Legend has it that Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera lived in two interconnected houses. So did Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton. These examples of keeping separate living space as a couple make it seem like an eccentric, artistic lifestyle choice.
Yet so many women I know desperately want their own space (whilst also often wanting to be in relationships). It’s not surprising that a year of lockdowns brought this desire to the surface. Most people had a setup that worked because they spent a proportion of time outside of home. Whether it’s space to work, pursue their interests or just get a moment of peace, many are now struggling to find it.
I wonder why we still have such a narrow view of how couples should live. When I was at school, if a girl had a boyfriend for a while the rumours would start about whether they were getting engaged (this seems horrifying now, since we were only 16). Going out for a while = living together = engagement = wedding = babies. I am not quite sure what the plan was for the rest of life! Whilst horizons may have expanded, many relationships seem to follow this pattern. Is that because we want to follow the path or because it’s ingrained that we should? What do alternative paths look like?
I spent a good proportion of my life co-habiting and it was enjoyable, most of the time. Yet there has always been a part of me that needs time alone. As an introvert, I recharge by listening to music, reading or writing. I can do these with others if we want to do exactly the same thing, but that is rare. I sometimes just need to drift off into my own world. If I go on holiday with friends (ah holidays, remember them?), I prefer to have my own room. It means I can retreat and be quiet for a bit, before rejoining with company to enjoy socialising. It always sounds like a high maintenance request and I have to defend it, emphasising that I do want to be with people. I just need an escape route too.
There’s been a lot of involuntary alone time, particularly in the last few years. It weighs heavily and I miss the warmth of companionship (god, I really miss having a cat). The craving for company is strong but so is a protective instinct for my own space. Maybe because I have felt trapped before, I’m scared of radical change? I find myself imagining a world in which my partner moves in next door and we somehow create interconnected living spaces. Perhaps I could have my best friend and parents close by too. Could I keep my security and my freedom, but gain connection too?
I’ve been listening to the audio book and podcast The Panic Years, a funny and sensitive look at what happens in your late 20s to early 40s. Panic ensues for women from the feeling that life has to be sorted out in order to hit the pressing fertility deadline. The wave of confusion extends to every area of life: are you in any or the right relationship, is your job secure, what happens if you take time out, are you living in the right place, do you have any savings?
It’s a lot of questions. And the more you wrestle with them, the further you seem to be from what you want.