“Why We Won’t Move In Together”
If you're serious about someone, is living together the next step? Not necessarily. We asked couples around the country why they chose to keep separate homes, and here's what they told us.
n April 2010, Kristin M., 31, was laid off from her management consulting position. Money was tight, especially since she lived in New York City. But even though she could have saved a bundle by moving in with her boyfriend of three years, she decided against it. "Throughout the economic recession, we lived separately," she says. This decision puzzled
many of her friends, who'd moved in with their boyfriends much sooner. But it wasn't because Kristin wasn't serious about the guy (they'd end up getting engaged a year later), and it wasn't for religious reasons, either. Kristin just felt that the benefits of living apart were worth the extra expense, even as her savings dwindled. "We both think it's better for the long-term when couples take things slow," she explains.
|The investment in a healthy relationship is more valuable to us than saving a few bucks.|
In this harsh economic climate wracked by layoffs and plummeting stock portfolios, Kristin's solid stance against moving in together might strike some couples as an extravagant luxury they can't afford. If you're serious about someone, why not move in together a little sooner rather than later so you can avoid running up credit card debt — or start socking away cash for a wedding? But many couples, it turns out, fear that rushing to cohabitate may damage their relationship. "As a budget-conscious man, I can tell you the financial sense of living together has been tempting at times," admits Kendall J., 25, of Raleigh, NC, who's engaged but living separate from his fiancée. "However, the investment in a healthy relationship is more valuable to us than saving a few bucks. Statistics clearly show that couples who live together have a higher rate of divorce than those who don't. Living together now would definitely benefit us in the short term. But if my marriage was to fall apart — whether I'm debt free or not — I will have lost something far more important than money."
Why living separately still makes sense
For younger couples, the decision to live separately often stems from a desire to forge their own identities and find their way as individuals before succumbing to the security of living together. That's why Lindsey S., 27, of Frederick, MD bought a house last June rather than moving in with her boyfriend of two and a half years. "I think it's important for couples to establish themselves as individuals before they start relying on each other," she says. "I feel more confident knowing that I am independent. I think it makes our relationship stronger, because we know we want to be together and we don't need to be together. We've both been unemployed at some point in the last two and a half years, but we are both financially smart and have savings in case of an unexpected event like that. We never considered moving in together to save money, but the person who didn't have a job usually paid for groceries or helped out more. I think it's a bad idea to move in together because you have to."
Older couples, on the other hand, are often reluctant to live together for the opposite reason: they've already set up their lives the way they like it, and they aren't about to change things to accommodate a romantic partner. Just ask Josie W., a 56-year-old teacher in Santa Clarita, CA, who's lived five blocks from her boyfriend for over 12 years. "I'm an absolute control freak who has to have everything exactly the way I want it, which would obviously drive someone crazy real quick!" she admits. To cut down on expenses, her boyfriend has a roommate. And the upside to their arrangement is that "we both tend to be on better behavior when we see each other," Josie says. "Many of my friends tell me I have the ideal relationship, and I agree."
Kids are another factor convincing couples it's better to live apart. Jen W., 31, a reporter in St. George, UT learned this the hard way when her last live-in boyfriend moved out. "I remember how easy it was to end the relationship because we didn't have to get divorced; he packed his bag and that was that," she recalls. "But I have children — ages 11 and 13 — and it was confusing for them. I will never again have a man living in my home that isn't
willing to be a father figure to my kids." The problem with living together, Jen admits, is that "it means they don't have to take the idea of marriage seriously. Why should they, when they're already getting what they want? You haven't made going to the next level something to look forward to. We don't appreciate the things we don't have to work for."
|Many couples wish to preserve their sex lives by keeping individual residences.|
With her current boyfriend, Jen is doing things differently: "He doesn't have kids and he thinks living together is a great way to be sure whether you are ready for marriage," she says. "But I'm not budging."
The surprising upsides for couples living apart
For some couples, the drive to dwell separately has to do with keeping the passion alive in their relationship. "We love the fact that we miss each other and long for each other when we're not together," gushes 43-year-old Kris B. of San Diego, CA, who's been dating her boyfriend for six months with no plans to cohabitate anytime soon. "Certainly there are myriad benefits to cohabitation in such a harsh economic climate, but we're willing to sacrifice a little comfort now in order to preserve the amazing energy in our relationship."
Many couples wish to preserve their sex lives by keeping individual residences. "They've done studies that found that if there are two bears at a zoo and they put them in separate cages, when they are together, they will mate all the time," says Dan N., 30, a comedian residing in Beverly Hills, CA. "But if they put them in the same cage, they'll eventually stop mating. That is our fear." Dan currently has a girlfriend, but isn't eager to move in with her any time soon. "I did live with somebody for six months when I was younger, and it was an absolute nightmare," he admits. "She would get really upset if I was even five minutes late coming home. It was horrible."
Another advantage to living apart is that the extra alone time enables couples to really focus on their jobs — and, in effect, earn more money that could offset the expenses of maintaining separate dwellings. "While it is economically easier to share living spaces to cut costs, it can also be counterproductive," says Kiai K., 40, an author living in Brooklyn, NY. "Having another person in my space is a distraction. I know because my last boyfriend and I lived together and I got almost nothing accomplished!" Which is why she and her current boyfriend live separately, she says: "Though living together can save money, it's not enough money compared to how much is made when we are focused on productivity."
How marriage fits into the picture
But what about the wisdom that living together is a "breaking in" period that prepares you for marriage? "Many people say you need to 'test the waters' before getting married," says Kendall, "but most people are really testing whether their partner fits into their lifestyle. Of course the other person doesn't fit neatly into their life — marriage isn't about that. Marriage is two imperfect people learning to live together. You have to decide from the moment you move in that leaving is not an option. That's hard to do when it's not accompanied by a marriage commitment."
Some people fear that living together will delay any desire to pop the question and make things official. "I have friends who lived together prior to marriage who became resentful and restless, because there were no further steps toward commitment taken — no ring," says Kristin R., 27, from Los Angeles, CA. Even after Kristin and her boyfriend got engaged, she held off on cohabitating until they walked down the aisle. "My fiancé and I live in a city where it seems like it would cost money to breathe," she says. "I hate that we pay two rents, two sets of bills… and because I love him, I want to share our household, too. Yes, it would make sense financially," Kristin admits. But by living on her own, she is confident her relationship is on solid ground — and that's priceless.
"I know my fiancé doesn't just want me for sex, or a cook, or a housekeeper," Kristin says. "I'm not just another toss-away relationship for him. I want marriage to be significant without the option to just walk away when things get hard."
Judy Dutton is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn, New York who's written for Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Maxim, Wired, Redbook, and other publications. She's also the author of Secrets from the Sex Lab and Science Fair Season. You can visit her website at judy-dutton.com.