"If we're not going to move in together, maybe we should just move on," I told Owen one Sunday night during our second year together, after one too many vodka tonics. For weeks, my feelings of frustration and sadness mounted each time we wrapped up yet another weekend of 24-7 togetherness and began the awkward where-shall-we-stay-tonight or maybe-we-should-each-spend-a-night-at-home discussion. Owen (now my husband) and I had been butting heads on the topic of cohabitation for months and our conflicting feelings were tearing us apart.
From my point of view, our friends and plans were already tightly intertwined, and we were well past big conversations about exclusivity and the desire for a life partner. It seemed to me that Owen was, on some level, keeping his options open, enjoying the status quo of spending the bulk of his week with me while maintaining the possibility of retreating to his bachelor pad, complete with his college-friend roommate.
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In his opinion, there was something unhealthy about my inability to savor the good times we were having and the urgency of my desire to share a home address.
We couldn't see it at the time, but the truth is both our perspectives about the to-cohabitate-or-not-to-cohabitate question were valid. Loving someone without living together may feel like shaky ground, but it’s also a precious moment in a couple's history, a détente between the anxieties of early dating and the inherent stresses of cohabitation and marriage.
"This type of arrangement allows both individuals to develop their own sense of self and figure out how to take care of themselves, which will make them better partners down the road," observes Howard Markman, codirector of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver. "But particularly for women, cohabitation is a sign of commitment, so not living together can stir up insecurities."
The Separate Address Shuffle
This relationship stage is unique in the mundane frustrations it creates, namely the challenge of fostering a serious relationship while straddling two households. Commuting, even in the name of love, inevitably becomes a grind. "I feel like I am always carrying around a giant bag of stuff," says Jessie, a 32-year-old photo producer who has been with her boyfriend for two and a half years. "The constant lugging gets old."
Shuttling back and forth is inconvenient, can limit time together, and necessitates constant planning (Did I pack enough underwear? Will I need my razor?). Still, experts caution that practical considerations —including the popular "it seems silly to be paying two rents"—are not good reasons to cohabitate.
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