Cathleen Medwick on staying yourself in a relationship
Photo: Olivia Barr
In truth I have always been a loner. I love tiny, singular spaces where a body can sit quietly and contemplate. I was never happier than when I lived in my quirky basement apartment in a Manhattan brownstone, and Jeff, a stranger to me, moved into the parlor-floor apartment right above it. We began to meet for coffee, and at night after he got home from his corporate job at a major New York–based textile firm and I finished reading for my graduate courses in Renaissance poetry, I'd clamber upstairs and sip wine with him. I might stay over—or I might go downstairs to sleep alone. It wasn't exactly Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, maintaining separate apartments and perfectly calibrated minds. I have no idea what Jeff and I talked about in those early days, but it was probably nothing more complicated than how I could prep for my orals without falling asleep and whether or not he should paint contrasting trim around his ceiling. It didn't matter. What mattered was that we never stopped talking.

Then we moved in together, into his apartment. I had to get rid of my spindly Victorian furniture; it looked ridiculous with his chunky brown sofa and pragmatic oak table and chairs. The shag rug was a bone of contention; luckily, it didn't survive a sheepdog with digestive issues. Crammed in a claustrophobic space, we began to battle, one of us slamming the door and retreating into the narrow bedroom. We built a sleeping loft to escape to. Still, we not only survived the merger but married. We tried to become a "we," traveling for our honeymoon to the Paris I loved (and he hated), always seeing friends together, dragging each other to movies that bored one of us to death. His eyes glazed over when I tried to fascinate him with Middlemarch. I rubbed my temples while he replayed a Hendrix album into the wee hours or puzzled over some intricate business deal. We survived corporate dinners and foreign films, poetry readings and rock concerts. My role models were artists, his were entrepreneurs. We tugged persistently at each other's psyches and prayed for continental shifts.


Next Story