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Relationships
05/08/13

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)

 

Comments

  1. Wow. Thanks for your honesty, Sara. These are my favorite parts of your article.

    “[L]iving 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…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.”

    You definitely never get this perspective of co-habitation from movies. They only portray the emotional rush and excitement, and never the pitfalls of premature commitment. I’m glad you were able to glean wisdom from your experience.

    I am now married, but I have definitely experienced some ridicule for not living with my then-boyfriend for a “test-drive.” Thank you so much for your courage to share your heart and pull the curtain behind the not-so-glamorous side of cohabitation.

  2. Emily says:

    I’ve read a little about co-habitation in the past, but this article was great. You highlighted the dangers so clearly. I never really thought about the dependence that co-habitation breeds. It makes sense that you would never challenge anything in a relationship if you’re living together. Thank you for sharing your story.

  3. John says:

    This article distorts the advantages of living with a partner prior to marriage, and it is unfair to use your situation as an example of the pitfalls for living together for several reasons. First, you moved in with your partner after three weeks. I think most people, even those who support living together with a partner to whom you’re not married, would agree that this was a rushed timeline. I am madly in love with my partner (with whom I live), but I would have NEVER thought that we should move in together after 3 weeks of dating.

    Also, and as some of the commentators have pointed out, you seem to suggest that moving in with your partner breeds co-dependency. This is clearly true in your case in which you didn’t pay rent or utilities because your boyfriend’s parents picked up the tab. Regardless of who was paying for your boyfriend’s living expenses, you should have offered to pay your fair share. You should have maintained your own independence. Your situation illustrates that your attitudes were that you were clearly moving in to his home and that it never actually became a home that you shared together. This is an issue in your relationship (which married people can have if they move into one person’s already-established home), it is not an issue based on you having moved in with your partner prior to marriage.

    Life is a learning experience, and I think this situation presents a great lesson in what not to do in deciding to live with someone. That being said, I am living with my partner of three years and we’re getting married in a few months. Moving in together was one of the best (and most responsible) choices I have made. We had been dating for two years and were both independent working professionals when we made the decision. We remain independent and responsible for ourselves as we transition to married life.

    Thank you for sharing your story, but please don’t use it as a lesson to those who love their partner and made a responsible decision to live with him or her. Do not use your decision to rush into a relationship as a means to pass judgment on the choice to live with one’s partner.

  4. Sarah says:

    What a well-written piece! Thank you for sharing your experience in such a candid and non-preachy way. I am sure this will have a positive impact on those who read it.

  5. TC says:

    Not really a lesson that one can really learn without actually living it but very interesting introspective article.

  6. Robert says:

    John, I really think your criticism overstates what Sara’s article does and says. The article provides a recounting of Sara’s experience and circumstances moving in with her boyfriend, the realizations she had after the move, and the toll it took on the relationship. You acknowledge at different points in your comment that (1) people generally would think that moving in with a significant other after 3 weeks of dating is a bad idea, and (2) that Sara’s situation would be an example of what not to do. That was the point of the article – three weeks was way too soon to move in together, and we should learn from Sara’s experience. The article does not make any broad claims or distortions about moving in with a girlfriend or boyfriend, nor did the article make the claim that moving in with a loved one is inherently irresponsible. I know at points, she uses more general language like “[l]iving with my boyfriend destroyed that possibility of stepping away to get perspective,” but it’s understood that the context of this statement (and any other general statements) was that she felt this way after moving in with her boyfriend much too quickly. We are meant to see these statements as revelations after rushing to move in together. We are meant to see her decision as irresponsible, and I think the author would agree that it was an irresponsible decision to move in with her boyfriend after 3 weeks – so it’s not a lesson for, or a judgment on, couples who love each other and made a responsible decision.

  7. SS says:

    As a perspective piece, this was interesting and well-written. However, it would be imprudent to make sweeping generalizations about co-habitation based on this particular experience. First, as another commenter pointed out, the timeline was 3 weeks, and part of the motivation for moving in was a desire to get out of less desirable circumstances. Second, the author apparently expected to be treated as an equal without ever acting as an equal. Paying one’s fair share is part of being an adult. How could anyone expect him to see the author as an equal when she were sponging off of him after 3 weeks? A man who would have shared her perspectives on working motherhood is likely not the type of man who would also agree to support a live-in girlfriend after 3 weeks. How much more comfortable would she have been challenging him and “probing each others’ souls” if she were carrying her own weight? Third, she seems to want to paint him in a manipulative light by asking her to move with him, but she had already agreed to become dependent on him. What would he be staying there for? Her meager salary that couldn’t support them? Her friends, who can’t support them either?

    This is not so much an article about the dangers of co-habitation as it is about the dangers of poor decision making.

  8. ALEXANDRA says:

    Thank you so much for your insight. It is very rare that someone with this type of experience is willing to share their hurt with others. Good luck to you!

  9. Great article and like the others, thank you for sharing your story and insight. I agree that there is “a profound appreciation for the unhurried, pressure-free process of getting to know someone as an independent single person.”

  10. H.B. says:

    What a breath of fresh air! I hope to share this article with others. I never lived with a guy before marriage because of my beliefs, and as the years go by, I’m more thankful than ever that I chose not to. Good luck to this thoughtful author!

  11. Abby says:

    This was an interesting article, and I appreciate the author’s candid reflections on her decisions regarding Jake. However, I want to agree with some of the thoughtful comments. Yes, the author had a disastrous experience with cohabitation, but she chose to move in with Jake after 3 weeks of dating. How is it possible to know anyone well after 3 weeks? Cohabitation should be a well-thought-out, considered decision that takes place once two people feel they are equal partners in their relationship. Partners should also know each other well enough to have a decent idea of what they’re getting into. There are so many people who cohabit happily and healthfully outside of marriage because they have done exactly that: waited, discussed this decision, and decided together that it’s the right thing for them.

    The writer, however, did none of these things. Furthermore, in this article she makes the sweeping generalization that her poorly-made choices reflect how horrible cohabitation is, when in reality, her poorly-made choices reflect only her rash decisions. With such a broad conclusion, this article ends up reading more like a morality piece than a genuine reflection.

  12. Cassie says:

    I really enjoyed this article. It was direct to the point and showed a real-life situation of cohabitation before marriage being very detrimental to the relationship. Cohabiting also makes the ability to say “NO” to sex outside of marriage. This can also damage the relationship. And knowing your boyfriend/girlfriend better or worse doesn’t make a difference. Whether you know the person for 3 weeks or 3 years…cohabitating is immoral and makes marriage almost superficial. Cohabiting is in and of itself “playing house”. And as every person who played that as a child knows, the shine and novelty of the game wares off, and you are left alone and heartbroken.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] This post on Verily Magazine’s site is one of the simplest and sincerest first-hand accounts of cohabitation that I’ve ever read. [...]

  2. [...] “Moving in Together: What I Know Now,” Verily Magazine [...]