Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Dismaying Story #114: The Living Together Debate
I am twenty-five years old and I have a boyfriend who is twenty-seven. We have been going out for a year and seven months. We met online and had an online relationship for a month or so and we could not wait and we decided to meet each other since we have many things in common and think alike. We’re about to get engaged soon and we both want to move in together. Ever since we started our relationship it’s been going fast. We said to each other that we love each other early on in the realtionship. We started having sex after a month together and we know that are each other's soul mate.
We’re ready to be engaged and I want to move in with him when we find a place. My mother and father are traditional and they love him, but they disagree and are giving me a hard time about it. They think we should get married before living together, but we don't want to get married right now. We want to eventually, but we just want to have an engagement period and enjoy it.
My mother didn't have an engagement period because she got pregnant with me so they got married. She doesn’t understand the whole engagement part. She is pushing us to get married now! She tells me that in order for me to live with a man that we have to get married. I have always seen my mom support my cousin and now she brings the fact up to me that I should not be like her and live with a man without being married. Ever since I met my boyfriend I told my mother that he was the man I would marry. Now she tells me, “You always wanted to and you eventually will, so why not now?”
As a sociology major I know that couples these days wait to get married and have kids. They move in together without getting married first. She is stressing me out, causing us to fight and I am always stressed out when I see my boyfriend.
Should I move out just like that? I am an adult so I know I can move out without her permission, but I don't want any conflict brewing or bad feelings. I don’t want to have any negative karma coming my way especially now.
I have written in the past that once you get married, your first allegiance should shift to the new family that you and your spouse have just formed. You are not, however, in that position yet. You still have a foot in both worlds. You want to make a commitment to this relationship but you are still living at home. Despite the fact that you are an adult, your mother is still an important influence in your life and a source of hard-won wisdom.
I agree you should be careful about creating immense amounts of tension with your parents over this relationship. Assuming you end up marrying this guy, everyone will be much happier if he has a good shot at getting along well with his mother-in-law. Does that mean you should just let your mother tell you what to do? No, but you are right to be concerned about the long-term effects of any conflict you create now. Sometimes these sorts of issues can cause rifts that last a lifetime.
It is true that many people live together before getting married, so much so that much of the social stigma that used to be associated with doing so has now gone away. Several readers of this site have left comments in the past suggesting that living together is a good way to “try out” the practical side of a relationship, a way to find out if you are a good fit when it comes to sharing dishwashing duties and a tube of toothpaste.
I can tell that your mother disagrees with this view ... and so do I.
The theory sounds great -- let’s make sure we are compatible before making the ultimate commitment. You say you want to enjoy your engagement for a while and this seems to you like the best way to do so. These arguments have merit, and I suspect some readers will once again leave comments in favor of these factors.
To me, though, there are also risks with this scenario. I’ve seen the downside outweigh the good.
Every relationship has challenges. There are always times when your little voice inside pipes up and asks if all this stress is really worth it. “Wouldn’t it be easier to just walk away?” Living together brings extra stresses regardless of whether you get married first. You and your partner must share life to an unprecedented level, which opens up all sorts of possibilities for joy, but also for conflict. If you are married, you have extra incentive to stick it out, to really try your best to make things work. This increases the chances your relationship will succeed.
Simply moving in together does not create that extra level of commitment. The implication (and sometimes the explicit intention) is that you are trying each other out. This in itself can plant seeds of doubt that will grow like crazy when the inevitable challenges arrive. Then one day an argument erupts and you don’t have that commitment to serve as your shield against adversity. It is all too easy to simply walk away.
This leaves many people feeling inadequate when it comes to relationship skills. “I have failed once,” your inner voice says. “I wasn't good enough for that partner. Will I be good enough the next time?”
More than that, people who have lived together a time or two can struggle when they do get married. They have become used to the idea that living together still leaves the door open for walking out. This same feeling can carry over into the marriage, which leads to all sorts of problems.
Of course, many people manage to live together, remain committed, and have a long and wonderful marriage. I’m not saying living together is always a formula for disaster, just that it brings with it some extra challenges. Relationships are hard enough without weakening the commitment that is typically necessary to make them work.
I would be giving you exactly the same advice if I were in your mother’s shoes: enjoy your engagement for as long as you want to, but strongly consider getting married before moving in together.
Like I said, not everyone agrees with this viewpoint. You need to balance all these factors -- your own judgment and wishes versus the caution urged by folks like me and your mother ... and the potential for future mother-in-law problems for your hubby-to-be.
All the best,
Since this is Valentine's Day, why not take a moment and respond to the Question of the Week about Valentine's Day stories.