09/15/2012 02:27 pm ET Updated Nov 15, 2012

Is Signing a Lease the New Marriage?

I signed a new lease on a house last night and so officially on October 1st, I will move in with my boyfriend and become one of the millions of cohabiting unmarried un-engaged couples that have begun to define my generation's demographics. After an exhaustive, stressful search which required a grueling schedule that included looking at almost 40 places, five websites, filling out four credit applications, making three offers, two realtors who now hate me, and one tantrum, I am so relieved it's all over and so excited about creating our little home together. But as I signed last night, I realized, as an unmarried couple, this was the first formal commitment we were making to our relationship. I began to wonder, is signing a one year lease a commitment to stay in my relationship for one year?

One of the first places we looked at (which happened to be on Hart street) offered an awkward glance into our relationship status. We were wandering around empty rooms, trying to picture our life within the freshly painted white walls, making conversation with the landlord. He asked where we currently lived and after we told him, he exclaimed in mock astonishment "oh, moving in together for the first time?" We laughed politely and said yes. Then he turned more to my boyfriend and said, mostly-jokingly I'm sure, "are you sure you're ready to make a commitment for one year?" I had never thought about it like that before and suddenly felt a little embarrassed at this assumption that us moving in together meant the man in the relationship was true-to-cliché and reluctant to make a formal commitment and the woman had pressured him into cohabitation. I just smiled while my boyfriend, with more aplomb than I could muster in the moment, said "hopefully a lot longer than that" and kissed me on the forehead.

But because we're not married, I hadn't thought much about moving in together defining our commitment as a certain length of time. We are making a commitment to move our relationship to the next level and I have given a lot of thought to that. But I also imagined that in an unlikely worst case scenario situation (I blame law school for these types of thoughts), I would move out, not that I would stick it out for the year. And these are two very different worst case scenarios. I started to wonder if what I was agreeing to was a little different from what I had imagined. Am I making a solemn pledge to this relationship for one year?

This past weekend, my parents knowing I was paying less than half of the rent, asked us if I was going to be signing the lease or if it would just be my boyfriend's name on the actual document. I hadn't considered this before because my assumption always was that I was going to be signing. My boyfriend quickly jumped in saying it was completely up to me. I realized he was giving me an "out" if I wanted. He was saying if I wanted to make less of a commitment, I could. Did I want an "out"? If the purpose of moving in together is to enter into a commitment that's less than marriage, wouldn't tying myself up with a tangential legal obligation defeat the purpose? If I'm not on the lease (and paying a small portion of the rent), I could make a clean break at any point. I could walk away pretty easily and it wouldn't be messy.

Last night as I sat with my new landlords to negotiate the lease, they mentioned the other offers they had received and divulged that though they very much wanted us as tenants, they had talked over their slight apprehension about renting to a young unmarried couple. They admitted it had given them pause as it could potentially create problems down the road. Essentially, they were worried about getting screwed on the rent if we broke-up, but they had a good feeling about us and ultimately decided they were willing to go forward.

So then it was just me who had to decide. How committed to this relationship did I want to be? With the pen in my hand, about to sign, I remembered that I still hadn't talked to my boyfriend about a contingency plan for breaking up or moving out. I thought about not putting my name on the lease. I could still back out. If I haven't made the active decision to spend the rest of my life with him, didn't I want the ability to leave if things turned out in some unimaginable way that resulted in us breaking up?

But I didn't want the out. I pictured the next year of our life in this house with its garden. I pictured us making dinner in our new kitchen, and reading in bed, and even having the very occasional fight in this new place. I tried to remember everything that's ever given me pause about this relationship in the year and a half we've been dating. And in that moment, I decided I didn't want the ability to make a clean break and walk away easily. I wanted to make more of a commitment than that. I decided that if I felt I might need an out in the next year, I shouldn't be moving in with him at all. I wanted him to know that I was all in.

So I signed. In some way, I guess I have made a legal commitment to my relationship for at least one year. But it felt good to do it. A little nerve-wracking yes, but also like I was officially saying l have faith in us. And if I want more of a legal commitment than one year, I'll just have to have faith in him.