Dear Harry and Louise:
After three and a half years with each other, my boyfriend and I recently moved in together. Since the house I’ve lived in for the past five years was more spacious and cost-effective than anything we looked at, we decided to go ahead and live there instead of getting a new place that would be “ours.” But he’s been making comments here and there about how he feels a bit like he’s just living in my house, rather than us sharing it equally.
Besides just saying so, what can I do to make him feel more like this house is just as much his as it is mine?
• • •
This guy’s a keeper. The fact that he’s feeling a bit uprooted and not totally at home is actually a good sign. It tells me he genuinely cares about the place he calls home and wants to nest with you. Too many of my brethren can’t seem to grow out of the frat stage. They don’t care where they lay their heads or how messy they leave it in the morning. And it’s affirming that he’s willing to express his discomfort and talk it over. This bodes well.
You are working through some of the conflicts any couple might face when they join households, even if they are moving to a brand new place. Living together ain’t easy—ask Louise. And how you work through this situation will give you a sense of how you will handle other challenges, such as having kids.
Make changes, with his ideas and his sweat. Paint a room or two. Let him choose the colors. Wield the brushes and rollers together. Toss a sofa or chair; go out together and buy a new one. Can you give him a room—y’know, a man cave? Does he garden? Let him have at the yard.
If, despite your best efforts, he cannot seem to feel a connection to the place, you might have to consider moving to a new home together. It can be worth the change if you love the man.
• • •
You could talk about the place belonging to both of you until you are blue in the face, and it will make no difference. You need to spend time creating (or re-creating) the space together. You can do this in small, economical, yet earnest steps. Make one change per season. This spring, paint the walls of just one room. You’ll spend time visiting the paint shop, putting up samples, and memorizing names like Paris Rain and Tuscan Sun. Even if you can only list the primary colors today, you will soon find yourselves debating the depth of color found in Spring Mountain versus Antique Jade.
This summer, visit an art show and choose a painting you both love to replace one you are willing to put behind the bureau until you have a larger place. In the fall, donate the dining table you’ve had since college to a local charity and choose one that suits your love of entertaining and his need to spread out his papers while working.
Come winter, toss out the old mattress and bedding. Test new mattresses, and learn to talk thread count and quilt patterns. If you both remain focused on making positive changes to your space, you will soon be able to walk through the door and be met with that elusive “Ahhh” feeling that comes from creating something that is a reflection of the two of you.
Virginia Woolf wrote about the importance of having a room of one’s own. You two are ready to make a space of your own. This will be a positive experience—even if you have a screaming match inside Benjamin Moore—that will help you feel closer as a couple, and will help your boyfriend feel more at home.
We all need a warm place to come home to.
Louise and I have taken five years to remake our home, room by room. No screaming matches! I won. Actually, we collaborate.
Harry is writing this from his newly decorated barn.