It was a hot, humid July evening in Atlanta. I was sitting with a handful of friends at a bar, swirling my happy-hour cocktail and trying to figure out my next move—literally.
I was living with my sister, Emily, but my boyfriend, Sean, and I wanted to move in together. I felt torn: I enjoyed living with Emily and didn’t want to abandon her, but I also saw a future with Sean. His current lease was ending, and I wasn’t jazzed about another year of back-and-forth sleepovers at our respective spaces.
Then a friend offered a solution I’d considered but hadn’t said out loud. “Why don’t you just… all move in... together?” It sounded self-serving, and I wasn’t sure either party would go for it—who wants to live with her sister’s boyfriend or his girlfriend’s sister? But I also thought it just might work.
Emily and I, two years apart and both in our late 20s, had moved in together the previous fall. My long-term relationship with my live-in boyfriend imploded when I found out he’d cheated, and I found myself both heartbroken and in need of a roommate for my tiny two-bedroom Poncey-Highland apartment. Luckily, Emily had just graduated from her physical therapy assistant program and wanted to move out of our parents’ house.
We hadn’t shared a roof for more than a summer since I’d moved to Atlanta, four hours north of our hometown, nearly a decade earlier. It turned out that living with someone I’d known nearly my whole life and who was always down to split delivery pizza while watching Vanderpump Rules reruns was exactly what I needed, and I was grateful for that.
A few months after my sister and I became roommates, while I was still tending to a freshly shattered heart, I met Sean at a New Year’s Eve party. We fell hard for each other. Weeks in, we both felt like we’d found something lasting and real. His place was across town and included a dog and two dude roommates who lived up to “dude roommates” stereotypes when it came to cleanliness and rowdy parties. We were both ready for him to move on.
To my surprise, when I approached each of them about the three of us living together, Emily and Sean both agreed. I felt responsible for the bulk of the house-hunting duties, since I’d been the one to concoct this scheme in the first place, and I promised I’d find a spot that all of us, including Sean’s dog and Emily’s dog and cat, would be happy with.
Accommodating the preferences of three adults was harder than I anticipated. Sean wanted a house in a walkable neighborhood with a large fenced-in yard; Emily wanted something newer, with updated appliances; and I just wanted everyone to get along and not be mad at me. And, sure, two bedrooms that didn’t share a wall was also ideal.
After half a dozen disappointing viewing appointments and a handful of passed-over applications (I’m guessing a married couple with dual incomes looks better on paper than a grad student and two women with the same last name who’d both had their jobs for less than a year), we toured a spot that fit our collective criteria. It was a charming gray two-bedroom, two-bathroom house just outside the city, with skylights, a lush yard, and a breakfast nook. After a brief huddle, I wrote the deposit check on the spot.
Once we settled in, routines developed quickly. The first person home always let the dogs out, everyone cleaned up after themselves, and whoever got to the kitchen to prep their meal first was given space. Sure, there were idiosyncrasies: Sean tended to only do his own dishes (likely a habit picked up from his last living situation), sometimes leaving a single knife or plate in the sink, and Emily often did her laundry multiple times a week (the machines were located in our en-suite bathroom). But, all in all, my devious plan was a success.
I felt self-imposed pressure to toggle between spending time with both of them so neither felt like a third wheel. Sean and I loved cooking together, and Emily and I would see movies or go on runs together after work. At the end of most days, we’d sit around our dining room table for dinner—sometimes talking, sometimes bickering, sometimes looking at our phones in shared silence. Just like a regular little family.
On New Year’s Eve, four months into our blended cohabitation, Sean became my fiancé. He presented an engagement ring in the parking lot of the same restaurant we ended up at the night we met, while streetlights illuminated the misting rain. Emily was out of town with friends, and she was one of the first people I called. After hearing her voice break in excitement, mine did too.
One day that following summer, Emily and I had just gotten out of a Wonder Woman screening when I saw I had a missed call from my mom. I called her back on speakerphone, and she shared the news that our childhood dog Buddy had passed away. Emily and I immediately burst into tears, then sat in the car in the parking lot, crying on each other’s shoulders. I texted Sean before starting the car so we wouldn’t have to explain our red, puffy eyes. Once home, I scooped up the cat and plunked down next to Sean on the couch, feeling the sting of tears returning to my eyes. He hugged me and said he was so sorry.
I know that living with your fiancé and your sister sounds like the plotline of a sitcom. But that day in particular, I felt immense gratitude that I could be there for my sister, that Sean could be there for me, and that we were all there together.
At the end of the summer, after nearly two years of living together, Emily moved in with her boyfriend a few states away. My heart caught in my throat when she waved to us in the rearview mirror of the U-Haul. Once our lease was up, Sean and I moved into a smaller house in East Atlanta. We married that November, with Emily as my maid of honor. In her rehearsal dinner speech, she regaled the crowd of friends and family with funny, heartfelt stories from our time living together (like how surprisingly unfazed Sean was when her dog ripped the button off his shirt one of the first times he came over, and how I opened him up to the world of Korean sheet masks). Knowing that I wasn’t the only one who looked back at that time with fondness gave me a wash of relief.
Not only did living with my sister as an adult make our bond stronger, but Sean and I sharing a roof with her was a foundation-builder for our relationship as well. It proved to me that we could compromise, and that he was willing to put himself in a less-than-ideal situation to make me happy. It’s not a scenario that would work for everyone, but I wouldn’t change a thing.
Caroline Cox is a writer and editor living in Atlanta, Georgia. She’s written for publications including the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Nylon, InStyle, VICE, the Cut, and more.