Girl Talk: Why Living Together Before Marriage Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up To Be
You meet a great guy. You start dating. At first you’re seeing each other once or twice a week and after a month it’s up to three or four. You start having sleepovers and pretty soon there’s “the toothbrush discussion.” Then one day you wake up and can’t remember the last time you actually slept at your own place; it’s just an expensive unkempt storage unit and you have the dust bunnies and dead plants to prove it.
Considering that you spend almost all of your time at your boyfriend’s place, moving in together is just easier. And there are some pretty logical advantages.
- Convenience—we were already spending so much time together, logistically it doesn’t make sense to keep living out of an overnight bag most of the time.
- Financial—what’s the sense in paying double the rent? I spend all my time at his place while all of my worldly possessions are housed in another. It’s fiscally irresponsible not to live together!
- The Spouse Audition—what better way to see if we’re truly compatible than to live together. If we can’t live together, then I’ll know for sure that our relationship wasn’t meant to be. Besides, playing house is going to be fun!
Downsides? What downsides? This sounds like a perfect plan! And if it doesn’t work, we can always just move out.
Not so fast…
Regardless of whether you end up marrying the guy or kicking him to the curb, living together before making a serious commitment to one another is a huge mistake. Trust me, I’ve lived through both scenarios and in both cases—even in the one that ended up with my walking down the aisle—I regret moving in together. [Insert big apology to my husband here.]
We’ll start with the not-so-happy-ending scenario—the devastating consequences of moving in together when you ultimately break up.
Let’s just look at the break-up itself. It can take an enormous emotional toll. When I think back to all the times a relationship ended, I remember how difficult it was to reconstruct my life without someone that used to be such a big part of it. It didn’t matter if I was the dumper or the dumpee. There were holes and deficits and unanswered questions. Who’s going to be my “plus one” at my college roommate’s wedding in a few weeks? What about that vacation we planned? Do I keep all the stuff he gave me? Burn it? Send it back? Do I delete his number from my phone? Is it ok to have sex just one more time to say goodbye?
Breaking up is already complicated and depressing; but when you break up with your live-in boyfriend, suddenly the logistics make it impossible to execute that flawless one-of-us-will-just-move-out exit strategy. No one just moves out. Moving, on the list of major life changes, is right up there with death, birth, and starting a new job. Who knew throwing your stuff in boxes could be so taxing? But it is and it’s never simple.
The most complicated break up I’ve EVER had (and I lost count of just how many break ups I’ve lived through) was with Credit Card Fraud Clarence. Somehow, we inadvertently started living together. The toothbrush discussion happened pretty quickly and not too long after that, I had a drawer of my own. I started leaving more of my stuff at his place because I was spending so much time there. Eventually pretty much everything I owned, with the exception of furniture, was in his apartment. “No big deal,” I thought to myself, “because if it doesn’t work out, I’ll just pack up and leave.”
But it didn’t work out and I couldn’t just pack up and leave.
Clarence was failing the spouse audition, big time. I was miserable. He was perpetually unemployable, needy, and downright full of crap—and in hindsight, I did not need to live with him to discover any of these things. When I decided it was time for us to go our separate ways, I anticipated a brief frank discussion about our incompatibility and we would mutually agree that we were better off as friends.
HA! Any time I so much as hinted at the idea of breaking up or even tried to soften the blow by saying “maybe we should take a break until you find a job, pay off your DUI charges, and get your drivers license back,” he’d freak out. He would start crying and shaking. One time he threw up. “Things will get better soon, I promise… please don’t leave me!” he sobbed. He was clearly not on board with the one-of-us-will-just-move-out plan, and by the way, it’s very difficult to pack your things when someone is kneeling at your feet with his arms around both your legs.
