The concerns of living together before marriage

by Erin Ghere

I recently began living in sin. After three years of dating and much talk of marriage, my boyfriend, Aaron, and I made the leap to roommates. We moved into a nice two-bedroom townhouse in the “‘burbs” and have pretty much settled into life.

We got engaged two weeks after we moved in and have been sharing living quarters for about two and a half months. However, it was not quite as simple as it sounds. First was the indecision and fears about whether we should make the transition and then came the unavoidable clash of generations. All this before even learning how to actually live with each other!

Before moving in together, I had to hear both sides of the argument. “Living together before marriage will hurt the long-term relationship” vs. “Cohabitation will let you know if you’re really meant to be together.” Con: Our marriage wouldn’t be as special. We would be more likely to divorce because we would go into marriage with living-together mindsets, i.e., we can just move out if it
doesn’t work. Pro: We’d learn more about each other. The majority of couples today live together before they get married, and divorce rates haven’t skyrocketed.

The decision was quite a large burden. I thought I was making the right choice, but what if I were dooming my future marriage from the word go? How could I be sure? I take marriage seriously and considered just as seriously the possibility we could screw it up from the start. I have spent the better part of the past 10 years figuring out what I want and need in a partner, going through heartache and heartbreak to finally find it. I refuse to get divorced except under the most extreme circumstances, and if I am going to live with this person forever, he’d better be perfect for me.

For Aaron, moving in together was less of an issue. Since he was the baby of the family, both of his older siblings had already lived with their eventual spouses prior to the ceremony. I am not only the oldest child, but also the oldest of 19 grandchildren. My decision could have sent shockwaves through my Irish Catholic family.

Luckily, I had several months to decide my future. Aaron’s lease wasn’t up until April, and I started thinking even before then. If I based my decision purely on desire, we couldn’t have moved in together soon enough. Our relationship was waiting to be taken to the next level, but neither of us wanted to get married right out of college. Living together seemed to be the next logical step. In addition, while I had enjoyed my previous living arrangements, I had been longing for something more. I wanted to come home to someone who really cared how my day had gone or who wanted to cook dinner with me. I was quickly moving past the college-apartment stage and yearning for more of a home.

But – as with every major decision in my life – I had to consider all of the arguments. What if all those things I had heard were right? If we moved in together, would we jinx our future? Would it hurt our relationship? Would our eventual marriage be less special?

I rolled these questions around in my head for awhile. I decided divorce might be a possibility for people who were unsure of their relationship when entering into cohabitation, but I was not in that boat. I figured people who begin living together with the attitude they can always get out are the ones who carry that mindset into marriage. Aaron and I look at living together as a precursor to marriage and are very sure about what we want our future to be.

Then I considered whether our marriage would be less special, which I thought was a possibility. As a result, we agreed we would move to a new apartment after we married and would continue to keep our finances separate until then. I felt this would physically signify the change in our lives. We already knew there would be a mental change.

For some people, these questions would not even have mattered because they believe living together before marriage is simply wrong. That was never a concern of mine. Although no couple in my family had ever done it, I always considered living together to be a stepping stone to marriage. Although much of my extended family is Catholic, my immediate family and I are Episcopalian. In my faith, I am allowed to choose the path God wants me to follow rather than being told what that path is. And in my world, I pray to a God who respects me and the healthy and good decisions I make for myself. (This is not to say all of my decisions are healthy and good.)

Once I had made my decision to move in with my boyfriend, I had to warn my parents. It was obvious from the beginning they disagreed and thought it was poor judgment, but nonetheless, they respected that I was old enough to make my own choices. But that is certainly not to say they want me shouting it from the rooftops (which, in essence, I am doing with this column).

In all honesty, my parents have been pretty cool about this whole thing. They’ve come to visit a few times and have yet to disown me. And they have not guilt-tripped me into feeling bad about my decision. Still, I do not understand the presumption that living together before marriage is simply wrong. And I don’t think I ever will. I love my fiancée as much now as I will on the day we marry. Why should I have to wait for a public declaration of how I feel to begin my life with him?

In the past two and a half months, we have learned plenty about each other. We have many differences I didn’t know about until we moved in together. He is much neater than I am, though I never considered myself messy. Aaron hits the snooze button about six times before he gets up, while I am normally out of bed as soon as the alarm clock goes off.

I routinely forget things like garbage day, while he pulls the trash can out every Tuesday morning before he goes to work. I am content to leave piles of things around the apartment, while those same piles drive Aaron nuts. He uses dryer sheets and I don’t. I will polish off a whole jar of pickles in a matter of days, while Aaron can finish off three frozen pizzas in a week. He accepts the days when I want to jump on the bed, and I accept I can’t watch television on Saturday mornings while he tapes his favorite show.

This is not to say we don’t fight. Just the other day, we had an argument about cleaning the apartment. We’ve snapped at each other about the grocery list, preparing dinner, and the dishes. But he’s still the best roommate I’ve ever had, and I am very happy and proud of my decision. We’ll get married next spring, and I can only hope the future years will be as satisfying as the past few months have been.