After the Breakup, Making Room for the Dog, the Cat — and Your Ex?

4 min
Bay Are couples continuing to cohabitate with their exes is more common that you might think. (Wiki Commons)

Breakups are never pleasant. But having to live with your ex after you break up? That's something that a lot of people in the Bay Area have to face, thanks to increasingly high rent.

People like Oakland resident, Michelle, who didn't want us to use her last name because she still cares about her ex and didn't want to hurt his feelings. After all, they dated for 12 years. Even though they weren't married, she says "it felt like a marriage."

At one point, they moved into a beautiful one-bedroom apartment in Oakland near Lake Merritt. It had hardwood floors, natural light and plenty of space for both of them — plus their dog and cat. Best of all, rent was relatively affordable to split.

But eventually, things started to go south. Michelle says the elements that were at first different and exciting in their relationship just lost their shine.

"It wasn't some massive, horrible, knock down drag out breakup," she says. "It was just a gradual waning of feelings for each other."

Her ex offered to move out. But when he looked for places to move into, he couldn't find anything affordable. Michelle had always made more money than he did, so in the meantime, they decided to go from boyfriend and girlfriend to housemates. In their one-bedroom apartment.

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They started by converting the living room into his bedroom and hung up a curtain for privacy. But when that proved to be too loud, they moved a twin bed into the big walk-in closet. They lived this way — Michelle sleeping in the real bedroom, her ex in the converted closet-bedroom — for a year.

"People thought it was weird, for sure," Michelle confesses. "It's definitely not what people think of as 'normal.'"

But it's actually more common that you might think.

San Jose family law attorney Jim Hoover says that in the last 15 years, he's seen nearly a 20 percent increase in separated and divorced couples deciding to keep living together. And the most common reason is cost of living — it's just too expensive to not split rent.

Of course, there were awkward times for Michelle and her ex. Like when he brought his new girlfriend over. But there were also some perks. Michelle says she benefited from her ex's cooking skills while they lived together.

Her ex did eventually move out, and was able to stay in the Bay Area (he and that new girlfriend are now sharing an apartment in San Francisco).

It’s been two years since Michelle and her ex were housemates. And, she says, she doesn’t regret it.

"Even though the romance sort of fell apart, and that aspect of our relationship disintegrated ... I'm grateful that somehow we built a really strong friendship underneath all that," she reflects.

This is a breakup that went spectacularly well, even with the curtain divider and the closet bed and a new girlfriend. And unless housing prices go down pretty soon, a lot of Californians might have to learn how to make room for the ex, the dog and the cat.

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