Married, With a Roommate

Marriage has all these tiny rules. Sometimes I don't know when I'm breaking them. Everyone else seems to have learned them better, even before they are married. And then sometimes it occurs to me that really, marriage is just as much about my husband and me as it is about itself.
06/22/2012 03:59 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

There are lots of rules about marriage. Some are big and self-explanatory, like don't cheat, don't keep destructive secrets and don't always eat the last bite of the buffalo chicken salad. That stuff is amazing, but marriage is about sharing.

It's not about sharing your house with your friend who needs a place to stay, though.

That's one of the smaller rules.

Along with reminding your partner to call their mom.

My friend from college needed a place to stay for about a month while she was in between apartments. Automatically, I said she should stay with us. There's enough space, so it felt weird not to offer. I mentioned it to my husband, Bear. "Of course," he said. Which was what I expected. I thought it would be weird if he said no.

My friend moved in.

And then everyone else was like, "Oh my god! Are you okay with that?! What about Bear? It's his home! He must be so upset! Are you guys okay?"

Everyone said that at the same time. They hadn't even met my friend. Or they had, and they liked her, but they couldn't believe that this was happening. That I'd allowed this whole other person to move into my home, while I was in it. With my husband. All of us. Together.

"No, no," I kept saying. "It's totally fine! It's nice! She's really nice!"

"But what about your space?" they kept saying back. "And what about... you know... You need alone time with Bear."

Space is interesting. I need it. I like it. I like to share it, too. (Also, our bedroom has a door. It can be closed.)

I like being alone, a lot. I'm good at it. I work alone, all day long, most days. I am good at entertaining myself when I'm not working. Until my friend moved in for a month, I actually didn't realize how much I like being around other people. Not just hanging out and talking nonstop, but just being with someone else. Someone who isn't Bear (I already knew I liked this with Bear, but I thought that was because he was my partner). Glancing up occasionally from whatever you're doing to share something funny or make a comment about how annoying this guy who keeps emailing everyone on his mailing list to announce his latest accomplishment is. So annoying.

"Oh my god, that is ridiculous!" she says. And you both go back to doing your own thing.

She wasn't always around, of course. She was at work during the day most of the time. She was gone many evenings, too. But when she was around it was fun to have someone else there.

I got the idea that this was maybe bad. Maybe Bear should be enough, all the time. Maybe I should somehow want to spend all of my free time alone with him.

But it was fun to interact with Bear and with someone else at the same time. Sometimes a lively debate would break out. Sometimes I could listen to him without having to think of a response. I could see him a little differently -- the way I see him in groups, or in public. His voice is different; more measured, a little lower. I admire him, as though from a distance. I can see him a little more clearly, more fully. He's so ridiculously cute.

I like having another girl around. I grew up with brothers, after all. She and I try on each other's clothes, trading constantly, effortlessly. We compliment each other's outfits. We giggle over the boys she's looking at on OKCupid.

A marriage is two people alone in a house. Later, if there are kids, then there are kids and parents in a house. That's it. You can have roommates when you're single and living in Greenpoint, and then, later, you grow up and you really don't want roommates anymore.

When my friend out in California started talking about group living, about communal chores and intentional communities, I thought she sounded like a huge hippie, and I thought of myself, in contrast, as a rational New Yorker (because the world can definitely be divided into these two major categories). Someone who knew how boundaries should work. Someone who knew why they were there.

I like being a loner. I like being independent.

When Bear moved in with me when we were first together, people asked me about his work hours, and I told them he got home at 8:30 or 9 and sometimes much, much later, and they did this apologetic, pitying look, and I proudly told them I didn't mind at all. I had stuff to do. I was busy. And that was true. I never minded. I love to be with Bear, but I am never waiting around for him. I like that about myself.

So when I liked having my friend stay with us for a month, it confused me a little.

"How's it going?" people asked me, after a couple weeks. "How are you doing?" They waited expectantly for the horror story. The inevitable fallout.

She left a wet towel on my bed. I wished she hadn't. But of course, it didn't really matter. We went through all of our earrings together and traded. I got these amazing hoops. She always turned the dishwasher on when I forgot.

The three of us ate the dinner I'd cooked, and the two of them thought it was the best thing ever. I felt really good about myself.

And then she found an apartment, and I wondered what it'd be like after she was gone. A little lonely? Maybe. Maybe just normal. The way it'd been normal with her there.

Surprisingly normal.

Marriage has all these tiny rules. Sometimes I don't know when I'm breaking them. Everyone else seems to have learned them better, even before they are married. And then sometimes it occurs to me that really, marriage is just as much about Bear and me as it is about itself. When I asked Bear if my friend could stay, I knew he wouldn't say no, because when someone needs help, he will not ignore them. And neither will I. I'm proud of that. That's the kind of person I want to be. That's the kind of marriage I want to have.

Even if it'd turned out that having my friend around had been stressful and frustrating, I hope I would still say yes if it happened again.

Actually, I'm really looking forward to my brother staying with us for a little while. And was disappointed when Bear's brother couldn't.

Maybe it just turns out that I like to share.

I'm sharing my whole life with Bear, after all. And that turned out to be a great idea.

Find the original version of this post, and oh-so-much more at Eat the Damn Cake

marriage test
The author, left, with her husband, Bear.

marriage test
The author, left, with her friend, Elena.