You're Thinking of Doing What?!?
Yes, the unthinkable has happened. After all those years of dating hell, you've found a man who appears to be a candidate for a long-term relationship. (We'd say "Mr. Right," but we don't want to jinx it.) At this point, you're spending almost every night with the object of your affection. You've become a pro at commuting across town with a change of clothes in your shoulder bag (thank goodness for microfiber!). But you're growing tired of the commute and forking out dough for an apartment that's little more than a walk-in closet. Then, as if he's reading your mind, the guy in your life pops the question. No, not THE question, but the other question: "What do you think about moving in together?"
Your heart skips a beat. Your head spins with visions of cozy home-cooked dinners for two and shopping together at Pottery Barn for new slipcovers and matching silverware. Oooh, yes, you can picture it. A place of your own. A real apartment with real furniture. No more schlepping back and forth or paying double rent. But then, before you can finish your celebration dance, you feel a sinking sensation deep in your stomach. Is moving in with Mr. Possibility really a good idea? Would it be a step toward marriage or simply a means of saving money? Can you live 24/7 with someone who leaves empty pizza boxes lying around his apartment? What in heaven's name would you tell your parents?!?
Welcome to the wonderful world of twenty-first-century relationships. Gone are the days of formal courtship and living with Mom and Dad until you're hitched. Today, for many of us, shacking up has become a new step in the mating process. But that doesn't mean it's right for you, right now. Oh sure, some people say it can help you determine whether your relationship is marriage-worthy. Others claim that it will set you up for a huge disappointment. Yada, yada, yada. There are lots of opinions, views, and misinformation floating around out there that can be a bit confounding for smart, conscientious girls like us. Fear not: We're here to help. From this point forward, you'll have a couple of savvy sisters to guide you through the muck.
To a bunch of you, shacking up may seem the natural choice. But even if you're already convinced that moving in together is the way to go, we urge you not to skip ahead. You see, there can be downsides to bucking tradition. Plus, the research is fuzzy as to whether living together is a good test drive or a freeway wreck waiting to happen. For goodness' sake, we wouldn't want you to lease the car only to find out it's a lemon. So you need to tread carefully and truly understand what you may be getting yourself into. As they say, only fools rush in! In this chapter, we'll present all of the pros and cons of shacking up with your mate, so you can weigh them before reaching a final verdict. Hey, the last thing you want is to become a serial live-in chick or wind up in Heartbreak Hotel, right?
The Case for Cohabitation
In case you've been too busy climbing the corporate ladder to notice, shacking up is the thing to do these days. In the past ten to fifteen years, this once daring move has become as common as Internet dating and Kate Spade bags. The number of lovebirds sharing nests in the United States jumped by 72 percent in the last decade, according to the 2000 Census. University of Michigan sociologist Pamela Smock, Ph.D., estimates that as many as six out of ten couples now live together before getting hitched.
Why are so many of us moving in without ceremonies and rings? Are we fun, fearless females? Wild and crazy gals? Rebels without a cause? Uh, hardly. We all have our own reasons, which almost always start with a romantic spark and an intense physical attraction. We are in love and want to spend more time with our best friend, sidekick, and paramour. Some of us are interested in cutting down on living expenses. More important, for many of us, shacking up is a way to shift gears forward in our relationship. We want to get closer to our significant other and share our life beyond late-night dinners, sleepovers, and weekend trysts.
Granted, not all of us shack up with the "M" word in mind. But for the majority of us twenty- and thirtysomethings, the ultimate goal is a walk down the aisle. Which brings us to the big, underlying reason so many of us have for moving in: to help us decide whether our mates are the right ones for us. If we're going to take our relationships to the legal level, some of us think it would be nuts to do it without knowing what it's like to live together day in and day out. "I would never consider marrying someone without living together first," attests Megan, twenty-six, of Berkeley, California. "This way, I already know what will drive me crazy and in which ways we're really compatible, and we've already got practice working on the things that we need to work on."
