What I Learned From Moving In With Someone Way Too Soon

Photographed by Winnie Au.
I can tell you a lot about where to find the right decorative pillows for your new apartment. In the months leading up to moving in with my boyfriend of five years, I spent uncountable hours scrolling through online stores, staring at pillows (and art prints, curtains, and duvet covers), planning and budgeting for the ultimate Adorable Couple’s Adorable Apartment. However, I didn’t spend much of this time thinking about what this change would mean for my actual relationship.

It seemed like the right move. My boyfriend and I (we were both 26 at that time) loved spending time with each other. We could resolve our occasional disagreements, and we both finally had decent jobs. I wasn’t looking for a deeper commitment, and I assumed things would unfold as they were meant to. What more did we need to consider before moving in?

Now, seven months in, those meticulously researched pillows I bought have become silent witnesses to an impressive slew of conflicts, ranging from trivial bickering (when to throw away leftover spaghetti) to serious questions about our future together. It’s been a surprising challenge for both of us.

We are still together, and this experience has helped us both learn and grow. However, I now realize something important: It would have saved me a lot of turmoil if I had taken more time to understand my personal, financial, and professional goals before taking the step to move in with someone else. As a young woman seeking financial independence and happiness, I wish I had more thoroughly considered the practical implications of this decision, rather than getting distracted by the fun and exciting stuff.

I’m slowing taking the necessary steps and working to make things better. Below are my recommendations, based on my own experiences, that I’d give to any independent woman preparing to cohabitate before marriage.

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Identify & Honor Your Relationship Expectations
I recently posted a question on social media that addressed female friends in their 20s and 30s: What criteria would need to be met for you to move in with your significant other? I was surprised at the variety of answers they gave:

Independence, both financial and emotional, is the best way to build a happy life.

“I always said there needed to be an engagement, and that’s exactly what I waited for.”

“A mutual desire to share our lives with one another in closer proximity. Engagement isn’t a necessity, or even a desired outcome.”

“Extremely high rent prices would be enough for me.”

“A deadline for the next step.”

“I would just need him to ask.”

“We aren’t moving in until after the wedding.”

“We just did it! I don’t think we even talked about it. Now we are happily married, with a baby.”

The dos and don’ts of premarital cohabitation can be debated all day. The truth is that whether your expectations are considered “traditional,”“nontraditional,” or something entirely different, there is empowerment in naming your desires and having the courage to pursue them.

If you are determined to be married, with children, before you’re 35, the best time to realize this is before moving in with a partner. If you prefer to deepen your relationship without considering marriage, being self-aware of what you want will help you take in the experience without added pressure. Having no specific expectations for the relationship counts as an expectation in itself — one of openness and the opportunity for change. This is valuable information for you to understand and own.

Nothing is certain, and your desires may evolve over time, but in my opinion, the best first step you can possibly take in this process is to assess what matters most to you in your relationship. The more aware you are of these desires, the more clarity you will have in communicating them to your partner and deciding what choices are right for you. If you skip this step, you may generate lots of unnecessary confusion and stress.

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Be In A Committed Relationship With Your Finances
Whether or not you end up married to your partner, you cannot achieve financial independence without an understanding of your personal finances. The reason it’s important to have a solid relationship with your own money before moving in with someone is that it will empower you to make choices that best serve your interests and well-being, regardless of how the relationship is going.

It would have saved me a lot of turmoil if I had taken more time to understand my personal, financial, and professional goals before taking the step to move in with someone else.

There is more to this than tracking your spending and preparing a budget. What is your timeline for paying off student loans or other debts? Have you started to save for retirement? What is your credit score? Do you want to own a house someday? How can you grow the money you already have?

Taking even a few cursory steps back to answer these questions will give you a sense of control over your own future, which will enable you to make sound decisions involving your partner.
Consider The Effects Of Moving
It’s no fun to “borrow trouble,” but it’s important to think through scenarios that might result from the choice to cohabitate. Consider how your career might be affected by a move. For example, in order to live together, my boyfriend and I both commute over an hour to work in opposite directions each morning. My relationship will inevitably become a determining factor in terms of where in the state I apply to work in the future. This will obviously make a big difference in my daily life and affect our relationship.

Other topics to consider might be relationships with family and friends, your hobbies and interests, your need for alone time or personal connection, or even your taste in home decor. It may sound excessive, but I have found that nearly every aspect of my life has been affected, in both positive and negative ways, by my choice to cohabitate.

Independence, both financial and emotional, is the best way to build a happy life — at least in my opinion. Relationships can bring great joy into our lives, but the ability to take care of ourselves and to make positive choices for ourselves is what sustains us in the long-term. It’s what makes relationships possible and what strengthens us to pursue what matters to us most.

If you are considering whether or when or how to co-habitate with a partner, I strongly urge you to take extra time to check in with yourself on all the topics mentioned above — before taking the leap.

Next: Why I Regret Not Moving Home After College

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