There’s a well-known Rolling Stones lyric that should be rewritten for couples: “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find you can compromise enough so that you both end up somewhat happy with the situation.”
That’s how you maintain any relationship, though. Compromise. Give and take. Push and pull.
Of course, who really wants to compromise? Not I. I was raised the baby of my nuclear family. I wasn’t too spoiled when it came to the normal accompaniments—toys and clothes and the like. But my parents often conceded to my picky temperament.
I got used to getting my way. When I arrived at my college campus years ago, I was less than thrilled to find not one, but two roommates in a tiny, lofted dorm room. I chose the bottom bunk. It was the best. I listened to my music, stayed up as late as I wanted, and ran the room. After a semester, one of my roommates asked if we could trade beds. I laughed in her face. Luckily for me, those girls were understanding. We remain great friends, and I let them tease me for keeping the bottom bunk. I was, in retrospect, kind of an asshole about the whole thing. My bad.
Unfortunately, I’ve gone through years of roommate drama. Some of it was my fault; some of it was the fault of a girl so messy that her bedroom smelled like rancid meat. But I never wanted to meet any of these girls halfway. I wanted the apartment cleaned my way, the common area used my way, and the kitchen arranged my way. In short: My past roommates were messy, but I (once again) was kind of an asshole about the whole thing.
So I don’t have a great track record with roommates. You can imagine I was nervous, therefore, about moving in with my boyfriend in June. I had never lived with a significant other, and I was afraid of the consequences. I was afraid of being an asshole.
At first, our apartment was the picture of domestic bliss. We ate breakfast in bed, had loud sex, and walked around naked. We made love on the couch, on the table, in the tub. We raced home to make dinner, drink wine and be alone. We listened to good music and stared into each other’s eyes. We were absurdly happy.
That didn’t last very long.
The dishes began to pile up, the floors got dirty, and I resented cooking every night. To be fair, he tried. He made a few soggy tuna fish sandwiches. He loaded the dishwasher with the glasses upside down. He swept up, pushing all the dirt into a corner. I threw a fit. The bathroom was filthy. The bookshelves were dusty. I was sick of cleaning up after him. He was annoyed that I tracked mud across the apartment in my heels.
We had never argued, but suddenly we were screaming about the apartment. He was slamming the door and I was sobbing on the couch. Eventually, we would make up, only to argue again about the dishes or the dusting.
I was beside myself. Was I dating the wrong man, or was I living with the wrong roommate?
Finally, I proposed a (now-obvious) compromise. The cooking, the dishes, and the kitchen were all my responsibility. Cleaning the rest of the apartment was his. It sounded ideal. I love cooking, he loves eating. He has a control-freak need to clean, and I love it when he does.
It was the perfect arrangement.
I watch Barefoot Contessa on the weekends and test recipes on him. I make him breakfast in bed, and load up the dishwasher the most efficient way. He loves it. Every time I put a plate of food in front of him, he thinks it’s Christmas morning. I’ve never seen someone so happy to be fed a decent tuna fish sandwich.
He bought a vacuum cleaner and takes out his work-related stress on the hardwood floors. He walks around the apartment with the vacuum on his back pretending he’s a Ghostbuster. “When there’s something dirty… on your hardwood floor… who you gonna call… DIRT-BUSTER.” He scrubs out the bathtub and dusts the bookshelves. He even mops my kitchen.
We’re so happy with our arrangement that we’ve been throwing dinner parties. Our friends are impressed with our clean apartment and our three-course meals. My girlfriends can’t believe I have a live-in maid. His guy friends can’t believe he has a personal chef.
I’m just happy we’re back to domestic bliss.
Relationships, as we all know, are based on compromise. But if you can find a great one and stick to it, compromise never tasted—or cleaned up—so good.