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Moving In Together: What I Know Now

Verily_Cohabitation

People can do silly things when they’re in love. Especially in those heady early days, common sense can fall to the wayside, which is justified and reinforced in the stories of heedless abandon that fill our books and movies. Not all of these romantically reckless decisions, however, are created equal: while it is one thing to blow off an important networking event in order to spend a quixotic evening with a paramour, it is quite another to decide to move in with him.

My story began five years ago in New York City when I met, let’s call him Jake, at a jazz club on the Upper West Side. Our attraction was instant and intense, and we went from strangers to inseparable in a moment. It was a breathless, whirlwind, love-at-first-sight connection that quickly staggered into serious relationship territory. It was in this star-struck, idealistic phase of our new affection, after just three weeks of dating, that he asked me to move in with him. I did not bat an eye. I said yes.

My decision can in part be explained by the sheer force of the emotion I was experiencing, but there were other, less poetic reasons as well. At the time, I was sharing a bedroom with my sister and living with three other girls in a fifth-floor walk-up apartment in a neighborhood known as one of Manhattan’s last ghettos. The apartment had mice and roaches, our hot water was intermittent, and neighborhood people routinely consumed drugs in the hallways and on the roof.

By contrast, Jake lived in an airy, spacious, and recently renovated apartment in a prime Upper West Side neighborhood. He had a doorman! His parents paid all rent and utilities; it was pest and rent-free! Jake’s offer for me to move-in felt like he was extending his white-gloved hand down to lift me from the muck, a Prince Charming rescuing a grateful Cinderella–economically speaking at the time, it seemed to make perfect sense.

It didn’t take long, however, for the fairy-tale sheen to wear off my new living situation. Admittedly, I was saving a considerable amount of money not having to worry about rent and utilities, but the truth of the matter is that it created an intense emotional imbalance. I felt forever beholden to Jake and, as a result, I felt that I couldn’t refuse or refute him in anything. Worse still, living together completely abbreviated the get-to-know-you process that dating before marriage is designed to accomplish. The priority became maintaining the household peace instead of probing one another’s souls. Living together bred a thorough complacency that came to slowly rot our relationship from the inside-out.

One evening, for example, it became apparent that he and I did not share the same values regarding working motherhood. I was completely aghast at the things he said to me that night; I felt like I had gotten the wind knocked out of me. Who was this man that I was living with and how could this be his expectations for our – my – future?

But I didn’t say anything. I had class the next day, dinner to clean up, homework to do, and I just could not face such a serious conversation with no place to retreat to in case it went poorly. In a non-cohabitating situation, I probably would have broken up with him right then–it was that bad–or at least taken time to seriously reevaluate our relationship. But I did neither of those things. I told myself that I could maybe change his mind sometime in the future and left it there. We went to sleep that night as usual.

This situation played itself out over and over again. These silences grew into unacknowledged mutual grudges that lived ominously under the surface until a disruption in our lives brought them to the surface.

The disruption came in the form of a thick envelope bearing Jake’s admission to Georgetown’s public policy masters program. Georgetown, of course, was in Washington, D.C., and we were living in New York City. I had a great job in the city, friends, my sister, and a comfortable routine, but Jake assumed that I would go with him–I hesitated. This initial hesitation brought some of the silent demons of our relationship out into the open. He had given me so much, how could I say no? Was I ungrateful? Didn’t I love him? Of course I was grateful; sure, I guess I loved him; and fine whatever, I decided to go with him to Washington, D.C.

I recognize now it was a complete lack of perspective on our relationship that led me to agree to the move. Living with Jake meant that, emotionally, it was easier for me to say yes to D.C. than it was for me to face the daunting prospect of separating from him. I had given away most of my large possessions prior to moving in with him, my room in my old apartment had been rented out, and I had fallen out of touch with most of my friends over the course of our relationship. I would have had to completely start over.

So I moved to D.C. and a month later, we broke up. If I had feared starting over in New York, now I had to do so in an entirely unfamiliar city with a much smaller social network. I only had my clothes, my toiletries, and a suitcase when I left. I had no right, as an unmarried, legally single, person, to demand an equal distribution of the possessions we had acquired together during our relationship. I couldn’t ask for alimony or for any kind of settlement. I had no rights to our apartment. I was, quite literally, left out in the cold.

If Jake had asked me to marry him, instead of asking me to move to Washington, I would have said yes. But I would have made a huge mistake. It is not a stretch of the imagination to think that, had Georgetown not intervened, we would have gotten married and continued to ignore our problems until something else big and disruptive, like a baby, entered the picture. And it would have been far, far worse for us to have realized our incompatibility at that moment.

I now have a profound appreciation for the unhurried, pressure-free process of getting to know someone as an independent single person. Living with my boyfriend destroyed that possibility of stepping away to get perspective and to quickly extract myself from a relationship that wasn’t right. Take time to date, because, while living with your boyfriend might be more convenient or economical at the time, skipping the pain of a de facto or actual divorce is worth the wait.

(Photo by Andrea Rose)