going from i to we: how to blend independence with commitment


I've lived alone for close to eight years. That's almost a decade of coming and going as I please, eating when and whatever I want and basically looking out for my own needs before all others. Want to stay up bingeing on Orange Is The New Black while devouring a box of Cheezels instead of eating a proper dinner? No problem. Don't really feel like talking to anyone today? No sweat, you don't have to.

But the prospect of sharing a home with someone I love is now seriously on the table and while I can't wait to properly start our life together, it's obvious there will have to be some sacrifices when it comes to the way I've lived for the past eight years (although I know my boyfriend wouldn't begrudge me a night on the couch with my favourite TV show, in fact he'll probably provide the Cheezels!).

Actually, I wish there was a better word for it than 'sacrifice' which, in my mind, has a bit of a negative connotation like I'm giving something up that I really don't want to. In reality, I'm looking forward to moving in together and I know changing my lifestyle is part and parcel of the whole deal.

The fact is I now have another person to consider - actually I have three other people as my boyfriend's two children live with him 50 per cent of the time. I know we love each other deeply but I have my feet firmly planted on the ground and don't expect the initial stages of us living together to be a honeymoon. I know the first few weeks or months will be a huge change for both of us - in fact for all four of us.

Add to that we will be getting used to life after long distance and there's a whole lot of adjusting to be done - and according to the experts, that's perfectly fine as long as we all give each other the time and space we need for that adjustment to happen.

"People fantasise about how wonderful it will be when they are together [after a long distance relationship]," says Laura Stafford, PhD., a communications and relationships professor at Ohio State University. "People don't think about having to readjust their lives, their schedules, or their living space."

She says it's important to be especially forgiving of your partner's moods or annoyances during this time.

"At the beginning, you might find yourself longing for your old freedom or the romantic dates that you went on when you were living apart," she says. "Remind yourself of all the good things that come with living with your loved one and keep in mind that after some time together, you will learn to synchronise and complement each other."

Clinical psychologist Randi Gunther says the deepest question asked when a couple commits to sharing a space is "How do I balance my personal choices with caring for my partner’s needs?".

"There is a freedom in being single that many are loathe to lose," she writes on the website Psychology Today. "They like deciding what they want to eat, where they want to go, who they want to spend time with, even which side of the bed they want to sleep on."

But, she says, there is also a "beautiful scenario when people joyfully commit to a long-term relationship". "Sharing experiences over time, creating a secret language that is only their own, learning each other’s secrets and preferences, and knowing they share an emotional home are magical experiences in beloved partnerships," she says.

While I'm not "loathe to lose" - as Randi says - those freedoms that go along with being single (in fact I love the idea of a "we" instead of an "I"), I am conscious there may be times when I crave my own space. Again, perfectly normal and in fact quite healthy, according to the experts

Nikki Ho-Shing from dating website How About We says adjusting to life together after being in a long distance relationship involves both partners being very mindful of personal space

"This sounds like the antithesis of everything you think and feel but remember this, though: you’ve both gotten pretty comfortable living separate lives," she says.

"While it’s great that physically your lives are now joined, you still probably aren’t used to having someone in your space at their will. Even if you don’t live together, you risk smothering the other person by making yourself at home too fast and too soon. Yes, you’re both madly, deeply in love and isn’t it so cute that your love leaves a mug out for your morning coffee? Except, no, because that’s not your favourite mug and you like your coffee iced. Even though you have presumably spent a good deal of time in each other’s spaces, be respectful of boundaries, don’t assume too much, and keep communication open."

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