Ashley Ford’s previous columns for The Butter can be found here.
When Kel moved into our apartment, it wasn’t exactly legal. That is to say, he is not, nor has he ever been, on the lease for our apartment. He is, however, a fully functioning member of our household. He cleans, he cooks, he puts furniture together, and he knows more of the neighbors than I do. He has a place for his things—most of them on our largest bookshelf—and he has a place to lay his head (right next to mine). What he doesn’t have, almost seven months after moving from Seattle to Brooklyn, is a key to our apartment.
It started as an oversight. Mine, of course. Before Kel moved here, I wanted everything to be perfect. I got rid of clothes to make space for his (“Awww, babe…”), I bough Oreos for the pantry even though I despise Oreos (“AWWWW, BABE!”), and I wrote on the chalkboard next to my—*ahem* our—bedroom door “Welcome Home, Kelly!” What I did not do was actually clean the bedroom, make sure there was actual food in the refrigerator, or make him an actual key to his new home. As I said before, there were oversights. I never should have been the manager for the cohabitation project. I was unqualified.
For the first few weeks, having one set of keys was annoying, but fine. We were just so happy to be living in the same city, let alone the same apartment, that the key thing seemed minor. I was still working at BuzzFeed at the time, and I loved that Kel and I would meet up after work to attend some random event on the Island. It was easier to meet up in the city and hand off the key, or go somewhere together until it was time to make the commute back home. Not having a second set of keys meant we were always navigating one another’s schedules and commitments. We were constantly connected, both of us scared to death of leaving the other out in the cold. Literally.
If I’m honest with you, and I try to be, I loved being that attached. I’ve never allowed myself to be so involved with someone on a daily basis, and it was oddly satisfying. Kel having to crash an all-girls party because he needed the key was either the perfect chance for me to make an appropriate exit (even the best parties leave me drained), or the perfect chance to watch my lady friends be utterly charmed by him. Win-Win. When I had to fetch the key from him somewhere, it was either a chance for me to introduce myself to new friends he was making, or to sit down and have a drink with him before he met up with them. Win-Win. It got to the point that I didn’t want to get an extra set of keys made. Forgive me for this former irrational thought, but what if having one set of keys was the actual key to our happy relationship?
I know, I know. Let me explain. Though I tend to come of cool, calm, and collected in person, I am actually a human ball of nervous kinetic energy. It manifests in near-undetectable ways. My focus is laser sharp. Being interrupted sends me into a tightly coiled fit of irritation. I have routines for my routines. My therapist says I experience something called Perfectionist Paralysis, which means sometimes, if I can’t create something perfectly, I can’t even begin. It can be debilitating. One of my more frequent transgressions is to ascribe any success to perfectly meaningless or innocuous circumstances. Which means, I convince myself my sweet potatoes cook more evenly in the black pot than the blue one, I read better at the end of the table furthest from the window, and my relationship is going really well because we share one set of keys. Basically, I’m an unreasonable irrational mess. The key thing was just one more reminder.
My mostly rational partner only mentioned getting new keys a few times before he kind of gave up. Maybe it was the way I ignored the question, or the way I changed the subject in such stealth and sneaky ways. Or it was just not that big of a deal to him. Still, it was for me. Even as my schedule became more unpredictable, and more than once, he had to ring neighbors to let him into the building. By the time I rushed home to let him into the apartment, he’d be reasonably upset and murmuring, “We gotta get those keys this week.” I’d agree. I’d probably even mention a place our next-door neighbor said we could get them made. Then I’d count on him forgetting about this incident once he was decently warm and relaxed. And he would.
Two months ago, I left my full-time job. Why? That’s another story. But Kel and I talked it over, and it was the right decision for now. I’m a officially a full-time freelancer. Now that I work from home, we’re around one another more hours in the day than not. I’ve learned not to sleep in just because he’s holding me, and he’s learning when not to interrupt me. We cook together now, because we have the flexibility to do so, so no more meeting each other for after-work drinks. In the beginning stages of working for yourself, it’s a real hustle, so I don’t socialize as much right now, and there aren’t many people for him to charm on my behalf. The keys are never an issue because one of us (usually me) is almost always home.
We’re just living our lives, talking, working, exercising, etc. The keys hang from a protruding nail on our wall that also holds a Christmas ornament of the Eiffel Tower. Most days, they stay there all morning. Being home more gives me headspace to reflect on and alter certain behaviors. I move my body more, I try to write without perfection as a goal, and I only make one list during the day. Cooking every day means I know that both of my pots cook the same way: well. I also know that Kel and don’t need excuses to hang out. We enjoy each other’s company immensely. That we are attached has nothing to do with needing one another to get into our home.
It has everything to do with the home we’ve made for ourselves.
Ashley Ford does cool things at the Harnisch Foundation during the day. She's a former staff writer at BuzzFeed.com and a current serious yacht rock enthusiast. She’s also working on writing a book (or two). Born and raised in Indiana, Ford now resides in Brooklyn, where a good Sunday means a long walk in Prospect Park with her boyfriend, Kelly. A GREAT Sunday includes a doughnut.