It didn’t take long for me to realize that living with my girlfriend might require a slight adjustment period—we were still packing my stuff for the move to her place. I was lugging yet another heavy box through the kitchen on my way downstairs to the van, sweat streaming from my face, when Kirsten looked up from the cutting board she was carefully wrapping in newspaper.
“Oooh!” she sighed, spotting a snow globe we picked up during our first vacation together. “Remember where we bought this?”
I’m dying, she’s dawdling. Maybe, just maybe, I started to think, Kirsten and I are not a single soul split betwixt two bodies.
Shacking up is a good way to save on rent and get lovin’ without scheduling an appointment. But there’s more to moving in than sex and money. “You’re agreeing to share your lives, not just your living space,” says Marshall Miller, proprietor of unmarried.org and coauthor of Unmarried to Each Other: The Essential Guide to Living Together as an Unmarried Couple. “When a couple agree to move in together, they’re often at a high point of feeling good about one another. But cohabitation quickly gets to the nitty-gritty of life.”
Come to grips with these seven revelations before you move in together and maybe the relationship will outlast the lease.
Your Relationship Will Change
Now that you’re “domestic partners,” things are going to be different around here, mister. Effective immediately. “Cohabitation,” says Miller, “is a lot like turning the TV to your favorite channel—and then leaving it on 24-7. You’re bound to see some stuff you don’t like so much.”
For one thing, your beloved won’t always look as hot as she used to when you picked her up on a Saturday night. Yes, that gorgeous lady is still in there somewhere, but now you’ll have to get acquainted with the stinky chick who just came home from the gym, and the testy woman who’s too preoccupied with the Weiner account to succumb to your frisky antics. Know this and accept it before going in.
Your Sex Life Will Change
Not every night will end with the two of you naked, sticky, and sweaty. “When you live apart, you make time for sex—any minute you can get your hands on each other, you do,” says Logan Levkoff, a sexologist and advice columnist. “But when you’re around one another all the time, the frequency of sexual activity may taper off.
“The solution,” Levkoff says, “is still making time for intimacy but changing your expectations. Realize that you can be intimate without having intercourse.”
This means you’ll need to accept the transition from hardware to software: less bonking, more spooning.
Gentlemen, Start Your Swiffers
Divvying up domestic chores is one of the first things a cohabiting couple needs to discuss. Forget equality. “Everything doesn’t have to be fifty-fifty,” says Andrew Cherlin, Ph.D., author of The Deinstitutionalization of American Marriage and Public and Private Families: An Introduction. “If one of you works 50 hours a week and the other 25, there’s nothing wrong with the less busy person taking on more of the housework.”
Reduce the tension and tedium by volunteering for housework that doesn’t drive you crazy. My buddy Josh hates washing silverware, but unlike most people, he doesn’t mind scrubbing pots and pans. So after dinner he tackles the heavy metal while his wife merrily tends to the flatware. Compromises like this make a relationship work.
Love is Annoying
It’s inevitable: Now that you’re living together, you’re gradually going to discover each other’s irritating habits. She makes a weird noise while she sleeps; you fart with abandon.
“One way to soften the blow is to try living together for a spell before you actually move in,” Levkoff advises. “Just make sure it’s a normal, mundane week so you’ll get a real feel for what the morning rush is like, what the dishwashing situation is like.”
The key, no matter how long you’ve been living together: When confronted with one of those fingernails-on-the-chalkboard-of-life moments, don’t let it slide. But resist the urge to bite her head off.
Wynne Whitman, coauthor of Shacking Up, prefers a gentler, more constructive approach. “Instead of yelling, ‘Why the hell do you always leave your briefcase on the floor?’ try saying, ‘It makes me very happy when you put your briefcase away.’ This phrasing makes your roomie think she’s doing you a favor, and it doesn’t seem like a chore.”
You’re Not Engaged—Yet
There is a subtext to this move. According to the Annual Review of Sociology, about 75 percent of cohabiting couples say they plan to marry their partners. Additionally, 55 percent of marriages today are preceded by cohabitation.
But not every couple who live together are destined to walk down the aisle together. “We interviewed a woman who assumed that moving in with her boyfriend was an engagement,” Whitman recalls. “But she never actually spoke to her boyfriend about it. When she found out he didn’t want to marry her, she was heartbroken.”
Like it or not, when you move in with your girlfriend, you’re sending a message: “I’m ready to settle down.” Unless you’ve made it clear that living together is not a formal engagement, she’s likely to think there’s a diamond ring in her immediate future.
Your Problems are Wedlocked
Live-in couples have to deal with many of the same issues spouses do. One of the thorniest is keeping the relationship fresh. Because you’re no longer dating, it’s crucial that you maintain the relationship’s fun factor. For starters, don’t become too reliant on one another.
“It’s really important not to put all your eggs in one basket,” says Whitman. “Often, people make the mistake of giving up all their other relationships just because they’re living with someone. You need to spend time apart to appreciate the time you spend together.”
Live and Learn—Together
You may discover, as I did, that your girlfriend’s good qualities more than make up for her uselessness as a mover. Or you may find that her insistence on replacing the toilet-paper roll so it feeds from the bottom is too much for you to take. Either way, you’re in this together. Find a way to get over, through, or around every obstacle and your relationship may evolve into something even more wonderful than convenient sex.
“There’s a misconception that people who cohabit never want to get married,” says Whitman. “I disagree. I think, on the contrary, they want to make sure they have only one marriage. They want to make sure this is the right person before they commit.”
And before they have to lug all those boxes back down 13 flights of stairs.