The only way out of this relationship was to move out piecemeal. Every morning when I left for work, I’d shove some extra clothes in my gym bag. Anything he probably wouldn’t notice was smuggled out; anything that might cause a commotion if it disappeared had to be sacrificed in the name of sweet freedom. After a few weeks, the filing cabinets in my office at work were stuffed with underwear and jeans while my files were strewn across the floor. Although it was awkward explaining my “new filing system” to my boss, it was totally worth it because I was able to say, “Clarence, I’m leaving you” and actually walk away, leaving only a hair dryer, a pair of sneakers, and a broken hearted deadbeat behind.
Fortunately my parents happily took me in, but not everyone has that option. Where do you go when you break up? Someone HAS to move out. There are a whole host of other issues that come up if you try to stick it out until that pesky lease expires. You won’t like it when he starts bringing home random girls from the bar, especially if you’re in a one-bedroom apartment. But that means finding somewhere to live. That can take time and although you may not realize it, you just cut your income in half. So you’ve essentially narrowed your options to your twin-sized bed with the Rainbow Brite sheets in your old room, sharing a two-bedroom apartment with two others by turning the dining room into a bedroom, or a studio apartment the size of a shoe box with a hotplate. All less than ideal. Regardless of the option you go with, it’s going to be a major life-style change. Dialing it back can be really hard and keep in mind, you will spend a fortune on booze and ice cream to dull the pain. The realization that ramen noodles were definitely more appetizing in college might be more than you can bear.
All those advantages don’t seem so compelling anymore, do they?
And now, for the best case scenario: cohabitation before you ultimately get married. Nowhere near as sticky as the scenarios I just described, but you might be surprised by some of the disadvantages that you probably never even thought of.
Let’s say the two of you have every intention of spending the rest of your lives together and even the Psychic Friends Network is predicting happily ever after. Then what? Should you move in before you’re officially engaged or married? I still say NO.
Based on my own experience, I personally think it’s not worth it for reasons that didn’t occur to me until it was too late. When my now-husband-then-boyfriend-not-yet-fiancé discussed moving in together, I was hesitant even though I knew for certain that getting married was a matter of “when” not “if” for us. I had been down this road before—you remember all the crying, vomiting, and stealthy escape planning, so you can understand why I’d be gun shy. Even after living through the worst possible cohabitating scenario and fully understanding what I could possibly be getting myself into, my husband made a great case with all those pesky “advantages.” I figured, “This time it’s different. This relationship is going to work out, so maybe he’s right and it DOESN’T make sense NOT to live together.”
Moving in together meant slightly different things to each of us. He had never lived with anyone before, so he saw living together as the first really big step towards an even more serious commitment, i.e. marriage. In fact, it was such a big step for him, that it could have almost replaced (or at the very least delayed) getting engaged. In retrospect, I see his point; combining your lives on a day-to-day basis is a way bigger deal than putting a ring on someone’s finger. Rings offer much more flexible outcomes than, say, a joint bank account or a lease. But I had a very different perspective.
To me, moving in together almost didn’t even count as a commitment. Cohabitating was so prevalent among my friends, and I had done it before so I was completely desensitized to its true significance. I thought, “Everyone’s doing it, so what’s the big deal?” There was only one person who said, “Congratulations!” when we happened to mention in passing that we were moving in together and I thought she was crazy. Moving in together isn’t important enough to warrant a “congratulations.”
I realize now, both she and my husband were absolutely right, while I was just ignorant. You wouldn’t think that having a different perspective on what this step in our relationship really meant would be that much of a problem, especially since we both knew we were getting married eventually, but we spent A LOT of time fighting before he finally proposed. I wondered why it was taking so long to get engaged so, naturally, I hassled him about it … frequently. This tactic did not go over well and only frustrated my poor husband. He felt he already made a huge commitment by sharing his entire life within the 1000 square feet we called home and couldn’t understand why I still wasn’t happy and kept pressuring him for more. His frustration made him distant, which only reinforced my concerns about why it was taking so long for him to propose. He was also trying to keep the engagement plans and the ring a surprise which made him doubly frustrated and distant. There were numerous times he wanted to yell at me and say, “I’m working on it and here’s everything that I’ve been doing to surprise you, now shut the hell up!” But of course, he couldn’t do that because it would fully ruin the surprise. Can you say recipe for disaster?
