The New York Times had a thoughtful article in it last week on cohabitation and about five different people emailed it to me, as just a few days earlier my boyfriend had officially popped the question. No, not that passé question of marriage that all Baby Boomer parents are waiting for; The Gen-Y question that is much more difficult for us to answer: Will I move in with him? We had talked about it abstractly before; a few months ago we prevaricated around a hazy outline of what might happen with our relationship in the Spring in terms of his lease being up and wanting to find a bigger place for us.
But this was different. The question was formally asked and necessitated an answer. I always imagined that I would be bugging my boyfriend about moving our relationship along while he was dragging his feet, not that I would silently freak out over nothing while he declared he was officially ready.
The thought of moving into a nicer placer with a man I love (perhaps with my own washer/dryer), where we would cook dinner together in a big kitchen makes me excited about the prospect of this step. But I also felt nervous -- which really surprised me.
I told him that I was excited but that there were a few logistical things I was concerned with, like money, for instance. He already pays three times what I pay in rent and he wants to move in to a nicer place. Of course, to him, this isn't an issue. I never expected you to pay half of the rent, he said at brunch. But I want to pay half! I lamented. He joked that it could be a very long time before I'm able to do that and he's probably right.
So I've spent the last few days doing what girls do when we have relationship decisions to make: haranguing all my girlfriends and getting their opinions on the subject. To each girlfriend I list my excuse, the finances, our differences in respect for the toothpaste cap, his Republican tendencies. I analyze the pros and cons. I try to separate each emotion I feel into a question that I must ponder. Till finally, the other night on the phone, my friend Beth shoots them all down. Who cares about this stuff? Do you want to live with him? she pressed me.
When she said that, I realized I was scared. I've written before about my hesitation when it comes to moving in together and why it may not be the best recipe for a successful marriage. In fact, I wrote a law school paper on why women should avoid cohabitation if they want to get married, which you can see here.
This recent New York Times article though offers new insight into co-habitation. It argues that there are two problems associated with co-habitation before marriage which lead to more divorce than for people who wait to live together till married. But the author proffers that the problems have solutions that seem to lessen the effect. Firstly, it acknowledges the sliding effect where a couple moves "from dating to sleeping over to sleeping over a lot to cohabitation [on a] gradual slope, one not marked by rings or ceremonies or sometimes even a conversation. Couples bypass talking about why they want to live together and what it will mean." I've seen this effect with a lot of my friends who just end up living with different guys. This however, will not be my problem. I've never lived with a boy before. On top of that, I analyze relationships and dating to obliteration for a living, so I'm very concerned with what all this means. If we do this, it will be a big decision and I already feel bad for the talks my boyfriend will have to endure.
Unfortunately, the other disadvantage cohabitation causes according to this new research is very worrisome. Men and women seem to view moving in together differently. Women are more likely to see it as a step toward marriage and men are more likely to see it as a "test run" for marriage. This is precisely what I'm bogged down in. My boyfriend and my guess is that more and more of my generation view moving in together as a good test for marriage. He has literally used the word "test" to discuss the philosophical value of living together. I, however, don't see it as a test. In fact, I'd prefer to wait till I'm engaged not because he needs motivation to move on, but because living together is always hard and I think if you're more committed to working things out, your relationship will fare better. And I don't want to be tested out for the role of some wifey image he has in his mind.
Plus, I know that living together means so much more to me than it does to him. I always assumed that a guy I was living with is the guy I'd marry, not that I would try out a bunch of different guys until I found a good fit and apartment I liked. This creates a huge problem for us because to him, getting a place together is not a big deal. To me, it's a huge deal. He's only asked himself Do I want to live with her? I'm asking Is this the person I'm supposed to marry? Is this the man I want to have children with? Can I accept that for the rest of my life he may never put the cap back on the toothpaste?
Of course, the article suggests that perils of cohabitation might be avoided by steering clear of the sliding factor and discussing your expectations for cohabitation. But what am I supposed to say to him? The fact is, moving in together is forcing me to ask myself the big questions right now and yet, he's not. He doesn't want to ask himself those questions until he's put our relationship through a test. He is a child of divorce ,so I understand his apprehension about moving too quickly, but I truly am worried that this step could damage our relationship. I'm not gong to be able to make this mean less and he probably won't be able to make it mean more at this point, so maybe that means that our relationship is not at the stage where moving in is right. But I really am so sick of finding quarters for my washer/dryer. I really feel torn about this whole thing. All I can say at this point is guess who's having a relationship talk this weekend? I'll let you know how it goes...