Of course, there are romantic costs on both sides. This is dating when your ex-husband shares a two-family home with you: A man comes over, leans in for a first kiss, and hears your son pit-patting in the apartment above. He tries to ignore it, but he can’t help but think, “The father of her child is directly upstairs from us.” You’re looking good tonight and, though you have little control over it, your charm has made an appearance. Still, nothing kills the moment like the footfalls of an ex on the floor above.
“Can they hear us?” your date asks, panting.
“Not at all,” you answer, kissing his neck.
“I can hear them,” he whispers.
“Yes, but not the words, right? Just sounds.”
“OK,” he says. “OK.”
The next time you meet, he says let’s just be friends.
The costs also include, at times, a magnification of your loneliness. It’s evening, you’re cooking and listening to podcasts, as much for company as for stimulation. Otherwise, it’s unusually quiet in your apartment: Your ex has taken your son upstate for a few days, and there’s no one to beg you to play Minecraft. His girlfriend stayed behind, and you can hear her voice upstairs, but not her words. Chances are good that she and your ex are talking. Intimacy, you are reminded, continues without you. So does love. You’re the odd one out.
But you also get what you pay for.
Because you love your child, because being the primary parent makes sense for your family, because your ex is still as hilarious as ever, because his girlfriend is kind and fun and playful with your child, and because you choose love over hate and what works over needless suffering, you stretch your imagination, deviate from the script, resolve to better prepare future dates for the unusual situation, accept that you would have to contend with loneliness either way, honor new boundaries, and make up the guidelines as you go, even if you don’t have the words or the script.
My son asks, “Am I sleeping here tonight?”
Yes, he’s sleeping downstairs with me, but he forgot his book. The child is the only one of us who has free run of the building. He runs to your ex’s apartment where the couple is at the kitchen table, having dinner. You can hear his little voice and their mature voices respond.