Carolyn Hax: Living together vs. shacking up

(Nick Galifianakis for The Washington Post)
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By Carolyn Hax
Wednesday, December 1, 2010; 12:00 AM

Dear Carolyn:

My boyfriend and I have been dating for five years. He bought a house in June. Last weekend, he proposed to me, and we are very much in love and plan on getting married next year.

His parents are almost insisting that we live together first. My mother and grandmother believe that would be an abomination and our marriage would not have God's blessing.

My mother said the same thing when my older sister decided to live with her husband before marrying him.

I am 24 and I have been paying my own bills since I was 18. I put myself through college. I have saved up enough to pay for my own wedding, so money isn't an issue.

I would love to move in with my fiance. I really don't think this would be wrong or a sin, especially considering that we are going to get married soon. He wants me to move in with him so we know what we are getting ourselves into. But he knows I would be miserable because my mother and grandmother would be disappointed in me.

It has been four years since my older sister got married and about six since she moved in with her then-boyfriend, and my mother stills talks about how my older sister "shacked up" and that she has no morals.

I just really don't want to disappoint either side, and I really want my grandmother and mother to be happy and proud of me.

Stuck in the Middle

The simplest answer is that if you'd be miserable, then don't move in with your fiance.

The simplistic answer is that you need to be able to stand up for what you believe and accept consequences - even (especially?) if it means standing up to Mommy - or you're not mature enough to be married.

That answer is inadequate here because you are proudly independent, believe cohabitation isn't wrong, and clearly believe in showing respect for the authority of your elders. So, you move in and offend or live apart and cave. Translation: No matter where you choose to live, you will go against your own beliefs.

When your beliefs drive you into a wall, it's time to figure out your priorities. One belief has to matter more than the rest. You've got appealing options: a belief in your own (admirable) independence; in following your heart; in honoring your family's values; in keeping peace. A belief in learning what you're getting yourselves into doesn't seem quite as impressive, but pragmatism rarely does.

I could argue for a belief that tops them all: in collaborating with your future husband. This isn't the only right answer, but you do need to be able to discuss and accommodate each other's beliefs, or ... you're not mature enough to be married.

If you and he haven't had at least one say-it-all conversation about this, then you need to. (Include the part about not wanting to upset his parents, because you may be exaggerating their potential distress; "almost insisting" isn't insisting, after all, and it hardly equates to "abomination.")

If you have talked it through and he's deferring, genuinely, to you, then here's one way to make up your mind: Don't decide anything until you can hear your voice through the noise of everyone else.

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