Living with Exes: When the relationship ends, but the co-habitation doesn’t

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The ending of any relationship is painful in its own special ways, but there is a certain circle of breakup hell where you and your ex end up having to live together for a short (or even very long) time. Building a life, sharing a home, raising children and pets, can make any breakup even harder, especially if the break was not amicable. Pretty much every queer woman I know has a story to share about living with an ex.

I’ve done it twice, and both experiences were incredibly painful. The first was many years ago, after breaking if off with my ex-fiance. I was not as kind as I could have been, and her pain was palpable. We lived together for a few weeks until she moved out, leaving me with only a fork and a papasan chair. I learned how to sleep on an air mattress for longer than I’m comfortable sharing.

The second time was when I moved to New York to be with my then girlfriend who broke up with me after about five months. This time, the tables were turned and I was the one feeling broken and abandoned. When she left pictures of her and her new girlfriend on my nightstand, I realized the situation was not tenable and I took over the lease.

I wish both these women much happiness and love now, but man, going through it was the pits.

I’ve asked queer women who have been through the experience of living with an ex to share their stories. The good, the bad, the ugly, the security deposits. Most importantly, who gets custody of Capt. Fuzzyboots?

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After breaking up a year ago, Judy and her ex are still living together:

In another life and four years ago, I was sure that gifting my girlfriend a washer/dryer set was the height of domestic bliss, full of irony and dripping in its own cleverness. I was 36 at the time and too old to not know that the appliances always outlive my relationships.

We moved in together fundamentally as a time and money-saving idea and because we also worked at the same office. After an unrushed relationship of two years, we figured that whatever bumps came along the way that we’d be in it together and nothing was gonna stop our good ship on the sea of love and shared tchotchkes. Then two years later, after my washer/dryer gift, I stopped being as happy with our domestic situation; and then sometime in the spring it became a fairly bad situation for me. We had stopped sleeping together and had begun to bicker in close quarters with little provocation. After four incredibly thoughtful nights, I had the solution. I knew that my girlfriend was really good at arguing, like deeply and importantly talented at it, and I was really bad at having emotional discussions. It’s more in my nature to smooth things over and she’s exactly the opposite, so coming into a discussion without being distracted by my feelings was definitely going to help my proposal.

I felt like Spock. I felt so rational. I was going to break up with her and I was going to do it as amicably as possible. When the smoke cleared, I basically related that we had a dead shark of a relationship on our hands and that I was not interested in dating anyone but if she was interested in moving out, that she should give me a few months’ notice like a regular roommate would. After about a year of mourning our failed relationship and several state-of-the-union type discussions, we’re still living in our small house. For me, it’s good because having a roommate means that I can afford to travel and I don’t exactly hate having one of my oldest friends around me.

Since we broke up, I have periodically sounded like a broken record reiterating boundaries and expectations but because I didn’t betray my girlfriend by jumping into another relationship and because I care to listen to her or give her space, it still works. I don’t date, that wasn’t bullshit, so I keep my relationships away from her and they aren’t serious anyway so it isn’t a big issue for me. It isn’t lost on me that sometimes this way takes more effort than our relationship did, but for me it’s the only way I can afford to be happy. Turns out we’re much better friends when there’s actually still a friendship involved.

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A.V. realized she was queer and that made the breakup and living situation with her ex-husband even more complicated:

I married my husband when I was quite young. We were engaged at 19 and married at 21. Still, I knew the day we married that something was fundamentally wrong, but I couldn’t name the thing, and so everything went on as planned. Two years later, the thing had a name and it could no longer be ignored. On Mother’s Day in 2008, I officially and finally came out to my husband. However, we lived in a very expensive city in Montana, and I chose the height of the recession to leave him, which meant I couldn’t physically go anywhere. I made a whopping $27,000 as a teacher (a career I would be forced out of a year later after my relationship with a woman was made public). So, I stayed. 

Every night, he and I would curl up on the couch, like we always had, and watch our favorite television shows. Then at bedtime, I would wish him a good night’s sleep as I headed towards the guest bedroom in the basement. In it was a twin bed, bookcase and a lamp. 
 
Our relationship together didn’t seem all that different from before our separation. That is, until I met a woman. She and I were long-distance at first, and I spent every waking moment on my laptop, holed away in that tiny bedroom, chatting with her. When we weren’t chatting, we were talking on the phone or texting. After she went to bed, I joined him on the couch, just as we had done countless times before. He sat silently, as far from me as he could. I think we both thought that I had caused him so much pain during our marriage that there wasn’t anything more that could hurt him. But after I met her, he watched me flit about our house, the phone all but glued to my shoulder. He could hear the drone of our voices through the thin wall that separated our family room from the tiny guest bedroom. Being a witness to me falling into the kind of love he always wanted and needed for us was, I think, more painful than anything that had come before. Sometimes I saw anger flash across his face, but he never yelled or cursed or told me to get the fuck out. Only once did he try to hurt me—he asked to see a photo of her (terrible idea), and I showed him (worse idea), and he made a snarky, shitty remark about her looking like a man. That was his only weapon, and once it was spent, he was done. 
 
When I moved out, I moved into a place I would later share with my girlfriend. We had issues getting the internet up and running, so he came over to help. I made sure not to touch her, not to be too near her, or to say lovely things to her, as he fiddled with the router. Even still, later he told me it hurt him to watch us, because he could see what he and I would have been if things had been different. 
 
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