What Katie Did Next: In which I became a domestic gorgon
I recently spent a couple of weeks living with the long-distance lover. It's the first time I've ever spent so long in a significant other's company.
'If you want to know me, come live with me,' goes the old adage. However, I've always opted not to go live with partners because I know I won't like what I see. More to the point, I fear that I won't like what I become.
Cohabitation eventually leads to a psychological state known as the 'comfort zone'. According to researcher and author Brené Brown, the comfort zone is "where our uncertainty, scarcity and vulnerability are minimised - where we believe we'll have access to enough love, food, talent, time, admiration". In short, we stop giving a shit.
Research published earlier this year said it takes 11 months and 24 days for a couple to reach the comfort zone, with signs including "going make-up free", "not shaving your legs" and "happy to have a conversation naked". The study was commissioned by a company that manufactures digital bowel health tests, which says it all really.
The comfort zone looks fantastic in the ads. It's all jersey and cashmere loungewear and lightly tousled bed head. Coffee is prepared in a cafetiere and the young woman holds her mug with two hands while exchanging a knowing smirk with her significant other. I imagine this is to allude to the mind-blowing sex they had the night before and not the paisley pyjama bottoms that he's wearing.
In real life, the coffee is instant, the mug came with an Easter egg and there's no milk. Welcome to the comfort zone.
I prefer to think of it as the danger zone because there is no way back. One minute, you're wearing lace-top stockings, the next, you're in his sports socks in case your feet get a chill.
Even so, most couples prefer the quiet contentment of the comfort zone, and I'd have to agree that life is so much easier when you leave the 'mystique zone'. You can eat spaghetti with wild abandon and burgers without a fork and knife.
You no longer have to truss one breast up with your forearm when lying down or leap from the bed before dawn to brush your teeth and remove the remnants of last night's make-up (before reapplying another layer).
Yes, it's blissful in theory, but my issue is that I enter the comfort zone too early. It takes about five sleepovers for me to go from full make-up to au naturel, and by au naturel, I mean hair in a Medusaean tangle and a judicious application of Sudocrem on my blemishes. The comfort zone means IKEA catalogues and breakfast in bed for most people, but it sounds the death knell of passion for me.
I just wish I could keep up the jig - as exhausting as it is - a little longer.
I lure them in with the best of Brown Thomas's lingerie department, only to be wearing their boxer shorts (they're just so comfy) to bed six months later.
It's false advertising of course, but does anyone wear their retainer or apply their athlete's foot cream on day one? Would a house sell if prospective buyers were shown the stain under the chopping board and the dodgy shower faucet at the first viewing?
Of course, dodgy shower faucets can be fixed, which is what I tried to do last week when the long-distance lover observed that I was wearing his boxer shorts around the house for the third day in a row. At the time, he was busy scrubbing coffee stains out of the six mugs that I had left on the desk the day before.
I could see him wondering just how much further I could devolve. Had he signed up to a life of cleaning up my coffee mugs after me? (Yes). Was I going to wear his boxer shorts to his parent's house? (No).
Still, I was becoming a caricature of the comfort zone, so I decided there and then to do something about it. As soon as he left for work, I starfished across the bed and ate a packet of Monster Munch… and then, I got my act together. I was going to take this relationship back to the sexy zone.
I put on a dress, carefully applied my make-up and blow-dried my hair. And then, to restore favour after the coffee mug incident, I decided to iron his shirts. I would be like an apparition of loveliness and he would remember this day forever more.
But first, I needed to work out how exactly one irons a man's shirt. When I pressed one side, wrinkles appeared on the other. And can somebody please tell me what you're supposed to do with that pleat along the back?
Google provided the answer. I discovered a segment from an American talkshow in which some ironing impresario told an audience of mainly women how to iron the perfect shirt. He even recited a little ditty that went: "Collar, yoke, sleeve-cuff, sleeve-cuff, side, back, side… say it again." And then he said it again as the audience clapped along like demented sea lions. Elsewhere, I discovered that shirts are "cured" as they hang in the wardrobe.
It took me the better part of an hour, but at least I was still slogging away over the ironing board when he came home. I'm acutely aware that women often end up doing more of the household chores, so if I'm performing a task, I want full visibility.
"You're ironing my shirts?" His tone was more doubtful than delighted. "Yes," I replied casually. "The other two are just curing in the wardrobe."
I let him bask in the vision. I wanted this moment to be seared in his memory as I have no intention of ever doing it again. The whole charade lasted for about half an hour after which I changed into his football shorts and ordered a pizza.
Welcome back to the comfort zone.
'One minute you're wearing lace-top stockings, the next you're in his sports socks in case your feet get a chill'