Over 12 million unmarried partners live together in 6,008,007 households. - U.S. Census Bureau. “American Community Survey: 2005-2007.”
The number of cohabiting unmarried partners increased tenfold between 1960 and 2000. – U.S. Census Bureau. “America’s Families and Living Arrangements: 2000.”
55% of different-sex cohabiters do marry within five years of moving in together. 40% break up within that same time period. About 10% remain in an unmarried relationship for five years or more. – Smock, Pamela. 2000. “Cohabitation in the United States.” Annual Review of Sociology.
We’ve talked about all-women’s residences and the co-housing movement, but not the occasionally-fraught issue of living with our significant others. Thanks to feminism and the sexual revolution, living together before or without marriage these days hardly raises an eyebrow. In fact, most people co-habit at some point and most married couples live together first (a reality which unfortunately excludes those who still cannot legally marry their partners.)
I’ve never officially co-habited with a boyfriend, at least, not in the sense that both our names were on the lease. But I came close when I was with my Older Lover. He had a big brownstone and a child, so it made more sense for me to be at his place than for us all to go back and forth to my one-bedroom. In just a couple months, I had keys and a closet.
Almost as soon as this transpired, the pressure began. No one thought there was anything inappropriate about it, but friends, neighbors, family, all assumed that the toothbrush begat the closet begat the ring and so on.
I tended to shrug off the nosy questions by simply saying “I’m keeping my place for now.”
Where I got prickly was about comments on how I was “trading up”, since the Older Lover’s house was so much bigger and pricier than my place. Some of it was due to the time-honored sexist assumption that a bimbo younger woman is always trading up when she dates a sugar daddy older man. It definitely got under my skin; I owned my own very nice home and wasn’t just “playing house” so I could move to posher digs. Still, the living was easy; we never argued, happily split the cooking duties and only rarely had to work out housekeeping issues (like the fact that he insisted the lid of the toilet be lowered after each use. Not the seat, the lid. Something about seeing a toilet bowl–even a clean toilet bowl–skeeved him out).
I came to love that house and the home we created, even though I was only there about two-thirds of the time. When we broke up, it was more than a month before I came back to clear out my closet and return the keys. Moving out was so painful for me that my best beloved friend–who comments on this site as elibard–took charge: she drove me there and cleaned out my closet for me while I wandered around in a weepy, Klonopin-induced haze. Almost five years later, I don’t regret the breakup at all, but I do think often, and fondly, of that brownstone. Once or twice over the years I’ve driven by it and remembered Elizabeth Bennet’s wistful/rueful comment on viewing Pemberley after she rejected Mr. Darcy’s proposal: “Of all this might I have been mistress…”
Since then I’ve had a boyfriend shack up at my place temporarily–thanks to a long-distance relationship–and enjoyed it. My apartment is big enough that two people can easily co-exist without crowding each other. If a future Mr. BeckySharper came along, I’d happily let him move in. Not sure if I’d put his name on the deed, but that’s a whole separate issue.
I asked the other Harpies–some of whom have lived with significant others–to weigh in on co-habiting vs. living alone:
I loved living alone. As soon as I could afford it (jr. year of college), I got my own apartment. But about three years later, the Dude and I moved in together at the advisement of PapaDork, as a “sensible” decision: cost-sharing and safety. Anyway, we’d been dating a little over a year, very serious for about 6-7 months, and it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I thought it might be. We each had our own bedrooms, for our stuff and because we knew we’d want personal space, and although there were occasional spats over the fact that he didn’t know how to cook much beyond pasta, it was okay. It was fun. Most things with the Dude are fun.
There are still occasional frustrations, of course, and lord, I can’t actually watch him cook or clean because 1) he’s not efficient, which drives me fucking bonkers, and 2) if I say anything, like “you need to sift the flour before you measure it,” he goes fucking bonkers. So when he cooks, I just stay out of the kitchen. When I cook, he’s my sous-chef. We split up chore duties variously. He’s raised his cleaning standards, I’ve lowered mine (which were, thanks to my mom, rather absurdly high). We’ve also wrangled about what makes a home: his is where his stuff is (he can be a hoardy clutterbug), mine is where there’s order and a well-stocked pantry. (We agree on books and pets.) There was one summer when I was just studying for exams, and I got into the habit of making nice dinners, sort of as a complement to the brain-feeding I was doing, but it verrrry quickly became “my job,” which killed my pleasure doublequick.
I still need down time, and so, on those occasions when he’s gone for an afternoon or weekend, I very much enjoy it, but not because that means I can finally wear my crappy, saggy-ass pjs and eat fistfuls of cereal out of the box (I do that anyway), but just for the silence and solitude. He’s my favorite person in the world, bar none, and I think we’re very well-suited for each other, but I still just need to be alone to recharge my batteries.
At this point, if (maude forbid) the Dude were to be abducted by aliens, I’d probably live alone, if I could afford it. I think it would be very difficult to find someone else who I got along with as well as the Dude.
I’ve only co-habited romantically once, with my former girlfriend Jen. Jen and I met our freshman year of college and ended up living together for two semesters, interrupted by summer break. For whatever reason, I was far more comfortable living with her than I was with even the notion of living with my ex-fiance (who I’ll dub M). M always lived in a separate place. Now, this comfort level with Jen versus that of my comfort level with M may be because of the fact that M turned out, in the end, to be a really bad match for me. It could be because I was more comfortable with the idea of living with a female partner instead of a male one, especially given that Jen and I attended a women’s college and the notion of spending all my time with other women, in situations romantic and platonic, felt natural.
Of course, living with a girlfriend in a dorm room is different than it would be if I was to share a non-college space with a partner now; issues of rent and cable/electric/heating bills were nonexistent, we couldn’t cook anything other than ramen noodles, there was no real division of chores, etc.
I tend to self-isolate, so the prospect of living with someone has always frightened me a bit. Even if the most amazing, compassionate, funny, dedicated partner in the world came along, I would still be hesitant to share that physical space with them. Although, if I got past it with Jen and had a lovely experience, maybe I should give myself a bit more credit and realize that a part of me is perfectly happy to cohabit if the circumstances are right.
I lived with my undergrad boyfriend for two and a half years. We were terribly young when we moved in together – 21. We were both stubborn as mules and fought about every little domestic thing – what cupboard the plates should go in, what constituted an appropriate dinner (he was still eating Chef Boyardee), why were the Transfuckingformers in the goddamn living fucking room, etc. But we also, I think, until about two years in, rather enjoyed it, once we settled into respecting each other’s need for space and quiet. There’s something to be said for always having someone around to rent movies with.
But it’s been so long since we broke up now that I have a hard time imagining doing it again, at least, in such close quarters. I am growing old and eccentric; the yelling children in my building bother me, and I enjoy reading for long stretches of time. I find it impossible to write while others are around. The cat can continue to live here, because she asks so little of me.
What are your views on romantic co-habiting? Is it a step on the road to something permanent? Or an end in itself? Did you love it? Hate it? Anything you learned that might be useful to the rest of us?