Back in March, Yuki, 22, couldn't imagine herself living with her boyfriend Ricky, 22. When the San Francisco Bay Area issued its stay-at-home order, the pair had only been dating for six months. But Yuki had been staying with her parents and didn't want to put their health at risk. So, she made the decision to move in with Ricky, temporarily — or so she thought.
Four months later, the Bay Area is beginning to reopen, and Yuki and others are asking themselves, "Should I keep living with my partner post-quarantine?" In other words, after months of prematurely cohabitating, should you "move out" from your partner?
Dr. Jaclyn Lopez Witmer, a licensed clinical psychologist with the Therapy Group of NYC, tells Bustle that you can begin making a decision by reflecting on what your dynamic was like over the past few months. If you and your partner argued the entire time, struggled to share a space, or even swept problems under the rug, continuing to live together may strengthen those patterns.
Quarantine has had a way of magnifying tough feelings and behaviors, Witmer says, and if you weren't able to work them out, holding off a while longer could be your best bet. But for those who were able to communicate through conflict, these spats and growing pains have likely been a valuable learning experience.
I feel like this will be the new normal in our relationship until restrictions are lifted.
Robert, 32, and his partner Emily, 30, found themselves moving in together right before quarantine. But even though they've been together for three years, they've still found themselves bickering. And yet, he tells Bustle, "living together [also] made me realize how relationships really work and how essential it is to understand and communicate with your partner."
It's why arguments in and of themselves aren't a sign you need to move out after social distancing or give up on the idea of sharing a space. In fact, quite the contrary. "Arguing is normal and healthy in any relationship, and when it happens respectfully, productively, and is followed by reflecting, processing, and making up, it strengthens the relationship," Witmer says.
Communication is crucial, so don't hesitate to be honest about your concerns, set boundaries, or look for ways to work on ongoing issues as a couple — perhaps by talking to a couple's therapist. If you're able to take these steps, go ahead and sign that lease, rent a moving van, and place your partner's toothbrush permanently next to yours. Post-quarantine, Robert says he and Emily will continue living together, and they even plan to get married soon.
Another helpful measure is to reexamine where you were in your relationship pre-pandemic. For example, if you were already talking seriously about moving in together, and one person’s lease is up, sharing a space will likely continue to make sense. This was the case for Charli, 31, who admits the move was "a bit sudden," but it was something she and her partner had already wanted to do. "We'd been considering it for some time, and because quarantine would mean being apart for the foreseeable future, we thought it would be best to move in together," she tells Bustle.
Even though there are quite a few permanent move-in stories, not every couple wants to continue living together post-quarantine. Joyce, 28, who stayed with her boyfriend of one month Nick, 35, says they kept each other in good spirits, and that living together was a good experiment. But, she tells Bustle, "we would need to be dating for a bit longer before jumping into moving in together full-time."
Staying together out of guilt is not healthy.
Joyce is now back at her place, though she does visit Nick all the time, especially since so much of her stuff is still at his house. "I have a ton of clothes, etc. at his place still, so it kind of feels like I never left," she says. "I feel like this will be the new normal in our relationship until restrictions are lifted."
Wherever you find yourself, keep in mind that it's totally OK if your partner scoops up their pile of sweatpants, and goes back to their place for the foreseeable future. "You need to want to live together," Dr. Josh Klapow, a clinical psychologist, tells Bustle. "Staying together out of guilt or pressure when you have the option to stay a couple living apart is not a healthy move."
Parting ways doesn't mean your relationship didn't work out, but that you were faced with an extreme circumstance, chose to weather it together, and are now picking the relationship back up where it left off — from your separate apartments. In many ways, this might even come as a relief, especially if you're a newer couple that feels like it's all been a bit too much too soon. "If you look at living apart as a viable option while keeping the relationship intact," Klapow says, "then you can grow the relationship at a natural pace."
But for people like Charli, quarantine simply sped up a process that was already in motion. "I think it's brought us closer together sooner," she says. "Moving in has made us stronger."
Dr. Josh Klapow, clinical psychologist