Here's an APB for the matrimony police: Despite their grave fears, most of us aren't thumbing our noses at the institution of marriage. Really, we're not. Deep down, we want lifelong memberships to the Husbands and Wives Club. But we're petrified of divorce, and it's no wonder. Many of us have witnessed the painful collapse of our parents' marriages or lived through the excruciating breakup of our own. We're all too aware of the divorce rates, which have been appallingly high since the early 1980s. So we're choosing to stick our big toes in the water before diving into anything permanent. "Living together was what my husband, Jake, needed before getting
married," says Kristy, thirty-five, of Portland, Oregon, who cohabited for two-plus years before tying the knot. "His dad is now on his fourth marriage, so Jake sees divorce as 'failure.' He didn't want to fail and make the same mistakes as his dad."
We don't know about you, but there are a lot of people who like the idea of having a dress rehearsal. Set aside any romantic notions you have for a sec. Let's talk practicalities. By shacking up, you get to test out what marriage would be like. It's sort of like sampling a flavor of frozen yogurt before ordering a dish or a Hollywood screen test without the hair and makeup. "Every woman should live with her significant other before taking the plunge," says Beth, thirty-two, of New York City, who lived with her boyfriend for three years before saying "I do." "How else can you see exactly what you're signing up for?"
As most of us know from college or postcollege roommate situations, some people can be tough to live with. "Shacking up allows you to experience your partner's habits in action," says Leslie, thirty, of Jacksonville, Florida. Does he drink out of the milk carton? Leave filthy clothes all over the floor? Clip his fingernails at the kitchen table? You can find out these things and much more. For instance, you can discover whether your man pays his bills on time, gives you enough space, and respects your privacy. You can see how he copes with stress or reacts when your hair clogs the shower for the umpteenth time. You can determine just how patient, understanding, and considerate he really is. "We've only been living together for a week, and I'm already learning how Kevin handles pressure, what really bugs him, what he can compromise on, and what he can't," says Liz, thirty, of St. Louis.
Shacking up can also be a way to make sure your partner isn't keeping any secrets, says Kelly, thirty-three, who lived with her husband prior to marriage. "It's pretty easy to hide stuff when you're on a date or off on a weekend together, but it's hard to keep things under wraps when you're living in close quarters," she explains. "When you live together, you really begin to learn what a person is all about." Amanda, thirty, of Morristown, New Jersey, is a good example. She dated James for two years before he moved into her condo. "I knew that he could be a little moody and always seemed to be short on cash," Amanda says. "But I didn't understand the extent of his problems until after he moved in." As it turned out, James was deeply in debt and had anger management issues. "If we hadn't lived together, I'm not sure I would have learned the truth," she claims. "When you cohabit, you see everything, from his mail to how he acts after a rotten day at work. It quickly became evident that James wasn't the person I thought he was."
Don't forget, ladies: Once you shack up, the fantasy ends and real life begins. "Typically, when you're dating, you don't have a whole lot to argue about," says Jordan, twenty-nine, who has been living with her boyfriend for a year. "It isn't until he starts taking over your closet or insists on keeping his wagon-wheel coffee table that things can start to get touchy." Like it or not, conflict is a part of any close, committed relationship. Living together gives you the opportunity to discover and resolve these points of disagreement before you're legally wed, points out Jane, twenty-seven. You can find out just how adept the two of you are at compromising, communicating, and negotiating sticking points. Like our friend Colleen, thirty-two, you may be delighted to learn that you get along even better than expected.
To Mia, the best thing about shacking up is that you can hash out your problems (toilet seat up versus down and who pays for what) without the pressure of having a ring on your finger. "I didn't have to feel like 'Oh my God, we're fighting and we're already married. This is it--we're doomed!' " the twenty-nine-year-old Chicago resident says. Ann, thirty, of San Francisco agrees that it can be better to tackle the tough stuff prior to the nuptials: "People talk about how the first year of marriage is so hard. If you live together first, you get all those issues--however big or small they may be--out of the way."
