Advice columnist

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn:

Recently, my boyfriend of five months has brought up living together. I’m totally on board, mainly because the couples I know who have made it to the altar (whose relationships I look up to), all recommend doing this before getting married.

My mother, on the other hand, seems to think it’s important to wait at least for an engagement ring before taking that step or else the guy won’t take you seriously enough.

The last thing I want is for someone not to take my level of commitment seriously, since I do see marriage and kids in the future, but how do you know when you’re ready to move in with someone?

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)


As the squillion questions over the years about infidelity attest, a ring is no guarantee of a commitment taken seriously. In fact, people who hang it all on the ring are training their eyes away from the stuff that does matter.

Your mother sounds like a stealth subscriber to the why-buy-the-cow mentality, which is nothing but a bad deal for women — masquerading as concern for their well-being. Yuck.

I mean, why isn’t anyone worried about your taking him seriously enough or your taking advantage of him by using him for sex as long as you can get away with not proposing to him? The idea that marriage is a one-way gift of legitimacy that men deign to give women is all so much Neanderthal dust that we somehow haven’t managed to shake off.

That said, I don’t think a you!-must!-cohabitate! approach is the antidote to that — and certainly not just because some of your best friends shacked up. That, too, can provide misleading results, because you can live together in reasonable harmony, take that as a green light for marriage, get married and still end up rueing the day you jumped into things.

Here’s what does work: Being patient, being yourself and seeing where that takes you — ideally after you’ve safely left the hormonal fog of new love. When an attraction is new and exciting — at, oh, five months — it works as a rationalizing agent on all the “little” things you don’t love about each other. Your attraction will tell you these things are too minor to matter, but, in the cold light of your post-pheromonal life together, you will have to live with them at actual size. The biggest favor you can do yourselves and each other is to get good and familiar with each other — when your guard is fully down — before you pack so much as a suitcase.

Other people’s standards mean squat to this process. You have to take your own needs seriously, and see if your boyfriend does the same. You have to take your boyfriend’s needs seriously, and see if he does the same. You have to see if the result of those efforts is a life you want to live, with a harmony you can sustain without twisting yourself — or his twisting himself — into a person you no longer recognize.

It sounds subtle, but, when you’re successful at tuning out other people’s ideas of how you need to live and tuning into your own, then it’s actually pretty obvious. And remember: Moving in = easy. Out = agony. Good luck.

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