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What I’ve Iearnt about love after living with a man for the first time in a pandemic

WORDS BY MARY MADIGAN

Love in lockdown.

I moved in with a romantic partner for the first time just as a major lockdown hit Sydney. We’d been tossing around the idea for a while, in typical millennial-relationship fashion. He was spending more time holed up in my tiny apartment than his sharehouse and it was beginning to seem silly and expensive.

So, we found a tiny, brightly painted terrace in the inner city that could fit all our Birkenstocks and signed a lease. While he had been in a previous live-in long-term relationship, I’d never made the jump before. I’d always stuck firmly to dating and I’d always had my own retreat.


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Truthfully, I’d been reluctant to share my space with a man. I never wanted to give up my independence or have to consider someone else when picking out my decor. But, soppily, I really loved this man and for the first time, it felt more right than wrong (though it was disappointing when I realised he thought maps were art.)

Still, despite being in love, I was desperate to not become someone that said, ‘we.’ I wanted to always be a ‘me.’ I wanted to live my life on my own terms, at least to a certain extent, and I didn’t want to suddenly become his domestic slave. Sure, he seemed modern, but I’d seen so many of my friends suddenly succumb to doing someone’s laundry or doing all the cooking.

Despite my fears, I launched myself into couples’ living anyway, even while a pandemic prevented me from relying on all my usual touchstones to feel like myself.

Life on the inside

It wasn’t that living together was a bad thing, it was just – like all things are during a pandemic – a harder thing. We moved in just as restrictions were announced, our removalists wore masks, and no friends or family could come around to see our new digs. Instead, it was just us navigating our new domestic lives together while our social lives were stripped bare.

It was interesting because we were suddenly in our own little world. I became obsessed with decorating because I was working from home and sick of staring at blank walls. He was still leaving the house every day to work, but putting his home energy into cooking or de-stressing by getting lost in video games.

I found I had so much to say by the end of the day. Zoom meetings and virtual chats were leaving me starved for interaction, but he was still getting a social fix at work. This meant we were constantly needing different things from each other. He’d return from work burnt out and exhausted, and I’d be dying to have conversations, even when there really wasn’t that much to talk about (case numbers anyone?). Plus, we were both dealing with our own anxieties.

Learning to be us

I won’t romanticise it and pretend it was easy, but living in lockdown with a man for the first time taught me so much about love.  Or, to be fair to him, he taught me so much about love.

He was not once phased by my actions and was always accepting of me. This was true while I busied myself filling our house with typically ‘girly’ décor (I even had a pot plant cosy knitted to look like a pair of boobs). Or when I somehow became the only person in lockdown that didn’t take a shine to cooking, instead continuing my bad habit of wanting to always order Thai. Or even when I insisted we could DIY a wardrobe, and then realised I was completely terrible at it and he had to do it.

I had spent so much energy worrying about losing myself in a live-in relationship that it never occurred to me I might partner with someone so very prepared to let me be me. Sure, we got on each other’s nerves occasionally, or there was the odd moment where I fantasised about having the house to myself just for a night, but his unwavering ability to give me the space to be myself held us in good stead.

It was a favour I happily returned. I gave him the space to play his video games and make his bread and watch weird history documentaries. I learnt occasionally to give him time out when he came home so he could decompress, and he learnt to lean into the fact he was my only source of social interaction. We found television shows to bond over, food-themed nights to break up the week and comedy specials to give us a timeout from our own anxieties.

The groundwork for a healthy relationship

Somewhere between the first day of lockdown and the hundredth day, we found a real kind of happiness just with each other in our bubble. But don’t get me wrong, I was thrilled when restrictions eased, and that bubble expanded to include all my people. I’d really missed gossiping and my Mum’s spaghetti.

Living with a man for the first time during a major lockdown was an odd and particularly intense experience, but it was one that I think gave us the groundwork for a healthy relationship. There is nothing like forced confinement to teach yourself some manners. We couldn’t buffer our relationship with our mates or hobbies, and we really had to sink in and deal with each other.

This ended up being an incredibly wonderful thing, because he gave me the space to be myself and I gave him the space to be himself. I was in love with my partner before we moved in, but during the lockdown we learnt how to love each other, to bend without breaking, to accommodate and care for each other without sublimating our own sense of self. Sure, I might always be a ‘me’ but occasionally now, I find it feels pretty good to be a ‘we’.

For more on cohabitation during lockdown, head here.

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