Is it possible to maintain your independence in a cohabiting couple?

Libby Marchant shares her experience of living with her boyfriend during college

Leo is my best friend. He makes the best cups of tea, has the comfiest hoodies and dances like an absolute lunatic. We were 19 when we moved in with each other and we hadn’t even had dinner together before. I got a great job in Dublin but had nowhere to live and he needed someone to split rent with. It didn’t make sense at all and was probably a terrible idea. But here I am, a year later. We have painted our bedroom pink and white, bought a Christmas tree and taste tested every type of weird beer that our local off-licence has to offer. We are both fiercely independent and deeply in love and these things do not contradict each other.  

Although we live together and bicker like an old married couple, we still date each other. We go for spontaneous pints, just the two of us. We flirt with each other at parties, and do ridiculous things to try and make the other laugh. This is important, I think, when you’re in a long-term relationship when you’re so young. We try not to take it too seriously. We have a standing coffee and donut hour on Mondays and I still try to match my underwear. When we’re cooking together, we light candles and have a glass of wine. And it’s the best thing in the whole world. Every single day feels like a mixture between a sleepover and a first date. 

When I did terribly in one of my Christmas exams (don’t do literary theory kids), I felt embarrassed to tell him what I’d got so instead we blared Ezra Furman in our sitting room at 11am and had a dance party, still in our pyjamas. Watching him with slightly greasy hair, rocking his air guitar as the morning light streamed in and lit up our clothes that were drying and our books that sit side by side on our massive bookshelf I realised that he is my best friend before he is anything else. 

There’s no expectation that we have to be the same people we were yesterday, or even that the dynamic of our relationship has to be the same every day.

It’s easy for me to get stuck in my own head about our situation. It’s not ideal. We’re too young and we’re moving too fast. Being in a relationship demands that you give up a certain degree of independence, no matter how healthy it is. But we make space for each other to grow and change. There’s no expectation that we have to be the same people we were yesterday, or even that the dynamic of our relationship has to be the same every day. In fact, I’d find that really boring! I have nights where I go out with my girlfriends and we check out cute guys and girls in the club, and I feel young and sexy and full of possibility. There are other nights where me and Leo slow dance to Leonard Cohen and I’m convinced that, if given the opportunity, I’d marry him tomorrow. 

My friends who have been unlucky in love often ask me how I manage to live with my boyfriend and make it work and honestly, there’s no real secret. What’s really important for us though is that we don’t ever, ever, do anything just because it’s what the world deems ‘normal’.  We admit when we have little crushes on other people and laugh about it together – sometimes we even act as each other’s wingman! We’re both ridiculously flirty and we both value freedom. He is who I want to build forts with on Sunday afternoons; he is the person I want to eat McDonald’s with on the last Luas home, slightly messy, slightly tipsy. When he experienced the loss of a loved one a few weeks ago, seeing him sad felt like there was a massive pit in the bottom of my stomach – it was the worst feeling in the world.  All of these things can still be true while I also acknowledge the fact that I love being alone. I don’t want to spend every second of every day with him and neither does he with me. I want to solo travel and meet new people on my own terms, not as part of a couple. I don’t want to share my life with him. It’s my life, and I don’t want to share it with anybody.

When I decided to move in with my boyfriend, I wasn’t giving anything up; I was adding to what was already a messy, filthy and beautiful life. 

I love feeling mysterious and unknown. I love playing my music loud, writing my short stories, having a smoke, drinking a beer, all by myself. I love bitching about men over coffee with my girlfriends. I love planless Saturdays all to myself, where I can take myself wherever I feel like going. I love being a single person. And I love Leo. These things have nothing to do with each other. Love doesn’t mean sacrifice. When I decided to move in with my boyfriend, I wasn’t giving anything up; I was adding to what was already a messy, filthy and beautiful life. 

With the way Dublin is right now, I know a lot of people have to consider moving in with their partner before a conventional amount of time has passed. But living together doesn’t mean that you can’t still have exciting adventures. Leo and I have so much fun just going to the cinema or taking a DART to Bray. We go to Tiger and spend a tenner on some paint and a canvas and get our hands dirty. Every small moment becomes romantic, and when things become overwhelming, remind yourself that you can always buy a two euro beer in Lidl, smoke a cigarette, stand outside your front door and pretend you’re Carrie Bradshaw. If he makes you laugh, and you think he is kind, then why not give it a go? You get to control your own narrative; it’s never too early and it’s never too late. Being ready to live together is a feeling, not a timeframe. If you’ve been with your boyfriend for years and you have no desire to move in with him, more power to you! There’s no such thing as normal in a relationship. People assume that I have my life together because I’m in a serious, long-term relationship but the truth is, I have no idea what I’m doing. But there’s no one else I’d rather be confused with. And I know I must be doing something right because how many people can say that every morning begins with them laughing their ass off with their best friend? I am choosing to do what makes me happy, following the magic and the good feelings, and blocking out the white noise.