It's always fascinating to me to watch other couples figure their ish out. I'm one of those people who flips though gossip rags on my way through the grocery check-out, so I'm in love with following other people's stories, although, it should be noted in my defense, that I don't stoop as low as afternoon soap operas. If I wanted to watch people wearing too much eyeliner over-emote and drink in the afternoon, I would just head over to Queen and Ossington and while the day away.
Anyway, one of my favourite things to parse is people's living arrangements. I myself have never lived with a boyfriend, but I have lived with upwards of fifteen people in a house with one kitchen. I've also lived by myself. My friends have lived in apartments, condos, houses, by themselves, with partners, with roommates, with partners and roommates, with various siblings, cats, reptiles, houseplants and people they were originally neutral about but grew to hate with a passion. But the ones I'm most interested in are the romantic pairings, because the will-they-won't-they tension is dynamic in the way that a couple pals deciding to get a place together so they can spend more student loan money on beer and guacamole fixins isn't.
Most of my friends who decided to live with their partners did it as a spur-of-the-moment sort of endeavor. Two different couples I know began as roommates and started dating shortly thereafter, thus setting a land-speed record for living in sin. One of my best girls asked her now-husband to move in with her (and the aforementioned 15 people) about ten weeks after they started dating. My group moves fast. There are also friends of mine who have never lived with their boyfriends or girlfriends, even though they've passed the half-decade mark in their relationship. After all, living together is a pretty big deal.
Interestingly, even though a lot of my friends cohabit, the vast majority haven't made it legal. Studies have shown that couples who live together before they're married are more likely to divorce later on; there's a mentality (not for every couple, but for lots of 'em) that the living-together stage is a test, or a convenience, or both. Those couples are more likely to slip into a quasi-roommate existence, even if they do get married eventually. I can see why: when the unionizing step of your relationship isn't actually focused on affirming the relationship itself (like, say, a wedding is), but about your physical space together, then it might be tough down the road to remember that you love each other when you're busy playing chicken about who's emptying the green-bin.
Some couples, usually for religious reasons, don't live together until after they tie the knot, which isn't a choice I would make - there's too much likelihood of rushing into a marriage just so they can start having sex. But I understand that choice. Frankly, premarital sex is sort of a given in this day and age, but I understand the desire to honour the relationship by intertwining the house, the love, the marriage and the sex into one big honking night.
It sounds like I'm down on the common-law experience, which I'm not. People make all kinds of decisions about their partners based on all kinds of criteria. Some of my friends have decided not to get married at all. They still have a strong commitment to each other, to their lives together, and to moving into the future ("like, with jetpacks?") with each other. Just because I'm a girl who might one day want to get married doesn't mean that the folks who eschew that life path are weird. But I still am fascinated about why people make their choices and decisions. For me, living together is like marriage the same way frozen yogurt is like ice cream: they're both deliciously cold and tasty, but they're not really the same.
My sister said that she would want to be engaged before she shacked up with a boyfriend. I think she's on to something. There's enough of a commitment to say "Yep, this is moving forward and I am loving it," but if something goes really wrong - if there's a fundamental difference in lifestyle that had hitherto escaped both parties - there's still time to put the full-on, forever-type commitment on hold while y'all figure out how to fix it. But the thing is, in any good relationship, the honesty and openness should be there all along. People. Please. Play your kink cards early, mention the mentally-ill PMS soon, and try to work together to figure out to manage the craziness before you merge your CD collections.
In any case, I'm not planning to live with anyone any time soon, at least not romantically. I'd rather hold out and make sure the time is right; not having done this before, I'm nervous. My current squeeze is terrific, and has talked me off several let's-shack-up ledges. Right now, practicing on housemates and family members is preparing me for tedious conversations about chores, bills, schedules and messes, but I'd like to think that living with a lover is different. Hopefully much better, if we can get it right. And no matter what form it takes, or why we decide to move in, I know that love will be a big part of it. Cheesy? Oh, you betcha. But also true.