Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Relationships need give and take to survive
Q: Against the warnings of my parents and friends, I moved in with my boyfriend for a month. It was a disaster and I moved back out. We love each other, but weren't compatible in a shared space (different nighttime habits, one of us is pretty messy, couldn't agree on how to separate bills).
Now that our little cohabitation experiment has failed, where do we go from here? We planned on getting married someday, but neither of us knew we would be such terrible roommates. Do you think that means this is as far as we can go?
A: How old are you both, how long have you been together, to what specifically were people objecting?
On the surface it does seem as if your lives together have gone as far as they can go — love is by no means all you need. However, compatibility can take on strange forms, and people who on the surface don't seem to work can get along better than those who, on paper at least, align perfectly.
That's because the success of a relationship isn't determined by how much you have in common, but on how well each person's need for commonality is satisfied. Some people want to be part of a couple who walk through life side-by-side. Some would find that suffocating, and instead prefer to maneuver separately and then check back in with each other from time to time.
Point being, there are all kinds of ways for two people to fit, and only you can know whether you and this person will ever fit.
Each person brings different things to a relationship
Q: We're 29 and 27, and have been a couple for two years. For about the past year we've been talking engagement. My family's objections were traditional ones — "You will be married soon so you might as well wait to move in" kinds of things.
It sounds like you think this will only work if we can both imagine a marriage in which we don't live together, or some other arrangement. Is that accurate? Sigh.
Cohabitation Girl Again
A: No no, that's not accurate. I'm saying this will only work if you're okay with a marriage to someone who stays up while you sleep (or vice versa), who cleans while you'd rather just leave it (or vice versa), and who requires his-and-hers accounting.
Or, of course, endless variations — you handle money, he handles cleaning and you gladly stay out of each other's jurisdiction, for example.
It's about taking what you have, and, instead of trying to change it, finding a happy way to live with it. The movie image that comes to mind is in Apollo 13, when the earthbound engineers stand at a table full of stuff representing everything the astronauts have available to them in the capsule. Their job is to rig something from those materials alone — no wishful thinking, no miracles.
Being part of a couple is the same way. You both bring certain things to the relationship, and that's what you have to work with. Either you can rig something with it or you can't.
By the way, unlike in the movie, there are no dire consequences if you can't make it work. You just break up. Sad, but it happens.