There was nothing I could do except try to be patient and try not let my fears and misinterpretations of his behavior get the best of me. But in the back of my mind I couldn’t help but think, “Maybe he really doesn’t want to marry me? Why else would it be taking so long? He promised he’d propose but he’s acting all weird every time I bring it up. Maybe he’s going to dump me? Maybe he’s got cold feet? Maybe I’m going to have to shove everything I own in a gym bag and live out of my car again but now I have things that won’t fit in a filing cabinet and … sob sob sob.”
Because I had agreed to live together, it was like I had inadvertently sanctioned his interpretation of what cohabitation meant in terms of our relationship and now there was suddenly no sense of urgency. He was thinking, “I LIVE with you! How much more of a commitment do you want?” I wanted a proposal but I had no leverage. No incentive. No way to light a fire under the ass of a man who genuinely felt he’d already done enough to prove his love and devotion to a sobbing lunatic.
When he did finally propose, other than having a flashy ring to show off to my friends and feeling like our relationship was more legitimate now that we could refer to each other as “my fiancé,” life proceeded unceremoniously. Although we were definitely excited to share the news with family and friends and we both felt a deeper commitment to each other, having some noticeable change in our day to day lives would have added a layer of excitement and significance to what was (and always will be) one of the best times of our life. It was almost like living together diluted the romance and excitement of it all. Plus the months of fighting and miscommunication leading up to our engagement were so miserable that my husband refuses to celebrate the anniversary of the day he proposed. Too many bad memories.
But you don’t think about those things until after the fact and it’s not like you get a do-over.
What’s even worse is that the longer you’re together without a solid commitment to each other, the more likely you are to feel that dilutive effect and open yourself up for potential issues. Not only are you, the one in the relationship, “over it” so to speak, so is everyone else. A friend of mine got engaged after being with her boyfriend for almost 7 years. They weren’t just living together, they’d already bought a condo together. When they finally got engaged, my first thought was not, “Oh how exciting! I’m so happy for them!” No no. My first thought was, “It’s about fucking time!” Do you really want your friends to feel that way when you call them up to announce your engagement? Here’s a better question, do YOU really want to feel that way when you get engaged? Because SHE had the exact same reaction I did when he popped the question. Can you imagine, he’s down on one knee, pouring his heart out and THAT’S how she responds? Doubt that’s how everyone envisions such a momentous occasion.
Maybe your friends’ perceptions aren’t that important, but what about your future husband’s parents’ perceptions? Their generation didn’t pull crap like this. People usually lived with their parents until they got married so all this moving in together is a foreign concept to them. I don’t care how “progressive” these people seem, they will, on some level, think you’re a whore and you will, on some level, feel like a whore. There’s a reason they call it “living in sin.”
And as for that whole concept if we can’t live together, we’ll know the relationship just wasn’t meant to be, let me ask you this: are you spending the rest of your life with someone because they make a good roommate or because you share the same values? While I think it’s important to happily and comfortably coexist, the fact that you’re both neat freak morning people shouldn’t be the definitive success metric. If you move in together with the intention of answering the question can we live together, that’s probably the only question you’ll end up answering. You could lose sight of the more important questions and pretty much guarantee that you’ll end up as nothing more than emotionally unfulfilled roommates instead of a happily married couple.
For the record, I don’t want anyone, especially my husband, to think that I’m UNHAPPY with the way my relationship unfolded over the last few years. Was it perfect? Of course not. But nothing is. And I am very proud to say that I’m head over heels in love with my husband and thank my lucky stars every day that I have him in my life forever, but I wish that I had at least known enough to CONSIDER some of these things prior to cohabitating. If maintaining separate residences, despite all of those “advantages,” could have spared us some of the drama and turmoil along the way, I wouldn’t have moved in until there was a ring on my finger and date set.
Then again, who can really say for sure. I almost never follow anyone’s advice, including my own!