Welcome to It’s Complicated, stories on the sometimes frustrating, sometimes confusing, always engrossing subject of modern relationships. (Want to share yours? Email pitches to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
When my boyfriend got a job in New York City — putting an end to our long-distance relationship — I was elated. We could grab dinner on a Wednesday! I wouldn’t have to take a subway to another subway to a bus to LaGuardia every month! He could watch my stuff while I used the restroom at the coffee shop!
But I learned I had to be specific when I told people that he was moving here.
“We’re looking at a place in Brooklyn for him this weekend,” I emailed a friend who had asked about him.
Her reply: “OMG STFU!!!! MOVING IN!?!?!? OMG YESSSSSSSSSSSS I am soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo effing happy for you!!!” (That’s verbatim.)
And then I had to explain that, no, we weren’t moving in together. I’ve had to do this countless times since, because everyone assumes that when I say he’s moving here, he’s moving in with me.
Moving in with a partner before marriage used to be taboo, unironically referred to by some as “living in sin.” And for a time, the data seemed to back up this skepticism, as older studies linked co-habitation before marriage to a higher risk of divorce. But the latest research has failed to confirm that link, perhaps reflecting a wider cultural shift toward acceptance of co-habitation: According to the CDC, more than half of people younger than 44 have co-habited with a partner, a number that’s risen steadily over the last two decades. Now, you’re an outlier if you don’t move in together after a year or two — or, you know, whenever your respective leases happen to end.
My friend Pei, for instance, moved in with her boyfriend in San Francisco after a year of dating. “Our roommates were all moving out, and we figured that was the direction things were headed in, anyway,” she told me. “I had halfheartedly looked for places on my own, but it just never felt right.” My sister, too, moved into her now-husband’s apartment after a year together. “I was basically spending most of my time at his place anyway because it was closer to work — and we always wanted to be together,” she told me.
But what if you love your partner, and you love living alone? I’ve lived solo for six years in my apartment, which, with two closets, a sliver of counter space, and little-to-no privacy, is built for one person. I made it my own: I painted the walls, hung pictures, and bought a tool kit so I could fix the cabinet hinge that breaks once a month. I am not especially interested in giving this up.
Beyond my inclination toward personal space, though, is my inclination toward taking things slowly and deliberately. Co-habitation may now be the expected next step in a committed relationship, but there’s no harm in pausing between milestones. On the contrary, in 2014, researchers found that of couples who moved in together and eventually married, those who were more thoughtful at the outset of co-habitation were happier together years down the line. It’s a reminder of how important it is to do what makes sense for you, rather than mindlessly doing what’s expected of you.
It makes sense to me. After all, shouldn’t such a milestone merit more consideration than simply sliding into it? Circumstances might make co-habitation seem appealing or like the next logical step, but it won’t help me pack all the candles I’ve hoarded or go back to sleep when my boyfriend snores. We can move in together when we both decide that we really, really want to — not because it’s convenient, or financially sensible, or because I feel like I should. We’re almost there.
My boyfriend, to his credit, is cool with this. We both know that if he moved in with me, he would adopt my no-social-life social life — whereas on his own, he can do the extroverted shit he likes, such as hosting dinner parties and game nights. (That’s pretty essential for making friends and settling into a new city, too.) I would be delighted to attend, wash a few dishes, and dip out by 8:30 p.m. — 8 if it’s a weeknight — so I can go home and do a face mask.
Still, I am making space for him. I’ve cleared out a drawer for his clothes. I gave his shoes a dedicated spot in my closet. And I made a copy of my key for him, because he’s welcome to hang out in my apartment whenever he wants. And eventually, if and when we get sick of living apart, we’ll get one that’s all ours.