Kate’s Dates: Kate’s Dates: Why living together before getting married isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, Part 2

Kate's Dates: On CohabitationBy Kate Richlin-Zack

Last week we covered the worst case scenario when it comes to cohabitating: it doesn’t work out and you ultimately break up. In short, it’s a mess. I strongly advise against it.

But what about the best case scenario? Let’s say it DOES work out…

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.”

Wrong.

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.

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

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.

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!”

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!

Kate’s Dates is a column that runs every other Wednesday on Kate-book.com. It is written by the lovely Kate Richlin-Zack, who majored in engineering to meet guys. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

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7 thoughts on “Kate’s Dates: Kate’s Dates: Why living together before getting married isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, Part 2

  1. katetorg says:

    Your honesty here is SO APPRECIATED. I don’t know too many people who would say that, given the chance to do things over when it comes to their relationship, they might do some big things differently.

    I’ve never lived with a significant other, even though I’ve had two relationships that almost ran four years. I’ve never been opposed to it–I’ve just never felt ready for it.

  2. Steven DiSebastian says:

    Hey Kate,
    Good article! I find the live-together/don’t live-together argument interesting. I don’t think you know this, but I’m in my 2nd marriage. My ex-wife and I lived together for a number of years before marriage. Christine and I chose to wait until we were married to live together. It should be noted that I was not following my Christian faith when I was with my ex, and I was following it when I was with Christine, and though this is a big reason why we chose to wait, I’ve come to the conclusion that living together before marriage, whether you’re “religious” or not, is a bad idea. Most people live together to “try out” the other person before making the big commitment of marriage, which seemed logical to me at the time I moved in with my ex. The problem is that this then weakens the seriousness of marriage when you do finally decide to move on to the next stage. I realized married or not, my ex was still just “living with me” and “trying me out.” As soon as we hit a rough patch, instead of working on it as a married couple should, she jumped ship. I felt much more secure going into my marriage with Christine because we knew once we said those vows and were living together, that was IT. We were now “one flesh” and any issues that arise after that would be worked through. And though that gave me a lot of comfort going into my marriage with Christine (especially considering the way my 1st marriage ended), it also added to our nervousness because we understood the magnitude of the commitment we were making to each other. This nervousness was a good thing though because it showed how much we understood this commitment. Instead of living together, I’d recommend working through some marriage books together and getting pre-marriage counseling, something most churches require. This will force the couple to talk through all the important issues (money, roles, children) before they make the commitment of marriage. If there are any issues that can’t be solved, it’ll come out before the wedding and save everyone a lot of heartache (and money).

    • Kate R-Z says:

      Thank you SO much for this comment. Your honesty about your experiences with marriage and living together has brought up a lot of additional issues that I never even thought of while I was writing this article but I couldn’t agree more. I think it’s easy to take for granted the significance of marriage when you’re shacking up with someone and most people are doing it too.

  3. [...] Before Getting Married Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up To Be.” There is a Part One and a Part Two. And I’m not just sending you there because she agrees with me—she’s thought about [...]

  4. Kate S. says:

    “It’s about fucking time!” LOL!! Yes, yes, yes. That is all of it in a nutshell. I think with instant gratification and delightfully-devilish rule breaking everywhere to be found, we’ve lost sight of some things. It is healthy to abstain from rushing into one thing (like living together before marriage) to gain even better things later on (like a happy marriage!). It is about time–there is a time for everything. And you are right on time with this article. I’m with you all the way, Kate. Can’t wait for the next episode.

  5. Lauren you know who says:

    Great insight girl! You totally hit the nail on the head with this one. In my last relationship, I lived with my boyfriend for years before marriage, but it wasn’t until reading your article that I realized living together was part of the reason we ultimately got divorced. Like you, I anxiously awaited his proposal while he was in no rush to get married. Our friends and family surely had the “it’s about time” reaction to our engagement.

    We got married right around graduation from grad school and afterwards our lives went on exactly the same as before. We continued living in the same apartment. The act of marriage had no impact on our relationship. At a time when we could have been growing closer and creating a new life together, we actually ended up growing apart. After graduation we both started working and spending less time together. Without the excitement of new cohabitation, we followed our same old routine of watching DVR’d shows at night and hanging out with friends on the weekend. There was nothing particular pulling us closer together at that point in time. About a year and a half after our wedding we split up, feeling distant and misunderstood.

    If we had lived separately all those years before marriage, I would have viewed marriage as an important milestone and a sign of commitment instead of an extension of the status quo.

    All this being said, I am again cohabitating with my current boyfriend (if only you had written this sooner! J/K). We are choosing an alternate route, having both experienced failed relationship in the past. We are committed to being together in a lifelong relationship and hope to start a family one day, only no marriage this time. We learned that commitment is truly a state of mind and an emotion – not something you get from promises, living together or a wedding. I’ll let you know how this one turns out in 50 years!

    Thanks for you entertaining and very insightful articles!

  6. [...] are tons of relationship milestones that we hit along the way like moving in together or saying “I love you” for the first time. Some are bigger than others, but I think we should [...]

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