Decorating an Apartment With My Partner Strengthened Our Relationship

Despite having graduated college more than two years ago, I’ve been living in what I like to call a “college apartment” for the last few years (not to mention the four years I actually spent living in a real college apartment). You know the type: posters haphazardly taped up on […]

Despite having graduated college more than two years ago, I’ve been living in what I like to call a “college apartment” for the last few years (not to mention the four years I actually spent living in a real college apartment). You know the type: posters haphazardly taped up on the wall, cheap prints trying to pass as real art strewn overtop paint-drip streaked walls, cold dusty floors—not to mention all the college-themed memorabilia (specialized drink ware, oversized foam fingers…the works!). My dusty “college apartments” were worn-in, marked by youth and a coating of cheap beer, and, though they were loved, I was quietly outgrowing them. I snuck away most nights to stay with my boyfriend, ultimately leading us to decide to move in together at the end of my lease.

When COVID-19 hit New York, effectively uprooting the status quo for everyone, I decided to trade in my dusty digs for an extended stay with my boyfriend’s family in Queens. My partner lives in a basement apartment in his parents’ two-family home, so given the circumstances for many, we were pretty lucky. Given that we had plans to move in together in a few months anyway, we designated quarantine as our trial period. If we could live together in the basement of his parents’ house during a pandemic, we could live through anything. And if we couldn’t? Well, we’d cross that bridge when we got there.

Spoiler: we stayed far away from that bridge—my boyfriend and I survived four months together before moving into a one bedroom, one bathroom apartment—but it hasn’t been without it’s struggles.

Though every relationship is different, there’s a common thread that weaves through most first-time living experiences: surprises. And let me be the first to say that I was shocked at how much my partner has managed to surprise me throughout our time living together. From his well-meaning, but sometimes illogical opinions on the design of our space to his insistence that deodorant belongs on his nightstand and not in the bathroom (the jury is still out on this one), I’ve managed to learn more about him—and our relationship—than I ever expected.

My partner’s sense of design style was by far the most jarring part of our moving-in process. Naively, I assumed my adventure-loving, easygoing boyfriend whose personal decor style I could only describe as “15-year-old boy” wouldn’t have a strong opinion on much other than our TV. Turns out, I was wrong.

Up until now, my partner has survived (and maybe even thrived) on a hodgepodge of furniture, bedding, and decor he’s amassed haphazardly over the years, so I was taken back when he started showing a serious interest in everything from our bedding (“It has to be really comfortable.”) to the vintage rug in our living room (“Why would you buy a used rug?”) and even the floating shelves in our bathroom (“Are they the right color to match the tiles?”). Of course, he’s entitled to those opinions given that it’s his apartment too, but considering I work for an interiors magazine, I selfishly assumed I would be the one primarily responsible for making our apartment visually attractive.

I spent the majority of my time under New York’s stay-at-home orders mostly pinning midcentury sofas and colorful rugs to my Pinterest boards, counting down the days until I could officially make the switch to a more grown-up space. While I quietly planned, he carried on, making plans for our apartment that primarily revolved around his Xbox setup. So, when he started taking an active role in decorating, I found myself frustrated with his interfering with my vision. “Just trust me,” I would say, “It will look good when it’s all finished.”

After months of disinterest, I was irritated that it was only now that he was voicing opinions about how our space looked. And even worse, when we would try to come to a joint decision about something, he had a hard time trusting my opinions. My partner is the type of person to think everything through, deeply. And while I mostly love this about him, his penchant for anticipating potential, though unlikely, problems with everything hasn’t paired well with my impatience. Understandably, he wants to make the right decisions—whether we’re considering what couch to buy or which spatula we want to cook our eggs with in the morning—so he takes his time coming to them, mulling over every. single. possibility.

Despite my ego-fueled frustrations, watching him care about the minutiae of the space we’re building together has been a sweet reminder of why I love him. And as incredible as that’s been, it’s simultaneously forced me to reckon with my tendency to sometimes be a total know-it-all and an even bigger control freak.

It became clear that I would have to invite my boyfriend to understand the vision I had for our space, and that he would have to put aside some of his irrational decorating fears, (because there are no rules in design, or so I’ve learned working for House Beautiful) so that we could create a living space we both felt comfortable in. Like good designers do with their clients, I started giving my boyfriend options, though not too many as to avoid overwhelming him with possibilities. Soon, he began to trust and, dare I say, even appreciate my wildest opinions without having to research them first.

As we’ve continued unpacking, we’ve noticed that the system of communication we had to help us navigate decorating our apartment, was somehow infusing itself into all aspects of our relationship—I’m not only a control freak when it comes to my space and having too many options doesn’t only overwhelm him when we’re talking about paint samples, so we’ve had to use these tools to navigate other parts of our relationship too. At first, what felt like a fundamental difference between us and a large potential barrier to progress, has become a rather valuable lesson in communication and compromise for us.

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