Cohabitation Before Marriage: Yes or No?

HOW I MET YOUR MOTHERThis is pretty much the most random entry ever. I was about to write a different blog post when I procrastinated by checking Facebook, where I saw that someone had posted a funny comic from The Oatmeal about living with a significant other.

So here we are.

There’s even a poll at the end! I haven’t done a poll in months.

My history of cohabitation is as follows: I dated one girl for about a year and a half, and then she moved in with me. It was actually great to live with her. We got along really well, we learned things about each other we wouldn’t have learned if we hadn’t lived together, and we got to spend more time with each other where there was less pressure to be “on.” It didn’t work out with her in the end, but I’m grateful for the experience.

A couple years ago I had a very unique cohabitation experience that involved a female roommate/renter who I ended up dating. So we kind of did things backwards–instead of dating and then living together, we lived together and then dated. Needless to say, that didn’t work out.

Both were largely positive experiences. It may be different now, because I like my time and space more than ever before, but if I really liked someone, I would be completely open to moving in together after not that long of a time.

I’ve heard people say that you shouldn’t move in together because it’s convenient. I say: What’s wrong with convenience? Rather than spend 30 minutes round trip in the car to go see my girlfriend (disclaimer: I’m single, so this is a hypothetical girlfriend who lives 15 minutes away, wears yoga pants, plays board games, watches TED talks, and loves cats), I could spent that time with my girlfriend while she plays board games with me in her yoga pants and petting my cats. That’s a much better use of time.

The one big downside I foresee is the converse of something I mentioned above–the idea that you get so relaxed when you live with someone that you no longer feel like you have to be “on” with the person. That’s great, but I actually think it’s good to force yourself to be “on” with your significant other. The courtship–the seduction, the flirting, the intentional time, the effort–should never stop. And when you live together, that’s lot harder to do because it’s so easy to just relax and fart in the bed and eat popcorn out of the bowl with your tongue. Like, the entire bowl, not just a few kernels.

So I’m pro-cohabitation, but with the caveat that you have to make a consistent effort to court the person. Even when you know for sure they’re coming home with you every night.

What do you think? Have you done it? Any regrets? Would you do it again? Feel free to vote and comment below.

15 thoughts on “Cohabitation Before Marriage: Yes or No?”

  1. I vote a HUGE YES for cohabitation before marriage! With the caveat that the cohabitation should not happen unless it’s a precursor to a marriage proposal. With the divorce rate what it is, it would be a gigantic risk to marry someone you’ve never lived with (devout religious folks aside). However, I do not think that living together is a good substitute for marriage. If you get along well enough to live together and haven’t made any deal-breaking discoveries after a year or so of living together, I feel it’s time to seal the deal. Marriage is more than a piece of paper (again, religion aside). It means “I’ve decided on you and only you.” Don’t even get me started on living together and having kids (especially on purpose) before you’re married. I’d definitely go Dr. Laura on people over that one, and there’s not a whole lot of what she says that I agree with.

    • Sara–Interesting thoughts. For me personally, living together was not (and wouldn’t be) a substitute for marriage, but I wouldn’t hold it against a couple if they made a commitment to each other that was similar to marriage.

  2. When I first read the title of this post, my first thought was “is this really still an issue?” Being (somewhat) young, and working in a major city in a university, I sometimes seen things like this and remember that some ideas and philosophies of life that I take for granted may not be so widely accepted outside of my little “bubble.”

    I think that living with your significant other is certainly a big deal. It should be considered by both parties very carefully and thoroughly. Living with someone you aren’t having sex with and sharing assets with is a big enough deal – make the roommate a partner, and it’s a whole new ballgame.

    My disagreement comes with the idea that couples need to decide if they want to live together either before or after marriage. I absolutely do not think that marriage needs to be on the table at all when discussing moving in together. Couples have enough to think about before moving in together – distance from friends and family, whose things are they keeping, and what are they getting rid of, who is doing what chores, what to do about finances, and just generally navigating the new world of spending all waking moments (when not at work) with each other.

    I see no need to put the pressure of “ARE WE GOING TO PROMISE TO SPEND THE REST OF OUR LIVES TOGETHER?!?!?” on a moving in decision. Sure, the latter decision is big, but the former is gargantuan. The best any couple can do is ask themselves, “Is this the right thing for us to do, today?” “Yes?” “Ok, do we THINK it will still be right for us tomorrow, next week, month, year, decade?”

    Besides that, the fact remains that marriage is pretty arbitrary. Of course, it is WONDERFUL to stand up in front of everyone you love and promise to love each other forever. It is a fantastic thing, and probably the best thing I have ever done in my life. But it isn’t for everyone.

