Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Should Exes Live Together?: The Dangers of the "Relationship Visa"

On my master list of things that I just won't accept in a potential new boyfriend, for a long time, chief among the no-nos has been these: You can't live with mom and dad (a prerequisite that I temporarily suspended while I lived in Buenos Aires, where no one seems to leave home before the age of 35), and by God, you can't live with your ex.

Maybe my hard line stance has something to do with the fact that I've never ever lived with a boyfriend, which is as much a symptom of my loner ways as my fear of rushing into things. As far as I'm concerned, people move way too fast in modern relationships -- like my last ex, whom I recently learned moved in with his last ex and five other people (in separate bedrooms, he was sure to tell me), though they couldn't have been a serious couple for more than several months! But if my last ex can proudly announce to me one month after breaking up with his last ex that he moved out ages ago, why can't all exes cut the cohabitation ties just as quickly?

I already went there once before with a guy I dated for a year and a half in the mid '90s. For the first few months that we were together, he was living with an ex in Harlem. Surprisingly (to me now, though not at the time), I didn't really have a problem with it. I didn't think he and I were going anywhere yet, and it never crossed my mind that he might be getting a little on the side on the nights when he slept at home. I wasn't sure if they had their own rooms -- or beds -- and that never crossed my mind either. In fact, the ex and I became pretty friendly with each other (on neutral turf, since I never visited their shared apartment) and remained that way long after the ex (my ex) had exited the picture (our picture).

My problem with the scenario ended up being that I constantly had to listen to all the stories, about how inconsiderate the ex was, about how the ex was too needy, about how the ex was always borrowing money, about how the ex once cheated on him and punched him in the face when he confronted him. The ex this, the ex that! Thankfully, before I had a chance to file a complaint, my now-ex but then-BF moved downtown to the East Village into an apartment a few blocks away from mine, with a cranky girlfriend whom I eventually grew to despise. I liked it better when he was living with the ex!

Last night I had the strangest feeling of deja vu, sitting across the pub booth from this really cool guy, an expat from Monterrey, Mexico, now living in Melbourne with -- you guessed it -- his ex. They'd been a couple for two years until December, when they took a trip from Melbourne to Monterrey to meet the friends and the parents of my date. Within the first week, after a minor disagreement that escalated into something grander scale because it was actually over two years of pent-up frustrations, they broke up. The holiday continued as planned, and after they returned to Melbourne, so did their living arrangement.

As I listened to his story I was incredulous. Did he really still introduce his now-ex to his parents after they'd split up? How did he manage to sit with his now-ex on the 20-whatever-hour flight back to Australia -- and on his 30th birthday no less -- without committing murder in the coach cabin? Did they really still sleep in the same bed?

I flashbacked to boyfriend No. 2. Then to the Jennifer Aniston-Vince Vaughn movie The Break-Up. Then to the most recent episode of Happily Divorced, the new Fran Drescher sitcom on TV Land about a woman whose husband of 18 years comes out as gay, and they are forced to continue living together for financial reasons. I always thought I enjoyed that show a lot more than I should, considering how unrealistic it is, or so I thought.

Boy was I wrong. Sitting across from me was living proof. And Fran and Peter (played by John Michael Higgins, perfecting a certain fortysomething brand of gayness) sleep in separate rooms! The guy sitting across from me had better have an even better excuse than Fran and Peter. (Since we're not on the subject, can someone please give Fran's latest sidekick, played by Everybody Hates Chris mom, the beautiful and talented Tichina Arnold, her own show and a recording contract? Please?)

He did. He's in Australia on something he called a "relationship visa," meaning that he and his ex are as good as still-legally married (without the actually "married" title since gay marriage remains illegal in Australia). And if they don't at least appear to be a couple (which means living together), he'll have to return to Mexico, plus they could possibly face legal action. If my date wants to continue calling Australia home, they're stuck together -- in the same house and, for now, in the same bed, too, at least until they find a bigger place, a search now in progress.

I didn't ask him what's wrong with the couch. I was too busy thanking my lucky stars that my crusade to live and work in Australia never reached such a fever pitch that I even considered entering into such an unholy union. Then I thanked my lucky stars again: If a reluctant romantic like me ever had a perfect excuse to "keep it light," this was it. What happened between my date and his ex (or "husband" or "partner" or "flatmate" -- he's still not sure how to refer to him, since they remain legally bound) in that apartment was between them.

If last night was any indication, though, I'd be certain to keep hearing about it if we continue to hang out, which I think I might be able live with. As long as I get to go on living alone, and they don't expect me to come over for dinner.
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