About a month ago, my friend Dominique had an informal housewarming party. She had just moved into a great new house with her boyfriend and we were all christening the backyard patio area with some light fun. She and her boyfriend had been dating for a year and half and seemed like they could not be happier about the move. At some point, I got into a conversation with four other girls, all of whom I’ve written about it here, about whether or not you should live with someone before getting engaged. They were evenly divided: two of them thought it was absolutely necessary to live with someone first and they would never want to marry someone they hadn’t worked out the day-to-day kinks with. Two of them thought they would never move in with someone without a ring on their finger because a guy just puts off marriage if he’s living with a girl and they didn’t want to wake up one day in their late thirties five years into a relationship realizing they were dating someone who was afraid of commitment. The argument got pretty heated and eventually we all had to abruptly change the subject because we realized we might as well be arguing over whose religion was better. No one was going to convert anyone that night and apparently people feel pretty passionately about the subject.
My opinion on the subject has softened over the years but I have always leaned more towards the idea that living together is not a prerequisite for me to get engaged. I used to be of the hardcore I-will-never-live-with-someone-till-I-have-a-ring ilk. Some of this is a result of my mother’s years of proselytizing that living together first is a bad idea. In the words of my Minnesotan college roommate why buy the cow when you’re gettin’ the milk for free? Some of this is a result of my first long term relationship. I thought he needed goading to get over his fear of commitment and if I stuck to my guns one day he’d propose. Now, I’m glad I didn’t give in and move in with him because it just would have been a more prolonged complicated break-up if I had. I fear that relationship made me a pessimist on the subject so that now I think all men need a little motivation to get married instead of putting it off. But nonetheless, that rule served me well early on in life because it was the reason I didn’t move in with him and thank god for that.
Over time though, I started to realize that maybe that one ex had left me jaded. Maybe the rule was totally obsolete if I was with the right guy. I still believed in true love, whatever that means, and so I started to think isn’t there a guy out there who wants to propose to me because he loves me and not because he’s sick of coming to my place?
My friends who were fans of the cohabitation stage made some really good points. Beth said that when you move in with anyone there are going to be some natural wrinkles in the path and she’d prefer to iron those out before the marriage stage so that after the wedding it could be smooth sailing. Dominique said what I’ve heard a lot of people say – that you can’t really know someone till you live with them. Plus, marriage is such a gamble anyway why not give yourself the chance to be a little bit more sure. And only after living together will you really know if you can deal with each other at their worst. 60 to 70% of couples nowadays will live together before marriage and yet the overwhelming majority of research suggests that living together before engagement leads to a higher divorce rate.
The other side said that any issue in living together could be worked out if you valued the relationship enough to compromise on some little things. Plus, if you’ve been dating for long enough or traveled together you get to see the bad sides without mixing furniture. And who wants to rush into living with the person you have to live with for the next fifty years of your life? Why not enjoy that extra year or so with girlfriends or by yourself?
All the girls there that night were late twenties/early thirties and I definitely got the sense that part of the reason the anti-cohabiting girls felt the way they did is they were scared about a guy wasting their time. None of us are married and we all want to have kids before we’re at the age where you have to have a bunch of extra tests run during your pregnancy because you’re at that age. The thought of living with someone who you don’t end up marrying just seems like a bigger waste of time than simply a failed relationship and we’re all aware that our time is not limitless.
I’m still confused about where I fall on all of this. If my beau was moving to London in a few months and asked me to go with him, I’d say yes without expecting anything more. It feels too soon for anything more. And yet at the same time, there is something I don’t like about just being a couple that shares an apartment.
I hold marriage in very high estimation – probably too high in some regards but I can’t stop thinking about it as a holy union. It’s all still very romantic to me. And because it’s so special for me, I always imagined this grand line of demarcation on the timeline of my life. Once, I cross that line, I will have joined with this person to walk the rest of life with, together. And I want my life to feel different once I pledge myself to someone that way. I want life after marriage to be different spiritually from the way it was before. And I’m worried that if we live together for a year beforehand, the union that our marriage creates will cease to be as important. And so what to do?
I’m really curious to hear what you all think on the subject. Is cohabitation the way to go?