We are living in very modern times. Gone are the days of the traditions that dating and marriage were based on in generations past. We are as likely to send potential dates a virtual wink, as a real one across a crowded room. We are more likely to read their text messages aloud for friends, than replay a saved voicemail a dozen times looking for clues as to what exactly they are thinking. And, we are undoubtedly more likely than ever before to consider moving in together, long prior to the making of any official plans pertaining to a permanent future together. An informal poll of friends confirmed these suspicions: the vast majority of them have lived with a significant other before the age of 30, and with no promises of marriage or permanence involved. For most of the friends I spoke with, the idea of living together had always been considered a step to a serious relationship, not of one. The step was more in line with the conversation about exclusivity, or an agreement to attend each other’s family events, rather than a clear indication that forever was in the cards.
While that relaxed attitude makes sense given the cultural shift away from the belief that marriage is the end goal of every relationship, I worry that there’s a chance we are all treating the subject too lightly. Expensive rent and a desire to not live with annoying roommates has driven many to jump into a domestic partnership without being that sure that their current relationship has the foundation it takes to survive all the booby traps of a shared home. As someone who has had to move out of an apartment shared with an ex, while it’s not as messy as divorce, it’s definitely not for the faint of heart. Living together may not be forever, but shouldn’t we enter it hoping that it will be? If not, why do we all think it’s a good idea to split the cost of expensive furniture, only to turn around a few years later and fight over who gets the couch versus the dining room set?
Curious about the subject, since I myself am about to enter the world of “living in sin” with my man, I put some thought into the modern approach to cohabitation. In my case, despite both of us having done it before (obviously unsuccessfully), we had no qualms about once again amalgamating homes into one. Beyond the fact that (warning: annoying relationship gush!) it’s the best partnership either of us has ever had, I realized that the past experiences we’ve each had have actually given us some solid groundwork when it comes to moving in. In the spirit of sharing, here are the key rules for the modern couple looking to shack up, that I too, plan to live by come move-in day.
It’s not just “the next step.
So you’ve been dating a while, and it’s going well. You like each other’s friends, you’ve taken a vacation together, changed your Facebook statuses to “in a relationship” — time to move in, right? Not necessarily. The decision is one that shouldn’t be dictated by some sort of relationship checklist that you have in your head. It’s completely normal to feel pressured — living together has become so commonplace that it almost seems like if you aren’t doing it, you must not be that serious about the person you’re with. Not so. There are a lot of factors involved and if you rush the decision before you are both ready, you are setting yourself up for some serious relationship culture shock.
It’s a big jump to go from seeing each other a few days a week to waking up each day together. While you may be pros at weekend sleepovers, you have to be ready for seeing each other on the less relaxed days of the week. If your schedules don’t line up, it will take some adjusting to each other’s pre and post work rituals. It may seem like a small thing, but if you suddenly lose a half an hour of sleep each morning because your partner gets up earlier than you to blow-dry their hair in the ensuite bathroom, you will feel the pain quickly.
For this reason, it’s important to not make the decision because it will be cheaper for you both to pay one rent rather than two, because someone’s roommate is moving out and it’s a pain to find a new one, or because you have been dating for a certain amount of time and it seems like that is what is expected. It has to be a deliberate choice because you love being around each other all the time. If you are consciously choosing to blend your lives, you’ll be more ready for the adjustments you both will have to make along the way.
Learn from your mistakes.
Maybe you have lived with someone you’ve dated before and maybe you haven’t, but by a certain age, you have likely had enough experience living with others, be it a roommate or a significant other, to have a fair handle on what you can and can’t deal with when it comes to your home. When moving in with your significant other, it’s important to not only share what you need and don’t need from the person you live with, but also to think on the times when you had conflict in past living arrangements and sort out the ways you can make sure those issues don’t arise again.
Basically, you will be walking the fine line between being adaptable and easy-going, while also protecting your own interests. It isn’t selfish to be clear about what you need, whether it’s a certain amount of alone time each week, equal sharing of chores, or space to pursue your passion projects. The advantage of having unsuccessfully cohabitated before is that you can look back and remember the things that made you feel uncomfortable, and then ensure that you don’t repeat history.
It is a fine line though. If you are too set in how you like things done, and the “right” way for everything to be, you run the risk of making your loved one feel unwanted and uncomfortable in the home you now share. Remember that knowing yourself and your needs is good, but being unwilling to change is bad. Listen, communicate your own needs and try to work together to find house rules and boundaries that everyone feels good about.
Living with your love is not the same as living with a roommate.
Ah, comfort. It’s what we all seek when we think about making a home — somewhere cozy that you feel settled, hopefully with someone who you can really relax around. In a long-term relationship, the comfort you have together is a beautiful thing. However it has a tricky way of sliding a little sideways into territory that can sometimes feel more like buds.
If we face facts there are some things that all of us do that are not in the least bit sexy. When you live with someone they see all of these things. It’s unavoidable. And then, on top of this, you will squabble over whose turn it is to pick up toilet paper, take out the trash and do the laundry, and because of this, it’s easy to see how the tone in a relationship can shift…and not for the better.
All this considered, I am not an advocate of tiptoeing around, trying to be perfect and sexy all the time. The way to combat the shift into the roommate zone is to find ways to keep the romantic side of the relationship flourishing, not to hide the less glossy side of ourselves. Harken back to the early days and keep doing the little gestures that made you both fall in love to begin with. Show up with flowers. Plan a date. Bring her/him breakfast in bed just because. It may feel like overkill, but all those little things are what made you want to live with that person to begin with. There will always be bigger, more seemingly important ways to spend your money and time, but it’s much harder to get that romantic feeling back after it’s gone than to keep it going in the first place.
So in closing, once you’ve made the decision to cohabitate with your significant other for the right reason, examined your history and remember the lessons you’ve learned from the past, and then just remember to stay committed to keeping things romantic and you should be in the clear. Oh and one last piece of advice that I have been given by several experienced co-habitators: try and find a place to live with two bathrooms. While not a deal breaker, it can really smooth the way apparently. The man and I only have one — wish us luck!Published September 3, 2014