, it was often met with a shrug. Now, looking back, I’m inclined to agree with my ex. How is anyone genuinely supposed to know the answer to that question? But for me, this question had more to do with my sense of grit than anything else. I felt I had a certain tenaciousness at 9 that was getting taken over by an early-20s complacency. When my ex shrugged, he was signaling to me that comfort and convenience was more important than grit and curiosity.
"...that fall we began the awkward dance of trying to figure out whose house to sleep at each night."
It also didn't help that he had some troubling habits, and I was constantly trying to solve his problems. When I started to make a livable wage, and he was still working at a liquor store with no prospects of doing anything else, I began to feel genuine concern that this was going to be my life if I didn’t stand up for myself. His financial burdens would inadvertently become mine, and then an onslaught of compromises would have to be made, on my part, to accommodate the fact that we weren't motivated by the same things, and we were simply staying together because it was comfortable.
When the time came to renew our lease, I decided to move home and he moved into a house with his friends from hockey in another town about 20 mins away. The move required some adjusting and coordination that we hadn't dealt with in a long time, and that fall we began the awkward dance of trying to figure out whose house to sleep at each night.
In the beginning, it felt relatively easy and I looked forward to nights spent away from my parents. On week nights I would go over to the boys' house after the gym, sit on their futon watching them play videos games, and then my ex and I would go to bed. I would lie awake for an hour or so listening to the rest of the members of the house continue to play video games and invite various people over throughout the night, and then, in the morning, I would drive back to Ann Arbor. I was always tired and I never had everything I needed in the morning to get ready for work, but putting in the effort to spend as many nights as possible with him felt like a necessary gesture to ensure that our "separation" wasn't an indication that I wanted to leave. The fact was, I was on a completely different schedule from my boyfriend and his housemates.
Then the alarms started going off. Literally. One night, at 3 in the morning, the Cricket Wireless store on the corner was broken into, setting off the alarm system. It was mildly annoying the first time, and the alarm rang for what seemed like an hour before the police responded and it was shut off. But then it happened again and I started to think, if the Cricket Wireless store was getting broken into on a regular basis, why shouldn't that mean my boyfriend's house wasn't equally susceptible to a break in? Not only was it becoming harder for me to legitimize spending work nights at the hockey house from a standpoint of inconvenience, it was also starting to feel unsafe.
The house was dirty and old, too. The pipes froze in the winter, the carpet was irreversibly stained from people and pets; it creaked and leaked, and the kitchen floor was always littered with trash. The more I spent time there, the more I wanted to entirely distance myself from people who were comfortable living this way. There were some factors contributing to this living situation that were out of the boys' control, I will admit that. Living comfortably on minimum wage in our country is impossible. And it’s even more challenging to do so while paying for school and receiving little to no help from family members. Factor in regular car repairs, buying text books and groceries, and there’s little to nothing left over for frivolous purchases. But keeping a clean house, hiding the drug paraphernalia instead of displaying it like a priceless sculpture, and taking out the trash are all achievable feats for broke, penny-pinching college students.
I tried to help stay on top of some of the household chores as much as I could, after all, I wasn't paying any rent or utilities and was spending the majority of my time there when I wasn't at work. If the boys were skateboarding, I would wipe down the mix-matched set of chairs on the front porch. When they played video games, I would come through with a wet paper towel and wipe away dust and kief. As my appearances became increasingly rare, all of these neglected responsibilities built up, as though waiting for the return of the surrogate housemother to wash up after the messy boys and maintain the illusion that their house wasn't a complete shit hole and they had their acts together. Friends would come over and give their stamps of approval, "Dude, this house is sick" and then track their winter boots across the tan carpet over to the futon, ignoring me and my presence entirely in the process.
" If the boys wanted to spend their evening forcing circle blocks into square openings, they could be my guests.
And then, one night, when I came over after work, the futon was gone and had been replaced with an overstuffed, white, leather sectional awkwardly jammed along the wall across from their flat screen TV where it partially blocked a door, and spilled into the hallway. I asked my boyfriend where they acquired this new piece of furniture, to which he responded, proudly, that they had found the couch on the curb, down the road, and hauled it home. From its sheer size alone, I could tell this was no easy feat. The boys must have spent a good hour carrying, and then pushing this massive waste of time through their front door. The couch was disgusting, and I stood in the living room realizing that, in all the time I spent trying to help clean up and maintain some level of maturity within the four walls of this pseudo-frat, my efforts would never be enough for three, 24-year-old boys pretending to play house.My anger was immeasurable. This gargantuan, leather monster that the boys had spent all evening finding space for within their home, felt like a giant middle finger directly in my face.
I remember my boyfriend staring at me, inviting me to sit down to which I responded, in front of all of our friends, "Are you fucking kidding me?" As if this house couldn't get any shittier and dirtier than it already was. Then, a shift occurred. I suddenly felt no responsibility for any of it. I had my own life to worry about. If the boys wanted to spend their evening forcing circle blocks into square openings, they could be my guests. That was the moment I walked out, got into my car, and spent the night apart from my boyfriend, the boys and their house full of trash. I wanted better for them and I wanted them to care more. But, it was clear, their priorities did not match mine.
Shortly after this, I broke up with my boyfriend. I thought I had taken on the responsibility of solving his problems, but I realized that he didn’t even regard these aspects of his life as a problem. Our disconnect was deeper than the couch, we were growing apart, and when we broke up, it was diplomatic, but emotional. I needed to distance myself from him and his friends, and I knew that he needed to do work to find himself and regain independence. As did I.
There is nothing shameful about feeling comfortable in a relationship. But when comfort comes at the expense of an individual’s growth and happiness, distance is sometimes the only remedy for lifting each other up. I often think women are more willing to put their lives on hold to accommodate boyfriends that are afraid (or too lazy) to grow up. As tough as it was, it felt even better to stand up for myself when I was ready to ask my life for more, and I discovered a lot of individual strength in this break-up.
I spent the next year or so blissfully single and not dating. I reconnected with friends, sunk myself deep into my hobbies, and, as a result, crossed paths with someone I was actually excited about dating and working through issues with. I see now that that stupid couch forced itself into my life at the pinnacle of the disappointment I was feeling for myself and my S.O. and I'm almost positive it will remain jammed in that living room until those boys decide to grow up, or a much more patient woman comes along.