What It’s Like to Be Roommates with Your Ex [VICE]

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Image by Sarah MacReading

Two years ago, my then-boyfriend and I moved across the country together to Los Angeles, where I was starting grad school. We lived there for two months before we broke up. I couldn’t afford the $1,200 rent on my own and we’d signed a one-year lease, so we decided to live together for another six months, one of us sleeping in the bedroom and the other sleeping on a tiny couch in the living room. It was awkward, but in a new city, it was comforting to have a familiar face when I got home.

My situation isn’t all that uncommon. For young people in expensive cities, cohabiting after a breakup is sometimes the only way to pay the rent.

I spoke to three people who are currently living with their exes about their experiences—how it affects the healing process, what it’s like dating other people, and how they get along in such close quarters. These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

DAMIEN, 25

We’ve been living together for about two years, and we’ve been broken up for close to a month. The lease ends at the end of this month, and we will be going our separate ways. If the lease wasn’t ending, I’d probably have to break it. She’s a proud person, and I suppose I am too. For either of us to get off our pedestals to see eye-to-eye—it’s kind of hard.

I’ve been staying at some friends’ houses in the last week and a half. Before that, right after the breakup happened, she had hurt her leg and couldn’t get around too much. She was uncomfortable with sleeping together, so she would sleep on the couch. After about a week of this, one night, she came home, stormed upstairs, and asked, “Why do you get the bed? My leg hurts, and we shared this bed for two years. Why is it yours?” It was a misunderstanding, because she felt I was disrespecting her space by de facto making her sleep on the couch by sleeping in the bed first. I perceived it as her [trying to] kick me out of the bed and getting mad at me for the same thing.

I’ve been trying to make more plans so I don’t have to be there.” — Damien

I’m away from the apartment four or five times a week, and I work at night on the weekends. The only times when we are at the apartment together is after work for an hour or two. I’ve been trying to make more plans so I don’t have to be there. We have a living room, a bedroom, and a spare office room. We’re either in the same room with obvious tension, or I go upstairs.

I make enough to get by, and when I started to see the breakup coming, I got a second job bartending on the weekends and started saving some money. One time, I hung up on her on the phone when I was out with a friend. The next day, I got home, and she had smashed a bunch of shit—she threw the alarm clock at the wall, smashed a lamp, broke a mirror, kicked out stair rails. I don’t know what’s going to happen with the deposit, there’s so much damage. I’m not expecting to get any of the deposit back. That would’ve paid for part of my deposit at my new place, so it’s frustrating to have to suffer financially, on top of everything else.

SUZI, 30

Jared and I bought a building together in Cincinnati and moved here in April of 2014 from Portland. It’s basically a four-story building, with a basement and three floors. We started out living on the first floor when we bought the building because we were together at the time.

In March of last year, we decided that we wanted to turn the first floor into what is now the FreeSpace—a nonprofit info shop and open public space for meetings—so we were preparing to move all of our stuff into the basement. I suddenly decided I didn’t want to move into the basement, and I didn’t want to be in a relationship either.

He moved his stuff down into the basement, and I moved my stuff into the top floor, so there are three floors between us. So that was pretty convenient. We have the good fortune of having all this space, so we can spread out from each other. Of course, it’s still really hard.

“The fact that we still live together makes it harder to have that clean break from each other, because we still see each other in a certain way.” — Suzi

We had been together for three day shy of eight years and basically lived together that entire time, almost from the first day we met. He was 18 at the time and I was 21. He wanted to move out of his mom’s place, and I was looking for a place after college, so we kind of started living together—a lot of it out of convenience and wanting to see each other. It didn’t feel too soon or anything.

We’ve always had a good relationship as roommates and with sharing resources like food and space. Over those eight years, we shared tiny bedrooms, houses full of other people, cabins on farms. We even lived in a van together for a month before we bought this building.

We’ve been broken up now for a year and four months. We’re in a good place right now as friends, but it’s been really hard. We still love each other, and I think the fact that we still live together makes it harder to have that clean break from each other, because we still see each other in a certain way. We still go shopping together and make meals together. I’ve showered in his room. We’re still so wrapped up in each other’s spaces and lives in certain ways.

It’s not as hard for me because I’m in another relationship now. I’m ready to just have this partnership around owning and living in this building. We even have a tenant now, so we’re kind of like landlords together. I miss certain things about our life that we did have, but I’m grateful we’ve had this building and the FreeSpace project because it kept us working together. It’s also maybe made part of the healing process take longer than it would have otherwise.

My current partner isn’t allowed to live here, or even come to events here, and I don’t want to move from my house. We have this rule where we can’t bring over people we’re dating. Now that it’s been a while, I told Jared it’s OK if he brings people over and I want to bring over my current boyfriend, but he’s still not OK with that. I’m hoping that once he’s is in a relationship, it will be easier.

Lily, 25

Eric and I have been broken up for four months after dating for three and a half years. We signed the lease here two years ago. I didn’t think we’d ever break up. He’s my best friend. We’re not together anymore in a traditional boyfriend/girlfriend sense, but I definitely care about him the same amount. Living together is not the easiest thing to do. I don’t even know if it’s the healthiest thing to do either. It’s like having a constant open wound.

My new boyfriend, Tommy, is surprisingly cool and chill about it. He’s been ridiculously understanding, and he’s respectful to Eric, which is the most important thing to me. If I’m going to be with someone, he needs to be able to respect my relationship with Eric. Tommy knows everything, too. But we don’t have sex if Eric is here. It does make me uncomfortable. I’m sure it would make Eric uncomfortable to think about it.

Eric sleeps in the bedroom we used to share. I moved into his studio and have his old bed from before we were together. We have our own space, and I think that’s really good. It would be way too hard if we were sharing a bedroom. Sometimes, if we don’t want to be alone, we sleep in the same room.

“For the first two months, every time we were home together, we would cry.” — Lily

We’ve hooked up since we broke up. I don’t think either of us regret that, but I think it’s probably pretty often that I’ve considered getting back together. He was in a few really serious long-term relationships, and I think he’s trying to do casual, physical things for a while because he didn’t get an opportunity to get to do that when he was younger.

He hasn’t brought anyone back here yet, but I remember the first time he slept with someone new. It had been a couple weeks into the break up, and I carved up the kitchen table with a knife. I freaked out. I had a huge mental breakdown. I would hope that doesn’t happen again and that’s why we’re not having him bring someone over right away. I would probably just sit in my room and cry until she left or just leave. I don’t know how thin the walls are.

For the first month, I didn’t stay here most of the time. I was staying the night at my friends’ houses and on people’s floors. I couldn’t even look at him. For the first two months, every time we were home together, we would cry. It wasn’t a lot of fighting. A lot of it was the same conversation over and over, and we got nowhere. We were drinking a lot and not sleeping.

Now, we talk so much more than we did before. Every conversation is really emotionally open now. He was always pretty emotionally guarded, and we needed to talk. Sometimes it’s a whole day of “this is how I feel.” We have really good days and really, really, really bad days. The longer it goes on, the more it seems like there are good days.

Our lease is month-to-month now, but I have no intention of moving out. When I get mad, I say I’m going to leave, but I like living here. I don’t think we’d ever get back together in a strict, monogamous thing—not for a long time. I can’t imagine not being in each other’s lives significantly, even if we never have sex ever again. That was never the basis of our relationship anyway.

Originally written for VICE: CLICK HERE FOR THE STORY.

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