Ted Rall: Moving In Together? Bad Idea

BreakingModern  commentary — Everyone has heard the cliché: Don’t mix business with pleasure. But that advice is liable to fall by the wayside when hormones and limited incomes collide.

It can happen at any stage in life, but young couples are especially vulnerable to the temptation of moving in together before getting married. The logic is hard to deny: Two people find themselves spending every night at one of their houses or apartments, perhaps in a city with soaring housing prices. They’re in their 20s or 30s, a time when people are accumulating furniture and new appliances.

Why spend money on two televisions in two different places when you’re only watching one together?

Plus, moving in together seems like a convenient in-between stage for those ready to settle down but not certain whether they want to commit to the “death do us part” promise of marriage – if you’re going to live another 50 or 60 years, is this really the person that you’re going to want to wake up next to all that time? Moving in together lets you learn whether your boyfriend or girlfriend is someone you can live with long-term; if it doesn’t work out, you don’t have to call a divorce lawyer.

And of course there is the rent. In big cities – and younger people are more likely to live in big cities – housing prices have always been skyrocketing and lately have been skyrocketing even faster. On the other hand, the incomes of people 35 and younger, always the lowest on the salary scale, have been suffering even more since the 2008 economic crisis. During the last year, and this is for the population overall and not just for young people for whom the gap is bigger, rents rose 7% while incomes only went up 1.8%. Two people can live cheaper than one, right?

Why not move in together?

Let me line up some very good reasons for you not to.

First and foremost, cohabitation is terrible for your romance. Terrible.

Second, it could really screw up your credit. Even if you pay your share of the rent on time every month, if your roommate/lover loses his or her job or just turns out to be a worthless piece of dung, you’ll be on the hook if your name is on the lease. Believe me, I know: After college, I got evicted for nonpayment of rent – not my own, my roommate’s. It took seven years to clear my name.

Finally, shacking up denies you the experience of living on your own as an adult, something everyone needs to do before settling down, if that’s the route they decide to pursue. Even though it’s more expensive to maintain separate households, it’s better for your soul to do so in cheaper, less-desirable neighborhoods with longer commutes to work than to pool your financial resources in a relationship that has none of the legal and cultural stability of marriage but all of its most-stifling restrictions, like the assumption of monogamy.

But let’s get back to that thing about ruining your relationship.

What about love?

To be precise, it’s not really the moving in part that imperils couplings between young adults – it’s the seriousness of the relationship at such a young age — which moving in together solidifies. Complicated, I know.

Like love.

According to a study that was published in April of this year in the scholarly Journal of Marriage and Family by the Council on Contemporary Families (which is not, unlike many of these kind of studies, sponsored by religious organizations with an ax to grind against living in sin), the younger you are when you move in together, the more likely you are to get divorced if you get married.

People who moved in together at the age of 18 – yes, such people exist, God help us all – had a 60% divorce rate. The rate drops significantly, to a mere 30% at age 23, but the later the better.

How much later? At least age 30. “Economist Evelyn Lehrer (University of Illinois-Chicago) says the longer people wait past 23, the more likely a marriage is to stick. In fact, Lehrer’s analysis of longitudinal data shows that for every year a woman waits to get married, right up until her early 30s, she reduces her chances of divorce,” Time magazine reports.

As of the 2012 census, roughly 7.8 million couples live together without a marriage certificate. Two thirds of American married couples live together before getting hitched.

Potential pitfalls are not insignificant. In 2013, for example, the CDC found that 20% of women who moved in with their boyfriend for the first time became pregnant and had a baby within the first year.

“Cohabitation fosters enough intimacy to facilitate childbearing but not enough commitment to make people deliberate about their choices to become parents,” Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, told The Atlantic. “The result, an unplanned birth, can pose real problems to their relationship and to their future odds of successfully marrying.”

Experts say that an unplanned pregnancy is the biggest threat to the future prospects of a couple that moved in together.

Just don’t do it

But the biggest downside to living together is the most obvious: the inability to just get up and go if things aren’t working out. I have clients who say ‘I spent years of my 20s living with someone who I wouldn’t have dated a year if we had not been living together,'” clinical psychologist Meg Jay says. “Once you buy dishes, share a lease, have a routine, and get a dog, it can be difficult to cut your losses and accept that the relationship isn’t working.”

There are, of course, many people who think that living together is a great precursor to marriage. But when I read the arguments in favor, which include “testing” your partner’s sexual attractiveness in the cold hard light of day-to-day cohabitation drudgery, being forced to settle fights rather than just stop calling back, and learning to manage finances together, what I see are moving the factors that threaten actual marriages into lives that ought to include a lot more wildness and freedom at a young age.

Don’t do it.

For BMod, I’m Ted Rall.

Header image: Garry Knight from Bromley, Kent, England (In Love) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Ted Rall

Author: Ted Rall

Based in New York, Ted Rall is an award-winning political cartoonist, essayist and Pulitzer Prize finalist. He covers news, justice, music and privacy for BreakingModern. Follow him @TedRall.

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