Carolyn Hax: Fiancee wonders when’s the time to move in together

Columnist December 24, 2011

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

We’re engaged and I stay over at his place most days. We haven’t combined finances and maintain two separate households. Our wedding date is set for next year. Is it a good idea to live together? When is it a good idea? It would make it easier financially, but I think it might just be a good idea to keep status quo until we get married.

Anonymous

It’s a good idea to live together when you both think it’s a good idea to live together, and no sooner.

When people are open to it at any point, I advise them to wait till they’ve made a mutual life commitment; in your case, engagement would qualify. Because of that, I do wonder why you think it’s a good idea to “keep status quo.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that on its face, it’s just that some reasons for wanting the status quo are great ones and some are warning signs.

Carolyn:

Well, we are basically living together — I am at his place almost 100 percent. We are buying things we need together that neither of us has, such as furniture, and we’re getting a house. The only things that haven’t happened are combining finances and getting married. So I guess staying at “status quo” isn’t accurate, as every day we move toward becoming one unit. I just have heard that cohabitation isn’t always a good idea, but so far, it’s been good.

Anonymous again

Look at the reasons it often isn’t a good idea:

People move in together to save on rent or shorten a commute, and only after their stuff is commingled do they realize their relationship wasn’t solid enough to justify that degree of closeness/commitment.

Or, in a similar vein, they have a casual attitude toward commitment and move in together, only to find out there are other, unanticipated down sides to a casual attitude toward commitment.

Or, two people move in together, and one is excited to have a warm body available without having to buy dinner first, and the other thinks they’re headed toward marriage. Oops.

Or, they’re both in agreement that moving in is the “next logical step,” and the experience tells one of them that the relationship is okay but kind of meh . . . but now they have a dog and a couch they both paid for and everyone sees them as a couple and they do get along without fighting and maybe s/he’s overthinking and marriage is the next “next logical step”? When if they were just dating they’d have much less incentive to rationalize and they’d probably break up as they should.

Moving in with someone does have mistakes and bad outcomes associated with it, yes, but so does marriage. So does breaking up.

So, with moving in vs. marriage — and with any other big decision, in fact — all you can do is be honest with yourself about your situation, make sure you’re informed, and resist the temptation to minimize the doubts that matter or hide behind the ones that don’t.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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