Back of woman's head watching TV
Credit: Getty Images

When I first heard that my boyfriend, Josh, had gotten a new job, I cried.

They were not happy tears.

I was happy for him. After previously working in service jobs, he was finally going to be in a position where he could gain some administrative experience—a change he was hoping would start him on the path towards figuring out his career. It was also going to be his first job with full-time hours and benefits, and that was money and security that we could definitely use.

While the position was undoubtedly a step up from his previous job, it was being offered with a big caveat: The position was for the graveyard shift, from 11 p.m. until 8 a.m., Tuesday through Saturday.

That kind of schedule would be tough on Josh, mentally and physically. My coworker told me that her mother lost a lot of weight working as a night nurse and that it took a real toll on her health. Reddit forums echoed that it wasn’t just a work schedule, it was a lifestyle–one that required considerations we daytime workers take for granted, like using noise machines, blackout curtains, and melatonin to trick your body into getting decent sleep during the day. Next, you have to figure out a healthy eating schedule when working through the night.

Selfishly, I was also really upset for myself.

I envisioned us as passing ships, gliding by one another as we went through the motions of our respective work routines. The truth of the matter is that I was rarely ever alone in our one-bedroom apartment. During the past three years of living together, we’d rarely spent long amounts of time in separate rooms from one another. It’s not that we didn’t have our own social lives or our own interests—we were just a sickening couple in that we simply liked each other’s company. We liked orbiting one another, even if one us was wearing headphones and playing video games online while the other was answering emails on their laptop.

Even before he started this new job, I already knew I would miss going to bed with him. I would miss snuggling into the crook of his arm and slowing my breath to match his own, a sequence of events which would have me snoring in no time. I was happy for my boyfriend, but I grieved for a minute before gathering myself into action mode.

I wanted to support Josh as much as possible, so I did what I could to show it. I turned our bedroom into a kind of cave to help him sleep. We had a precious couple of hours together in the evenings where we would eat together, granting us some semblance of normalcy even if it was my dinner and his breakfast. To get in a little extra time together, I would often ride the hour commute on the train into the city with him, catching up on our days and having conversations that we had no time for at home. The weekends were mostly spent sleeping, even on Josh’s days off, and I was happy to have him beside me, even if he was unconscious most of the time.

But it was after our hurried dinners and drawn-out rides into the city together, after I would say goodbye and watch him disappear into his office building, that I would realize what a long night I had ahead of me. Coming home to a dark apartment was unusual for me, even a bit unsettling.

I quickly fell into a routine. I would come home, get ready for bed, and then I would hole up on the couch for the night.

I don’t know where the idea of sleeping on the couch came from. It was something I used to do often when my roommates were away, and it had become a bit of a tradition when I found myself alone. Part of it was wayward logic: I felt comforted, somehow, by being close to the entrance to the apartment. I liked that if anything happened, that I would be right there at the ready, like a cat-napping guard by the front gate of a castle.

Credit: Getty Images

At first, I reveled in the ability to watch whatever television I wanted. I caught up on all my trashy reality television series and streaming movies that Josh never showed any interest in watching. But I quickly got through any backlog of dating shows or rom coms or dark documentaries and found myself in a television programming desert. Most channels devolved into infomercials or talk shows around midnight, and I needed to find a station I could leave running while my ever-racing mind tried to quiet itself long enough to go to sleep.

It was there, on the couch five nights a week, that I found myself watching HGTV almost every night.

I had never watched the channel before—in fact, it reminded me of the doctor’s, since it was often on the waiting room TVs at the urgent care clinic. But I had found it channel surfing on one of my first nights solo and was drawn in by a marathon of House Hunters. I enjoyed the formulaic nature of it, that no matter how passively I was paying attention to the storyline, I would always get drawn in just enough to be invested in which house the subject of that episode would choose. From there, I was introduced to other shows, watching homes change on Flip or Flop or seeing Hillary and David duke it out on Love It or List It.

I realized that sleeping on the couch every night—especially after riding the train for almost two hours—and staying up late watching home improvement shows seems like a pathetic exercise. It reeked of a stereotype, like a codependent girlfriend unable to function without her partner.

But the truth is that I had always been very independent. Prior to living with Josh, I lived on my own for two years, happily enjoying the bachelorette life in a studio apartment on the Upper West Side. The apartment was small, but it had everything I needed with enough space for all my things. It was a five-floor walk-up, but I had my routine down, lugging my laundry down to the basement every other week and having groceries delivered whenever supplies got low. I loved the neighborhood, I loved that apartment.

I also loved Josh.

Once we decided to move in together, Brooklyn seemed like the best option since most listings gave us more space for our price point. We could get a real one-bedroom for the price of my studio. It made a lot of sense for two people to share more than just 300 square feet of space. But spending long nights alone in this apartment that was rented with the intention of housing two people suddenly made the place seem so much bigger. I hated how aware I was of his absence. I felt exasperated by my own sense of loneliness when I had never needed another person to fall asleep before.

While I often stayed up late with anxiety, wondering where this new job would take Josh and me and what it would mean for our future, HGTV was full of possibilities.

It showed people on the brink of big life changes, of people looking to upgrade their lives. We as viewers got to watch them on that journey. Some of it was ridiculous—people with huge budgets for seasonal vacation homes, dramas about conflicting design choices, or unforeseen foundation issues. But often, the journeys were aspirational. People were getting new starts in foreign countries. Families were trying to break out of clutter and chaos. Young people were getting their first starts into adulthood. All of this was often ended with a sweeping view of a beautiful space, made a home by meticulously scrutinized fixtures and well-planned layouts.

In that sense, it reminded me that our current schedule was not a life sentence, but a means to an end. The process was not as easy or streamlined as HGTV presented, but we too were putting in the work to improve upon where we were before. I always knew HGTV was mostly TV magic—it only showed a fraction of the amount of sweat and tears that went into changing someone’s life. We were experiencing the moments in between, the long path before the big reveal, a journey made all the more difficult without a large budget behind us. Still, the shows gave indication of a light at the end of the tunnel, even if it came in the form of a wall sconce or an impractical crystal chandelier. We struggled through many days when the tension of our schedules seemed to be pulling us in opposite directions, but at least I had something consistent when I returned home. It reassured me that, eventually, things could be different if I just hung in there.

HGTV kept me company through the months that Josh worked the night shift. Luckily, he has now been moved to a daytime schedule, and things have settled back into a more familiar routine. I no longer have those extra hours to fill with shows about real estate and home renovations. Our lives are improving without the clean lines and amenities of the people on TV. Still, I am thankful that HGTV provided me with those glimmers of what could be when I needed it, like a glimpse into the home we hoped to build. I can definitely see it more clearly these days.