Kate’s Dates: Why living together before getting married isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, Part 1

Kate's Dates: On CohabitatingBy Kate Richlin-Zack

You meet a great guy. You start dating. At first you’re seeing each other once or twice a week and after a month it’s up to three or four. You start having sleepovers and pretty soon there’s “the toothbrush discussion.” Then one day you wake up and can’t remember the last time you actually slept at your own place; it’s just an expensive unkempt storage unit and you have the dust bunnies and dead plants to prove it.

Considering that you spend almost all of your time at your boyfriend’s place, moving in together is just easier. And there are some pretty logical advantages:

  • Convenience—we were already spending so much time together, logistically it doesn’t make sense to keep living out of an overnight bag most of the time.
  • Financial—what’s the sense in paying double the rent? I spend all my time at his place while all of my worldly possessions are housed in another. It’s fiscally irresponsible not to live together!
  • The Spouse Audition—what better way to see if we’re truly compatible than to live together. If we can’t live together, then I’ll know for sure that our relationship wasn’t meant to be. Besides, playing house is going to be fun!

Downsides? What downsides? This sounds like a perfect plan! And if it doesn’t work, we can always just move out.

Not so fast…

Regardless of whether you end up marrying the guy or kicking him to the curb, living together before making a serious commitment to one another is a huge mistake. Trust me, I’ve lived through both scenarios and in both cases—even in the one that ended up with my walking down the aisle—I regret moving in together. [Insert big apology to my husband here.]

This week’s column is actually part 1 of 2. I had so much material for this topic, I had to cut it in half which means you’ll be getting an extra dose of Kate’s Dates next week. I know, I’m as excited as you are! Next week we’ll go into detail about cohabitating when you ultimately get married. This week we’ll cover the not-so-happy-ending scenario—the devastating consequences of moving in together when you ultimately break up.

Breaking up is already complicated and depressing; but when you break up with your live-in boyfriend, suddenly the logistics make it impossible to execute that flawless one-of-us-will-just-move-out exit strategy. No one just moves out.

But before we even consider how moving in together complicates things, let’s just look at the break-up itself. It can take an enormous emotional toll. When I think back to all the times a relationship ended, I remember how difficult it was to reconstruct my life without someone that used to be such a big part of it. It didn’t matter if I was the dumper or the dumpee. There were holes and deficits and unanswered questions. Who’s going to be my “plus one” at my college roommate’s wedding in a few weeks? What about that vacation we planned? Do I keep all the stuff he gave me? Burn it? Send it back? Do I delete his number from my phone? Is it ok to have sex just one more time to say goodbye?

Breaking up is already complicated and depressing; but when you break up with your live-in boyfriend, suddenly the logistics make it impossible to execute that flawless one-of-us-will-just-move-out exit strategy. No one just moves out. Moving, on the list of major life changes, is right up there with death, birth, and starting a new job. Who knew throwing your stuff in boxes could be so taxing? But it is and it’s never simple.

The most complicated break up I’ve EVER had (and I lost count of just how many break ups I’ve lived through) was with Credit Card Fraud Clarence. Somehow, we inadvertently started living together. The toothbrush discussion happened pretty quickly and not too long after that, I had a drawer of my own. I started leaving more of my stuff at his place because I was spending so much time there. Eventually pretty much everything I owned, with the exception of furniture, was in his apartment. “No big deal,” I thought to myself, “because if it doesn’t work out, I’ll just pack up and leave.”

He was clearly not on board with the one-of-us-will-just-move-out plan, and by the way, it’s very difficult to pack your things when someone is kneeling at your feet with his arms around both your legs.

But it didn’t work out and I couldn’t just pack up and leave.

Clarence was failing the spouse audition, big time. I was miserable. He was perpetually unemployable, needy, and downright full of crap—and in hindsight, I did not need to live with him to discover any of these things. When I decided it was time for us to go our separate ways, I anticipated a brief frank discussion about our incompatibility and we would mutually agree that we were better off as friends.

