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The Nitty-Gritty on Co-Habitating

March 29, 2007 By:
Adina Matusow, JE Feature
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You've been involved in a relationship for well over a year now. You're not ready to get engaged, so what's the next step? Moving in together, of course. But what happens when one of you is ready and the other is not? My friend Lucy is facing this dilemma.

"I really want to move in with my boyfriend, and he doesn't want to until next June," she said. "I'm really upset because we've been dating for three years. It's really not right, and it makes me concerned that we're not a normal couple. We should have made more progress. I want to move forward, but he doesn't."

I told Lucy that I was sorry she was not at the exact same level of commitment as her boyfriend, but that it didn't make her relationship abnormal. I didn't think his requests to live separately were necessarily representative of anything negative in the future.

Moving in together is a big deal; you can lose a great deal of independence. Her boyfriend is obviously not ready for what, in contemporary America, has become the next step in a progressing relationship.

If a couple plans to spend the rest of their lives together, what is one more year of living in separate apartments in the same city? They can still see each other several times a week. If someone pressures a significant other to move in, it may put unnecessary stress on their relationship.

Is the partner who wants to move in really looking for an ultimatum? Or does she just need some tangible reassurance that things are moving in the right direction? If they are planning their future together, she might feel a lot less insistent about him moving in immediately. In the meantime, Lucy needs to enjoy the time they do spend together and, more importantly, value the nights they have apart.

Many readers feel that moving in before marriage is a natural and healthy part of a relationship's evolution.

"I think you need to live together first because you learn if you can live with his or her habits. If one of my habits was a make or break deal for [my boyfriend], then he could say, 'Whoa, this is not working,' " said Rachel. "When you live together, you become more yourself, and you see the good moods, the bad moods -- all the moods."

Rachel said that although she loves living with a boyfriend, it wasn't what she expected.

"I thought it was going to be like college, like a party, but you can't stay up all night because you have to wake up to go to work and have to do chores. When you are in a bad mood, you have to realize you're taking down someone else. It's not like when you live with a friend and you can escape to your own room, because now your room is his room."

Margaret thinks that moving in together is acceptable "if you are on the path to getting married," but that it takes away from something special when you do get married.

"If you're living in the same city and you see each other all the time, why not wait until you get married to move in together? Regardless of what someone chooses to do, it's important to establish yourself before coming together. Before you move in together, you should be financially stable, stable in your career and happy with your family life. Then you're ready to get married."

One conclusion many readers agreed upon was that living together before marriage sure feels like marriage. They continue to make statements like: "We're basically married, except that we have separate bank accounts," or "we act like we're married, so what's the rush in actually getting married?"

This often points to another reason some couples wait until engagement to move in together. They feel that moving in together just prolongs the engagement. These folks need reassurance that the relationship is heading to marriage if they're going to make the leap and share a roof.

"When I moved in with my college boyfriend, we were really testing if our relationship was going to work. Deep down, I knew it wasn't," said Emily. "We had so many problems that came to the surface while we were living together. A marriage would not have changed anything because it was not that our relationship lacked commitment, it was that he was not right for me. If a relationship isn't going to work, then you're going to find out soon enough, and it's better to break it off before you get married."

One reader suggested that couples today know each other better than in their parents' generation -- and that helps.

Amanda agreed that living with her boyfriend makes everything easier, even their fights.

"It's really fun. You get to live with your best friend, and you have dinner together every night. Even when we are having a fight, it still feels good going home together. There is so much more security for us. We know it's going to work out because we're going home together. We're already committed to having everything be resolved." 

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