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rant: cohabitation is overrated

rant: cohabitation is overrated

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Caro Cooper makes a case for staying together, apart.

There are many benefits to living with your partner: half-price internet and rent; fewer litres of expired milk to dispose of each week; you’re not always living out of a bag between houses; and of course, sex on tap (if you’re still in that phase). They’re legitimate benefits, and if healthcare providers offered them you’d probably be more inclined to sign up for that insurance policy your mum keeps banging on about.

But anyone who has lived with their partner knows it’s not all sunshine and fresh milk. Shit gets real when you cohabit with someone you love. Day in, day out, you see their face, even when you really don’t want to. They’re like a flatmate with no sense of personal space: you wake up and they’re right there beside you; you have a shower and, surprise, there they are, peeing only two feet away or analysing their ever-slackening body in the mirror. You see their dirty laundry and smell their morning breath. The magic, well, it can magic its way out of there. I didn’t truly understand what my mother meant by “familiarity breeds contempt” until I’d lived with a partner. (Also, why was she saying that to her child?)

It’s a natural progression for any relationship: fall in love; get comfortable going to the bathroom around each other; move in together; slide into the comfort of snoring, farting and bickering your way through the menial chores of life. But as tempting as that is, it doesn’t have to be that way.

A friend’s mother taught me the motto ‘keep it sexy, keep it hot’, but that takes a lot of effort when you’re cohabiting. Who would choose sexy attire and brushed hair over tracksuit pants and Dawson’s Creek reruns? Another friend’s mother (women over 50 know everything, seriously) found an easier path to relationship happiness, with less personal grooming required: she bought a house down the street from her partner. Close, but not too close. Nearby, but not suffocating.

This woman – let’s call her Mary – lives a five-minute walk from her long-term man friend’s house, which, as she puts it, is great for “horny times”. When Mary is struck by Cupid’s bangin’ arrow she can hotfoot it down the street, get her fix and be home before her pasta is al dente. It also means there’s no fighting over the dishwasher or what to watch or how many houseplants equal insanity. He has keys, so can help her if she locks herself out, but he’s not going through the fridge in his undies when she gets home from the gym. They live separately, but maintain a neighbourly love bubble.

Mary also doesn’t have to put up with her partner’s ambitious DIY plans that always fail to live up to their potential. No one needs a motorised spice rack, Barry. His mess, his carpentry and his identity remain at his house. Her house is for her craziness, her strange dietary concoctions and her time to bleach her moustache in peace and quiet. It’s closeness without claustrophobia. And if Mary forgets something while visiting, no stress – she’ll be back in 10.

This setup isn’t feasible for all couples, of course, but there are other ways to simulate that liberating sensation of domestic freedom. Even separate bedrooms could give you a sense of escape: of having your own little empire that only you control, when everything else has to go to the ‘couple committee’ for approval.

More importantly, if you can feel an unexplained social force pushing you towards cohabitation and a shared undie drawer, just remember: your normal can be whatever you want it to be. Channel Mary and her pioneering ways. In fact, be your own Mary. And if you’re still not sure what to do, find a woman over 50 and ask her.

This PSA comes straight from the pages of frankie 101. Head here to find your closest stockist, pick up a copy from our online store or subscribe from $59.50.