10 tips for cohabitating with your significant other in college


Kamrin Baker

Photo by Kamrin Baker/the Gateway

This piece is a part of an ongoing series on sex and relationships, in accordance with the Valentine’s holiday in February! Some stories will appear in the print edition of the Gateway, while others will enjoy their space online throughout the month.

My boyfriend, Tim, and I have been together for four and a half years. We met in high school and have grown through so many life changes, losses, victories and superhero franchise movies together. Six months ago, we embarked on an adventure that spelled out two things we weren’t sure we were quite ready to read aloud: commitment and adulthood.

The logistics were perfect, though. I was just leaving my job as a resident assistant and was ready to move off campus, and he was preparing to start culinary school at Metropolitan Community College. So, we took the leap.

So far, it’s been a wonderful journey where we have learned so much about each other, our finances and our cleanliness habits. However, it’s been long enough that I have some wisdom to impart on my younger self—and anyone else who is eyeing the idea of moving in with their significant other.

1. Write a roommate agreement together.
When I was an RA, it seemed that there was no issue that couldn’t be cured by the magic of a roommate agreement (this is a deep exaggeration, but they are super helpful!). Before officially moving in, it’s important to communicate expectations and divide up chores and tasks. Make sure you both agree on the terms of the agreement and compromise in a healthy and intentional way. I know this seems pretty formal for a couple that feels like they know each other really well, but look at it like another step in signing your lease. While we don’t necessarily follow every single thing on our roommate agreement from six months ago, Tim knows it’s his job to take out the trash, and that alone is enough for me.

Some sample prompts to include are:
-What will we keep the temperature at during the cold and warm months?
-How do we want to divide up cleaning the kitchen? The bathroom?
-How often should we wash the sheets?
-When we have friends or guests over, our policy is…. (text each other to communicate they are coming over, clean up after yourselves, etc.)

2. Communicate about finances.
When your relationship shifts from paying for Runza every so often to paying for rent and utilities once a month, you need to be transparent about finances. Are you both in a position where you will have enough to cover the costs every month? Will your parents help if you need them? Will you Venmo one person your half of the bills and they are responsible for paying them? What are the logistics of splitting the cost of groceries? These are just a few questions you will encounter. They would be beneficial to discuss with any roommate, but setting the tone for a long-term relationship and shared finances is a very mature and smart thing to do.

3. Thrift. Everything.
Speaking of finances, after paying rent, you probably won’t be the richest couple in the world. This is when you will thrive on the gift of coupons, marketplace apps and the Goodwill. A lot of our furniture is shared from our respective parents’ homes, but we also snagged a lot of stuff from NextDoor and Facebook marketplace. It’s just not realistic to purchase expensive nightstands or a next level shelving unit when you are still discovering your shared taste. That being said, I still love the things we have in our home, and we are figuring out how to be frugal in our purchases of new items. One beautiful, Swedish word: Ikea.

4. Find your grocery store and stick with it.
For those of you who aren’t privy to the joy of off-brand groceries, you need to visit Aldi. There is one right next to campus, and as long as you bring your own reusable bags and have a quarter to rent out your shopping cart, it’s bound to be a success. Groceries become a huge cost, so it is important to be mindful of your choices. The good news is that some people might be so excited about your new living situation that they’ll offer to get you a house-warming gift. Gift cards to HyVee, Wal-Mart and Target are invaluable.

5. Come to terms with the fact that you will argue.
Living together is not easy. Even just being a roommate with someone can drive you up the walls some days, and it might just be because they missed a spot vacuuming. Don’t let this new living situation drive a wedge between you and your significant other. Know when you need space from one another, and know when to swallow your pride and apologize. At the end of the day, they’re much more important than a new dish scrubber.

6. Give yourselves time to adjust.
You’re going to be excited to jump into your new home and new step in your relationship, but it can be challenging. I remember I had to adapt to Tim’s daily routines, and vice versa. Continue to communicate, and know that there’s a good chance they’ll never naturally shut the cabinet doors, and it’s not your job to change that. It’s just your job to love them.

7. No matter what, find times to celebrate.
Whether it’s a holiday or just a day off from work and school, still carve out special time together. If you’ve been together a while, you know that it can be so easy to fall into your routines and joint Netflix-watching schedules that you forget to ever go on dates. I often look at grocery shopping and relaxed time with friends as a fun outing together, but it’s still fun to look nice and go out for a meal, or to see a movie on $5 Tuesday. Even if you’re on a tight budget, there are ways to make holidays special, too. We got our Christmas tree on a wicked Black Friday sale, and I got us Santa hats from the Dollar Tree. It’s about intention, not dollar signs.

8. Thank your support system.
Our parents have been helpful with a lot of stuff since we’ve moved in. Whether helping us with groceries, doing our laundry during busy weeks, or even just stopping by to visit, they’ve allowed us to make our own space. However, family isn’t the only support system that can keep a couple afloat. The maintenance guy at our apartment complex is one of our favorite things about our place. We simply wrote him a thank you card after doing some big fixes for us. Sure, it’s his job, but the smile on his face after getting that small recognition means so much.

9. Develop inside jokes about your home.
These moments typically come naturally, but Tim and I always have little quirks and jokes that are the icing on top of our first apartment. For example, we each have a favorite squirrel that climbs the tree outside our building. If Tim’s not around, I’ll text him about the squirrels, or if we see them when we go home after running errands, it’s like this big moment with the squirrels. It makes sense to no one else, and that’s what makes it so special for us.

10. Be yourselves.
You might already be at a place in your relationship where you’re super open with each other, but that will multiply the moment you share custody of a house or apartment. Tim knows when I need to pluck my eyebrows, and I know the face he makes when he’s about to fart. We only shut the door to the bathroom when people are over, and walking around without a bra on has been a big highlight of this entire life arrangement. Welcome in the weird vulnerabilities, and let them blossom in your relationship. This is an exciting time of growth for you both, and you’re going to need to be you. After all, that’s the person you fell in love with anyway. The only difference now is that you also have a really cool maintenance guy. Thanks for everything, Herb.

Thanks for everything, Tim.