Living together can also help you eliminate any lingering question marks about your mate. "It's another piece of evidence to verify that you're right for each other," says Colleen. "I love getting the confirmation that I can trust him," adds Kate. "So far, we've had tests, but no failures." Can you learn all the important details if you date each other long enough? Well, perhaps. It depends on your relationship and how much time you've spent together in continuous spurts. Still, for some of us, living together is the final litmus test we need to be absolutely sure. Even if you're 99 percent certain that you're compatible before moving in, shacking up can give you that extra one percent of confidence when taking your vows, Kelly says.
And let's not forget the joys of sharing your life with another person. From ordering pizza to painting the living room, everything can be more fun when you have a partner in crime. "I really enjoy building a life together and making a home with someone I love," says Jane. Teaming up with your significant other can provide a sense of comfort and security. "I love knowing that he'll be there when I come home--playing computer games, making cookies, or watching TV," says Kate. "I feel more connected to him, knowing that he trusts me enough to share everything." "I hadn't had a roommate for five years, so I was concerned about how I would do living with Doug," confesses Jennifer, who shacked up eleven months ago. "But it's really been wonderful. I relish the companionship, whether we're eating breakfast, watching movies, decorating, or doing laundry together. I sleep easier knowing that he's there."
Even if your "trial run" is a bust, some shacking-up vets maintain that the experience can be worthwhile. Sophie, for one, has no regrets about moving in with her ex. "I was undecided about marriage before I lived with Garrett," the thirty-five-year-old says. "Living together helped me reach a decision fast. I panicked as I saw a future with a man I didn't love. I chose to get out and pursue the guy I'd always been secretly in love with"--her now-husband, Jeff. Ira, thirty-four, was less than thrilled when his live-in relationship with Janet didn't work out. (Doubly so because they had already purchased real estate together.) Still, he's thankful that he found out the truth before he sealed the deal. "I actually wish Janet and I had moved in together earlier," he says. "That way, issues would have come to a head sooner, before we put a down payment on a reception site or bought a house."
Many experts, including Pamela Smock, agree that cohabitation can weed out incompatible couples. Smock speculates that the divorce rates might be higher if so many of us weren't moving in prior to marriage. Then again, the breakup of a live-in relationship can be extremely painful. A number of the men and women we interviewed for this book said they would never put themselves through the agony again. So don't start packing your suitcases until you've finished reading Chapters 1 and 2. By being informed, you can increase your odds of having a happy ending.
Twenty-first Century Relationship GlossaryHooking Up
: You're "more than friends." You've muckled, mashed, or gotten busy--no strings attached.
You've been on more than one "real" date and are sussing each other out (or you're bored beyond belief and desperately need to get out of the house).Going Out
: You're dating exclusively or "going steady," as our parents might say. You refer to each other publicly as "boyfriend" and "girlfriend." You're officially in a relationship.Living Together:
You're roommates and romantic partners. You share a living space and all the responsibilities that go with it--without a formal, legal commitment.Engaged:
You've got the rock, and you're secretly praying that your relationship survives the wedding-planning process.Married
: You've made it official, tied the knot, and vowed to be together "for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health." You have a license saying that you're legally bound, and you're psyched to move forward as husband and wife.
It's Your Life--So Go Ahead and Ruin It!
One of the first things you realize when you start contemplating cohabitation is that not everyone thinks it's such a brilliant move. On the one hand, you'll have girlfriends who support the idea wholeheartedly. On the other hand, you could have parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or godparents--you know, the over-fifty crowd--who aren't so keen on it. Then there are people like Dr. Laura Schlessinger, the radio talk show host who lists cohabitation as one of the "Ten Stupidest Things Women Do to Mess Up Their Lives" in her book of the same title. (Funny, we think one of the ten stupidest things that you can do is listen to Dr. Laura. But who are we to judge? Our own mother likes to tune in!)
Excerpted from Shacking Up by Stacy Whitman and Wynne Whitman. Copyright © 2003 by Stacy Whitman and Wynne Whitman. Excerpted by permission of Three Rivers Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.