    And, all due respect to Sara, I disagree with you about the “power” of marriage. I love my wife because I love her. Not because I signed a piece of paper, had the ceremony, or even because I promised to. I love her because I love her. And I wouldn’t want to be in a relationship where my partner loved me because of we were married. Love is a choice we make every single day. And don’t even get me started on that quack bigot, “Dr.” Laura.

    • Jim–Thanks for your thoughts! I really like this sentiment: “I love my wife because I love her. Not because I signed a piece of paper, had the ceremony, or even because I promised to. I love her because I love her. And I wouldn’t want to be in a relationship where my partner loved me because of we were married. Love is a choice we make every single day.” That’s awesome.

  3. I don’t believe in cohabitation before marriage. My husband and I are both very religious, so this does not follow with our beliefs. It was a wonderful feeling to know that on our wedding day, we were committing to a lifetime of love only with each other. Besides, it was so exciting to plan our new life together while we were engaged – finding a home, decorating, planning our honeymoon – it was all fresh and new, and we got to experience it all for the first time with each other!

    • Colleen–I’ve been thinking about your comment, and I think I read it incorrectly the first time. I originally interpreted it as you saying that cohabitation is not in line with your religion’s beliefs, which had me confused, because the Catholic Church is fine with cohabitation before marriage, just not sex before marriage (I work at a church and asked around this morning to clarify that point). However, when I came back to read your comment, it looks like you’re saying that cohabitation doesn’t follow your personal beliefs. That’s neat that you got to experience all those new things for the first time when you got married!

      • You read my comment correctly the first time: I was saying that cohabitation before marriage does not follow our religious beliefs. (Our personal beliefs as well, now that you mention it.) What you said is interesting because I work for the Church as well, and I’ve gone to Catholic schools my entire life — and I’ve never once been taught that the Catholic Church thinks cohabitating before marriage is fine.

        • Well, the Catholic Church doesn’t necessarily condone cohabitation, but there isn’t a church or Bible-based law against it (compared to sex before marriage, which the Catholic Church condemns).

  4. My own experience with co-habitation is fairly limited (I’ve only lived with one boyfriend, but in four different places), and while it wasn’t the best experience, I’d probably co-habitate again– but only if I knew we were both actively working towards marriage.

    Living with my ex was quite a learning experience, as I quickly discovered that his idea of shared responsibilities was vastly different from mine, and I ended up resenting the fact that I was essentially his maid and responsible for taking care of both of our dogs, his cat, cleaning, grocery shopping, and would only get help from him after much badgering and pleading. In hindsight, I should have had a sit-down conversation with him outlining both of our long term goals for the relationship as well as figuring out how housework would be divided BEFORE making the decision to move-in together, but being young and “in love” (or so I thought), I was viewing the relationship with blinders and kept telling myself that in time things would work out how I’d pictured them in my head.

    I think the rule of living together if it is going to lead towards marriage is a smart call, and would certainly be on board with co-habitation in the future f I knew that would be the end result. And making an active attempt to still be “on” when living together would have to be part of it, too. Sure, it’s tempting to be a bum when you’ve reached that level of familiarity with your partner, but it definitely changes your relationship if neither person is trying to impress the other. Even now, living alone, I know I could walk around unshowered and in my most ragged old pjs on my days off, eating ice cream right out of the carton while binge watching tv, but I actively choose not to engage in such behavior, not because I have anyone to impress right now, but because I’d rather not develop such bad habits now so if/when the time comes where I’m presented with the idea of co-habitation again I wouldn’t have to worry about my “off” mode being a total slob.

    • Katy–That’s a great point about what cohabitation can teach you about someone else’s level of responsibility, as well as how you can better interact when someone isn’t pulling their weight.

      That’s also a great point about not developing some of those bad habits when you live alone–I never thought about it that way. I think the one thing that I will have a really hard time giving up is going to the bathroom with the door open. I feel so confined when someone is over and I have to close that door!

      • It’s funny to me that your bad habit of leaving the bathroom door open is one that I’ve only picked up in the last year or so by living alone. And the few times when I’ve had company over (like when one of my sisters would stay with me for the weekend), I had to actively remind myself to close the door when showering.

  5. Would you buy a car without test driving it? I wouldn’t. Presumably you’ll be living with your spouse after you get married — it’s probably a good idea to do so before you get married.

  6. A little late to the game here … but I’m on the fence about this. I could see living with a guy after there’s a proposal, but not before that. Maybe that’s cause of the risk involved with moving in with him and then breaking up and having to move again. Although it’s not on the same level as a marriage, an engagement is still a promise of commitment and I think that’s the time when I’d be ok living with a guy. Also because you’d likely have to work out leases ending or coordinate selling a home before the wedding day, timing-wise this makes sense, too.


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