HA! Any time I so much as hinted at the idea of breaking up or even tried to soften the blow by saying “maybe we should take a break until you find a job, pay off your DUI charges, and get your drivers license back,” he’d freak out. He would start crying and shaking. One time he threw up. “Things will get better soon, I promise… please don’t leave me!” he sobbed. He was clearly not on board with the one-of-us-will-just-move-out plan, and by the way, it’s very difficult to pack your things when someone is kneeling at your feet with his arms around both your legs.

The only way out of this relationship was to move out piecemeal. Every morning when I left for work, I’d shove some extra clothes in my gym bag. Anything he probably wouldn’t notice was smuggled out; anything that might cause a commotion if it disappeared had to be sacrificed in the name of sweet freedom. After a few weeks, the filing cabinets in my office at work were stuffed with underwear and jeans while my files were strewn across the floor. Although it was awkward explaining my “new filing system” to my boss, it was totally worth it because I was able to say, “Clarence, I’m leaving you” and actually walk away, leaving only a hair dryer, a pair of sneakers, and a broken hearted deadbeat behind.

Fortunately my parents happily took me in, but not everyone has that option. Where do you go when you break up? Someone HAS to move out. There are a whole host of other issues that come up if you try to stick it out until that pesky lease expires. You won’t like it when he starts bringing home random girls from the bar, especially if you’re in a one-bedroom apartment. But that means finding somewhere to live. That can take time and although you may not realize it, you just cut your income in half. So you’ve essentially narrowed your options to your twin-sized bed with the Rainbow Brite sheets in your old room, sharing a two-bedroom apartment with two others by turning the dining room into a bedroom, or a studio apartment the size of a shoe box with a hotplate. All less than ideal. Regardless of the option you go with, it’s going to be a major life-style change. Dialing it back can be really hard and keep in mind, you will spend a fortune on booze and ice cream to dull the pain. The realization that ramen noodles were definitely more appetizing in college might be more than you can bear.

All those advantages don’t seem so compelling anymore, do they?

Next week I’ll delve into the best case scenario: cohabitation before you ultimately get married. Nowhere near as sticky as the scenarios I just described, but you might be surprised by some of the disadvantages that you probably never even thought of. Stay tuned …

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: Why living together before getting married isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, Part 1

  1. Kate S. says:

    Amen to that! I’m in that toothbrush discussion stage with my boyfriend, but I refuse to trip into full cohabitation. I am adamant that not only does the ring have to be on the finger, but the vows exchanged before all our stuff gets mixed in the laundry. I have watched other friends go through it. In the end, it’s not worth the energy to untangle yourself from the awful encumbrance if there is to be no “I do”. Just don’t.

  2. katetorg says:

    I’ve had two four year relationships, but have never lived with anyone. That wasn’t a conscious choice so much as an incidental one, but after reading about you moving out of Credit Card Fraud Clarence’s place, I am so thankful that’s the case.

  3. Kathleen Kirk says:

    I moved in with my boyfriend purely because I didn’t have a place to stay and he offered. I don’t have family or many friends to take me in. I’m not thinking of marriage at this stage and this article admittedly scares me. I really hope that cohabitational experiences are more dependent on the person than universal…

  4. Kate R-Z says:

    Amen, Kate S!!! If only I knew then what I know now…

  5. Katie G says:

    Hmmm I’m torn over this one. Although I’ve never lived with a boyfriend, I share Kathleen’s weariness about the universal notion that living together before marriage is a bad idea. Can’t it work for some couples? And isn’t it better to find out about Credit Card Fraud Clarence before you marry him and his financial issues legally become yours?

    Maybe you should only live with someone you picture yourself marrying…but I guess I will have to wait until Kate’s next post for some insight on that!

  6. Kate R-Z says:

    Kathleen – everyone’s situation is different and ultimately, we will all be “fine” and get through life regardless of what comes our way. I hope you never have to deal with what I did but I personally think you will be better off finding a way to make it on your own (not relying on your boyfriend) for a place to live. Living together tends to complicate relationships which are already complicated. That being said, understanding what you might be up against and keeping your eyes open to potential problems before they get out of control will definitely help! Hang in there.

  7. [...] 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 [...]

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