The Yes Woman: The thought of cohabitation fills me with trepidation
And yet I hear myself say yes when a handsome English man asks me to move in with him
‘People can be divided into two groups: those who wear shoes in the house and those who do not.’ Photograph: Thinkstock
I’ve devoted the vast majority of my life to date to solitude. The first apartment that I rented alone was, at the time, the greatest achievement of my life.
For the first time after almost a decade of shared living, I could shut the door behind me and be completely at ease. Never again would I find a condom in my tea caddy. Gone were the days of other people drinking the milk I had bought, or stealing the fancy shampoo I had saved up for. When I returned in the evening, everything would be just as I had left it that morning.
The young know better than most that privacy is a luxury rather than a right, and it takes years of hard work and other people’s Pot Noodles in the toilet to earn.
I was still living in this sanctum sanctorum a few weeks ago when a nice man asked me to move in with him. A kind, handsome man. We had been having a long-distance relationship for more than a year when one day he swivelled large, brown eyes in my direction and said, “I’d like to move to Dublin and live with you. But your apartment is too small. I keep knocking things over in the bathroom.”
After I’d excused myself and spent several minutes in said bathroom with my head between my knees, waiting for the blood to seep back into my anaemic brain, I could see that he had a point. He’s very tall, and my excessive collection of bathroom unguents had indeed suffered several casualties lately.
The apartment downstairs
So I said yes, and we moved, but not very far. The noisy man who burns all his food had vacated the apartment downstairs, so we carried things down, shut the front door and started to clean. When we had finished, and I was looking about sweatily at this empty space full of the potential for throw pillows and bookcases, he said, “Now, you realise that this is our apartment? The one upstairs was yours, so I put up with things like the tiny bathroom and the bits of food in the sink. But now, we’ll have to compromise on all that stuff. Also, I want to put a map of Ireland on the livingroom wall.”
Inside, I quaked.
It turns out that people can be divided into two distinct groups: those who wear shoes in the house and those who do not. I have always secretly disliked those people who ask you to take your shoes off in the hall. It feels as though they’re asking you to remove your trousers. What if my battered old Converse have made my feet smell? What if I’m chilly? Truly, these people have no place in civilised society.
Except that now I live with one. I returned one day (with my shoes on) to find a suspiciously small pair of slippers by the front door. “These can’t fit you,” I said to the man, bemused. “Those are your slippers for inside the house,” he replied. “Now you don’t have to walk around in your socks. Isn’t that good?” He smiled.
I went to the large bathroom to hyperventilate among my unguents.
Things become clear
It has been a week since I said yes to the handsome English fellow and started having to take the crud out of the sink. Two things have become clear. The first is that I am a pettier, lazier person than I could ever have imagined. The second is that I find it very hard work to ease the strident grip on my total independence that I’ve fostered for so many years. He made me a cup of tea the other day, and I responded, almost fearfully, that I could have done it myself.
Afterwards, I realised how weak I was being. It was easier to stand snarling over my isolation like a hyena over a disembodied leg than it was to allow someone to help me, and to accept that he wanted to without any ulterior motive. The next day I asked him to make me a cup of tea. He looked delighted by this minute expression of trust and dependence.
Several minutes later, there was a cup of tea waiting in the kitchen. “I put it in your china cup because I know you don’t like mugs,” he said.
I paused, then took off my shoes.
The Yes Woman says yes to . . . living with a kind man . . . and no to . . . maps in the living room