So, yes, I moved recently; only days ago. Specifically, I moved not just apartments but living situations—my gentleman friend and I decided to move into a new apartment together. I’ve lived alone for 12 years, so while this was a decidedly positive development, there’s also an element of adjustment going on. I’m not used to having someone else in the space I call my own, except for specific, defined periods of time—dinner, drinks. Even a lazy afternoon is just that, an afternoon, not an indefinite stretch in which ever-elastic time is shared with another. That’s exactly why most of us move in with someone, actually—you want to spend more time with them, or you want your downtime to include more of them, or something like that.
But when we talk about moving in with someone, the words we use imply not time but space. And—news flash, folks—sharing a space with someone means…you have to share. I don’t have a problem with this on a theoretical level, but on a practical level it means recognizing that you can’t just use your space however you see fit; if your intended use of space encroaches upon what a reasonable roommate might call “their” space, you’ve gotta make concessions. And here I am talking about the bathroom.
I recognized early on that I’d have to pare down my beauty products (this after I’d done what I believed to be a “thorough purge” a couple of years ago, ha!); our new bathroom has somewhat less storage space than my old (and crammed) one, and my beauty-product : non-beauty-product ratio is roughly 8:1. As I went through my bathroom, I started asking myself on products I was waffling on, “How would I justify this to my boyfriend?” Not that he’d ask me to justify any of my stuff—it was more of a weeding technique. If I can’t justify any particular beauty product to the person whose space I am about to share, I probably don’t need it at all, right? Despite my best efforts, though, I’m guessing that 90% of the bathroom is full of my crap. His grooming accessories: two bottles of cologne, an electric razor, and a stick of deodorant. (And a shampoo three times as expensive as mine, thankyouverymuch.) Mine? Well, are we counting only the daily-use stuff on the cabinet shelves, or are we counting the “extras” stored beneath the sink, or are we going whole hog and counting things like the velcro curlers and glitter eye pencil I can’t make myself get rid of?
Still, that’s just the concern of space. Truly, the adjustment that living together takes is indeed about time, or perhaps division of time. I’m used to time being clearly delineated: Time in public means time out of my home, time in private means time in my home. Sure, there are plenty of spaces that straddle the two—going to friends’ homes, for example—but maybe that example just illuminates how skewed my idea of public vs. private has become. Private time for me in the past 12 years has meant not just time out of the public sphere but time away from anyone except myself. Living with someone means an adjustment to that line of thinking.
Enter makeup: For me, one of the primary functions of makeup has been to delineate the public from the private. Virtually every time I leave the house, I’m wearing makeup, and if I’m not, it’s because the space I’m entering is something I consider a mental extension of “home”: the grocery store, for example (it’s just around the corner!), or the gym. And for the most part, that means that I’d be putting on makeup before seeing my boyfriend. I mean, he’s seen me plenty of times without makeup, but the default is certainly mascaraed. Despite the fact that he’s enough of a “home” for me to want to create a literal home with him, being with him still gave me enough of a toehold in the public sphere that I’d want to put on makeup, even if I was just having him over for the evening.
So now that one particular form of public-private life—my intimate life, my partnered life—is more fully anchored in the private sphere, makeup could fall by the wayside, according to the personal logic I believed I’d been applying. And yet there I am, every day before he comes home from work, dabbing it on, prettifying, beautifying, cosmetizing. (It could be more extreme, I suppose: I’ve heard tell of the woman who wakes up before her partner so she can scurry to the bathroom to get made-up.) Me being me, I’m sure I’ve put far too much thought into this, but there it is: I’m not fully comfortable admitting that I make a point to put on makeup before he comes home for the day, and I can’t help but wonder what it means that I’m using makeup in this manner. Is it a form not of delineating public from private but of delineating me from us—a way of making sure I don’t lose myself in the glory of The Couple?
There’s actually some shreds of evidence for that line of thought: Unmarried, cohabitating couples are more likely than married couples to have spaces in the home that are designated “alone” spaces. (Well, they were in 1974, and while cohabitation has drastically changed in social meaning since then, I do hear this concern more from unmarried friends who live with partners as opposed to married couples.) But we live in New York, and while our apartment is comfortable, the idea of “alone spaces” is nearly laughable. We have a room whose main purpose is for me to work in—still, one can technically be out of sight in a New York dwelling, but one can never be out of earshot, even olfactoryshot at times. My makeup collection is a way of carving out a physical space of designated “alone” time, sure, but it may also be a way of drawing a boundary of sorts around a mental space that’s wholly mine. Not for his benefit, but for mine: For as I write this, my boyfriend is at work, and I am without a drop of makeup, without shoes, without contact lenses. No music is playing; no other creature is in this space. When he gets home this evening, I may still be working and writing, but things will look different. I’ll be made up, glasses off, hair brushed; the sounds of his existence will flow through this space. His sounds aren’t distracting per se, but they are not sounds of the solitude I’m used to when I work. I wonder if the makeup serves as an external notification to myself: You are no longer alone. It will take time to learn how to not be alone, after more than a decade of being able to be wholly alone at any moment I choose, simply by going home. And as it has done for me before, makeup may help me through a personal transition.
I wonder how this will change as time goes by and living with someone else becomes my mental default, not a new playdate. And yes, I’m aware that for all my talk of boundaries and solitude, makeup also helps us look better, and I’m talking about my boyfriend, not a roommate—I want to look my best around him. Especially now, I admit—now, before the natural rough edges of cohabitation begin to reveal themselves. I’m not yet annoyed by any of the things that may annoy me a year from now: shoes laying about wherever he feels like taking them off, that sort of thing. And in turn, to my knowledge none of my little things have crept into his brain: inability to get anything totally clean, 12 different kinds of flours in the cupboard (down from 15, so it’s an improvement). He’s under no illusions that I’m perfect in any way, including looks-wise; it’s not like he believes my eyelashes blacken themselves. Maybe that’s exactly why I’m drawn to wearing makeup at home now, in his presence anyway: It’s not an illusion at all, but an expression, an articulation of my desire to start off this whole living-together thing at my personal best. Sometimes my personal best will mean a laser-like attention to other things (most notably work), and in those times makeup may well fall by the wayside. Right now, though, my personal best isn’t so lopsided. She writes, she edits, she exercises, she researches, she reads, she cleans. And right now, she does it looking the way she wants.