In July I moved into my own apartment. In the grand scheme of life, this was a relatively big deal.
Sure, living alone is probably a big deal for a lot of people, but, for me, it stands out from other life decisions for a few reasons. For one, I grew up in New York City and have never not shared a bathroom, the space most Americans consider the most Holy of private places. The loft I called my home for 18-or-so years had a tenuous concept of personal space—something I only realized once visiting friends who had grown up swaddled by the relative expanse of suburbia. And while I grew up in a middle-class home, it was a city-living experience, and so the lack of privacy and bathrooms rarely felt like a deficit. (It probably goes without saying that this is a First World Perspective and that, among other cultures and classes, this might be the norm.) If anything, not having space teaches you a lot. Mostly, you learn how to be alone with other people, a skill I find particularly helpful in relationships of all types. How to be comfortable in silence, as they say.
There are other reasons the move was auspicious for me—chiefly among them that I’m not sure I ever really thought I would actually be able to live alone. It’s expensive in this city, and I am a saver and a planner; someone who actively considers most decisions, however trivial, within the context of how they will affect them in the future. Living alone seemed to be the ultimate luxury—it simultaneously suggests a confidence in my ability to remain financially stable in a tenuous field, and that I have decided to do something that is purely and deservedly just for me. It’s obvious that cohabiting with roommates is something most people do for the sake of their finances, but it’s also something you do for each other and the comfort of another’s presence. It is a symbiotic relationship, even if you’re not close enough to share anything past the toilet paper in that bathroom you both occupy.
To the most insecure part of me, moving into an apartment alone also suggests that I have a perhaps unwarranted faith in the future. It can’t be a coincidence that I’m making this jump while in a serious relationship. And decisions like this one, however scary (and clearly overthought) it is, have prompted me to look ahead and ponder other aspects of my life in less abstract, distant possibilities, and instead as actual options. My relationship is reflected in the decision to change how I live. I know I want this experience, and I am fairly confident that, in the next however many years, I will live with someone, and we will maybe have smaller versions of us who live with us, too.
I only mention this because, as a person turns a certain age, they tend be accosted by people—friends included—who will inevitably ask if every life decision you make involves—or has been cosigned by—your partner. This has certainly been the case with my move; many people with whom I have varying degrees of closeness to assumed that my moving—before I mentioned I was going anywhere—would be with my significant other. Honestly, it’s been less of an ask, and more of an assumption. If not, why not?
On one hand, it’s flattering when others assume you’ll move with your partner—it signifies that a relationship that others see as strong enough to last. On the other hand, the clear assumption is both mildly amusing and noteworthy to me; these well-meaning people ask the question not because I have suggested I was moving in with my significant other, but rather because they expected it of me. And likely of themselves.
I am a planner, someone who is organized and values being calm whenever possible. But for much of my life, my planning has been at odds with my inability to imagine—or apathy towards organizing—the biggest events in my life. Take college, for instance; a thing I’d always known I would do but sort of couldn’t get a grip on actually happening, even once I was in the swing of it. In my romantic life, a similar dichotomy presents itself: I tend to fast-forward past the first months of knowing someone, where I am plagued with anxiety. I want the end, when I will know the person better, where I will be relaxed and myself, where there is some stability. Where I already know that things will turn out just fine. When people talk fondly of the “romantic beginning,” I find myself thinking of being stricken with an incredibly rare inability to eat.
From a logical perspective, absent of feeling, splitting the cost and use of something like an apartment with someone else makes sense. But, hey, feelings matter, too: it means that the time you spend with your significant other becomes more a default, and less of a choice on a day-to-day basis. By moving in together, you are intertwining your lives unequivocally, rather than picking and choosing when you’re up for it.
It should go without saying that valuing the emotion and personal growth that comes with a decision like this is just as important as the objective finances of it, especially when considering how it might change your relationship. So often, what we believe we’re ‘supposed’ to be doing—the same reason we ask others about what they’re doing—dictates the pace with which we move through those decisions. (The steps that lead to marriage and having kids being at the top of the list.) Things where the independence you were primed to develop past childhood starts to hinge on other people, and your proximity to them.
Our spaces are so easily defined by those people who inhabit them alongside us, if only by default. My dad died a few years ago—over five and a half years ago if we are being precise (as I like to be). It took me awhile to realize that his death is partially why living by myself became so important to me—because I hope it will ground me in the reality of my new life, a thing that is mine that I created that is, above all, stable. I know most people say they would do anything for another day with the person they’ve lost, but I don’t usually feel that way about my dad, and I’m not sure I ever really did. I consider that person I was before he died as a different version of myself—I’m jealous of her, but mostly because she hadn’t experienced this kind of loss yet. And while I wish I had more time with him, I wouldn’t change all the things that made me independent, and distinctly myself—if I had those years back, I would still go away to college, and travel, and move, knowing how they would end.
We are often told that life is short. But that’s a lot of pressure, isn’t it? It’s supposed to make you feel confident to take the leaps you’re afraid to take, and can just as easily make you feel guilty or anxious about the ones you’re not ready for. When I get stuck in a rut, my very wise mother always says something to me that a good friend told her. “As Joe Fitzgerald says, ‘Life is long,’” she says, in an effort to soothe me. Most of us have probably spent too much time feeling guilty about the things we should have done, or shouldn’t have. Things without closure, stories without endings are the scariest things in the world, but they don’t have to be.
That doesn’t mean I’m not nervous—writing about yourself on the Internet means holding yourself accountable to something that may never pan out. But, as Joe Fitzgerald says, life is long. Will I regret not moving in with my boyfriend earlier? We all know I don’t know. In the meantime, I sure won’t regret having had my own bathroom.
Kate Dries is the Managing Editor of Jezebel.