Or, rather, can I?
Today it’ll be one week since my boyfriend of four years and I broke up.
Thankfully, it was extremely amicable, as neither of us can afford somewhere else to live. Even if we could, it would take time to arrange or set up. So today marks one week of cohabiting from separate bedrooms.
One week of awkward situations, strange looks, and funky tension.
One week of concerned family and friends.
One week of sleeping on either the couch or the floor, because I suddenly don’t own a mattress anymore.
Thank god I’ve been a life-long blanket hoarder.
I’ve had this pervading sense of strangeness shadowing me all week, coloring my view. Nothing is really wrong, just sort of off. The best comparison I can think of is growing out your hair, letting it get long, then cutting half a foot away in one go. There’s a lightness now, of muscles I had grown accustom to using currently having no purpose. Sometimes, I have to admit, it is a relief. After all, we wouldn’t have broken up if it didn’t feel right, on some level. Sometimes though (particularly at night) it just feels empty, a phantom boyfriend.
But he’s not a phantom. My ex is very much still in my life, taking space not just in my mind, but in my apartment.
I must admit, there have been a couple evenings where I’ve simply holed myself up in what is now my bedroom, because I don’t know how to feel or deal. As an extrovert, my ex has always filled up a room in a way I don’t, simply by existing in it. Even with headphones in, his laugh will fill up the apartment. His items too, are more likely to be found just about anywhere. Cups and glasses liter every surface, clothes drape on every chair.
I can’t blame him for any of that, mind you. I’m as messy as he is. My room looks like an explosion, particularly this week as I try to fit my life in there. It’s just that, for some reason, I have a compulsive sense of self-consciousness to my mess, and it stays behind my door.
I suppose differences like these are natural. It’s part of the reason we didn’t fit together. In some ways though, we’ve never been more close. Both of us have been doing so much better by the other since the breakup. We’re respecting each other’s space more, splitting evenly the finances and the chores. It’s not an expected side effect, but it is a nice one. By taking some of the pressure off, getting some distance, we’re both more giving than we used to be.
I think as well, we used to assume the other would be understanding when we let ourselves get lax.
We don’t take that for granted anymore.
I feel each mug now, each dirty glass, in a way that I didn’t before. Each has a weight, a presence. It’s a reminder of him even when he’s not in the house. I’m so used to thinking of everything as joint, even the cups I didn’t drink from were my dirty dishes, his clothes my dirty laundry.
Thus far, the separating of possessions hasn’t caused any tension, though it is a lot of work. The separating of chores could be another story. Dishes, in particular, are a major source of tension in many roommate situations. And, on the good days, that’s what we are now. Roommates, maybe friends. Only time will tell if we are going to come to dislike each other over this.
It worries me not because I think we will fight. So far, it’s been surprisingly good. Murdering the impulse to kiss him when I walk past has been rough, but otherwise all is pretty good. The undead corpse of that habit keeps trying to crawl back, the knowledge of our breakup not quite stored in my muscle memory yet. But we haven’t fought, haven’t snapped at each other or bickered in a week, which (despite it being a good relationship for almost half a decade) may be a new record.
It’s less that I think we will fight, and more that I’m not sure how to resolve it if we did.
It used to be so simple. The idea that we’d have to go sleep in the same bed that night put pressure on us, gave us a deadline to figure it out. Often it was as simple as reaching out and taking the other person’s hand, and we’d be ready to listen and compromise. Now, there isn’t any compromise left.
It’s less likely that we’ll fight, but more that our safety net is gone if we do. While the thought makes me anxious, perhaps it is an advantage, as long as we remember it. This week our interactions have been better than they were for a long time. It’s been the grease on our squeaky wheels, keeping us on a better, healthier track. I see why this isn’t something most ex-couples can do though. It feels like staring down the edge of a cliff, like one old argument re-emerging and the peace will be shattered for good.
Personally, I don’t like that. It feels as though part of me is holding my breath. The best I can do for the moment is to remember that this isn’t forever, and hope we can make it through this in-between part of our lives with our friendship in tact.
After all, we seemed to make it through dating without losing it. What’s a little bit of strangeness and transition in the face of that?
Bonus: Here’s my new mattress! It’s just a twin mattress on the floor, so it’s not much, but I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud of a possession.