‘Is It a Bad Idea to Live With My Ex?’

Illustration: Pedro Nekoi

This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack.

¡Hola, Papi!

I broke up with my long-term partner, and I’m finding the decoupling aspect very challenging. We live in an expensive city and have pets together, so even after I told them I was deeply unhappy and couldn’t be their partner anymore, we are still cohabiting

We’ve basically been platonic friends for years rather than romantic partners. I want to date other people. They took the breakup fine and made a very convincing case that it’s in our best interest financially and for our pets to still live together.

This has to be unhealthy, right? My ex doesn’t want to move out of the apartment we rent and they don’t want to find a new roommate. Outside of relationship stuff, we get along. They don’t understand why anything has to change “since we’ve basically been roommates for years anyway.” I’m conflicted about the arrangement.

I don’t want to make a mess with a sudden rash decision. I want to break up in a healthy, positive way. I don’t want to hurt them and I don’t want to hurt our pets by forcing them to live in a tiny studio, which is all I’d be able to afford on my own.

Am I overthinking a good, comfortable, financial arrangement? Or am I spinning my wheels? I don’t trust my ability to tell what is healthy and what is codependency. Can exes still live together?


They Were Roommates

Hey there, TWR!

Woof, that’s rough. What if I answered every ¡Hola Papi! letter like that? Just variations of “Oof! No good,” or “Yowza! No bueno!” and things of that nature. That would be silly.

In any case, regarding your question: No.

Not in general. That’s my take, anyway. Sure, it can be done. It’s being done all over New York City as we speak. Rent is out of control over here. I am at a point where if a malevolent poltergeist asked if it could move in with me, I’d ask it about its views on cleanliness and if it is an early riser or a night owl. But, to be honest with you, I’d rather a poltergeist in my apartment over an ex. In some ways, they aren’t dissimilar things, I suppose.

I, of course, don’t know your full financial situation, and it should go without saying that you know your options better than I do. But given the reluctance in your letter, your suspicions that this might be unhealthy, and your use of words like “deeply unhappy,” I would err on the side of “you’re not overthinking this. It’s a bad idea.”

It might make sense in the financial short term to stick around with your ex, but you need to consider other costs, of which there will be many. Making this work will require a high degree of emotional effort on your end. You will need to set hard, firm boundaries in many aspects of your home life and then stick to them.

You should also consider what it might look like when you or your ex start dating again, as you said you want to do. Will you be okay, for example, with them bringing someone back? Would you need to agree on a situation where you both only play “away games,” so to speak, with dates and hookups? Is that tenable for you?

Home should be a place where you’re able to unwind, a place where you feel safe, and where you can rest. It’s important, in a stressful world, to have a refuge. Be realistic with yourself about if you can get that out of an apartment you are sharing with your ex, with whom you just got out of a long-term relationship. It could be the case that a tiny studio or venturing further outside the city center really is the better move.

There’s all the above to consider, and on top of that, I should remind you it is always Doctor Papi’s orders to do a clean break when it comes to ending a relationship. That comes with the manual every advice columnist gets on our first day. It’s a good idea to go no contact for a while, try to be among friends, and to be gentle with yourself. This is a difficult thing to accomplish with your ex on the couch.

I recognize that, ultimately, everyone is different. Relationships look different. It’s especially the case, I know from experience, that queer dynamics can look pretty unconventional to some, and that’s something I celebrate in my own life.

I’m not trying to make an appeal to “normalcy” here. But I do think the choice isn’t so simple as “convenience vs. personal comfort.” There are many inconveniences involved with living with an ex, many of which will not make themselves readily apparent at the outset and will show up later down the line as you navigate situations like dating again.

And I also suspect that exes who can make a situation like this work are pretty confident about it. There are definitely people out there who can mutually go from friends to dating to back again in a relatively short window of time. But if you’re experiencing a sliver of doubt, which it sounds like you are, then I think there’s a reason for that.

You should also consider that if your ex is someone you care about and you value their friendship, then continuing to live with them might not be the best way to keep them in your life. The best thing for a relationship isn’t always just giving the other person what they say they want.

If you feel like you well and truly have no choice, then I would urge you to carefully consider what boundaries are necessary to protect your peace and facilitate your healing. If there’s no way to do that, then that apartment is definitely not where you should be.

I understand that moving out would be a huge burden, TWR, and that it won’t be easy. If you do move out, then in all likelihood it will feel like a messy chapter in your life. But in life, sometimes the easy thing seems very much like the sensible thing and the hard thing seems like too much trouble.

It’s applicable in many situations that we should learn to think beyond how things seem in the moment. Prioritize your long-term happiness over short-term convenience, whatever that looks like for you.

I do think there is a ghost in my apartment. It’s not paying rent.

Con mucho amor,

Originally published October 6, 2023.

Purchase J.P. Brammer’s book Hola Papi: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessonshere.

‘Is It a Bad Idea to Live With My Ex?’