How witnessing a break-up can sometimes help your own relationship

A couple of months ago, my friend Tom threw a farewell party before moving interstate. I bought him a see-you-later schooner, and we cheersed to his next chapter, both blissfully unaware that two weeks later he would be on my doorstep, bags in tow, looking for a place to stay. 

As it turned out, his girlfriend loved the new city but no longer loved him. The breakup was dramatic, heightened by the stress of hauling everything you own across state lines. Moving can be tough; moving cities can be terminal.

They went through the motions, civil conversations peppered with "why are you doing this to us!?", followed by days of passive-aggressive texting about who owned the expensive SMEG kettle.  "Yes...your mum bought it...but she bought it FOR ME!"  

With each passing day, the dust on their romance wreckage settled, and reality kicked in. 

Tom convinced his new job to transfer him to the Sydney office, and just like that, he was back. The Big Life Move™ reduced to nothing more than a humorous anecdote for future dinner parties. 

Mi casa su casa

While this was all unfolding, I offered him the spare room in my house, aware that he was not only coming home heartbroken but homeless. Tom graciously accepted, and I spent the next few days feeling smug about my display of selflessness. 

But as we all know, good deeds rarely go unpunished. By the time he arrived at the airport, I was deeply regretting my hospitality. 

For the past four years, I'd been living with just my fiancee, and in that time we've developed behaviours not fit to share with outsiders. Every couple has their secret shame rituals, weird stuff that you only do together, away from the prying eyes of society. 

I'll sometimes play PlayStation in my underwear while Kate scans my back for blackheads. Strange, but it works for us. 

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Be our guest, be our guest

Now I was set to introduce a foreign element into this delicate ecosystem, and I only had myself to blame, the architect of my own demise. To make matters worse, in my panicked generosity I'd thrown out all manner of 'stay as long as you need, absolutely no rush' false promises. Please don't stay as long as you need; there is absolutely a rush.

On the first night, we covered the usual housemate topics - Wi-Fi password, best Thai in a ten-kilometre radius - before circling back to the emotional elephant in the room. 

"It was just so unexpected," said Tom, and I nodded, searching for the silver lining. 

"Well, sometimes the unexpected is exactly what you need," I offered. It was a throwaway line designed to distract but ended up more prophetic than I realised. 

Mates matter

Having come off a major life event, Tom needed a friend, but it turns out I did too. In a world where meaningful connection has been usurped by meme tagging and group chats, seeing a friend face-to-face every night felt significant. 

It's no secret that men are more at risk of loneliness and isolation than women. According to a 2018 study carried out on Australian adults aged 25–44, men tend to report higher levels of loneliness than women at a rate of nearly two-to-one. We are led to believe no man is an island yet more, and more of us seem to be marooned. 

This is typically attributed to the fact that women are more highly skilled at maintaining social relationships and establishing a support network. Whereas men just get older and weirder.

Don't believe me? Look at your dad. Is he weird? Yes, he is. 

Combine that with the tricky transition out of your mid-to-late twenties: when commitments trump catch-ups and everything feels like an effort. 

On the upside

There was no effort required when Tom and I were under the same roof, and so without that pressure, we could be there for each other. The simple act of talking proved to be an unexpected healer.

There was another upside to having Tom in the house; Kate and I made a conscious effort to "spend quality time together." I always figured those words for reserved for couples on the brink of divorce, but now I get it. 

Rather than hang out in the lounge room watching TV - together but separate - we went and did stuff. Walked, talked, explored the local Bowlo and discovered it serves criminally cheap Chinese. Now we go there once a week, bringing the average age of the clientele down by about two generations. 

Until next time...

Eventually, the day came for Tom to ship out. Sydney's suffocating rental market let its guard down temporarily, and he found a place online that offered the holy trinity: lovely room, decent rent, no mould. 

But having a house guest had left an indelible mark, a reminder not to be so unnecessarily protective of our time and space. In our collective rush to grow up, shack up and hurry along with the rest of our lives; we've floated further apart from one another without even realising it. 

What I'm saying is, if you need a place to stay - hit me up.

After continually being told to "use his words" as a young boy, Thomas Mitchell took that advice on board and never looked back. Since then his words appeared all over the place, including in the Sydney Morning Herald, Time Out, The Huffington Post and GQ. Thomas spends his days observing the unique behaviour of the Australian male, while trying not to overstay his welcome at the local cafe.

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