Thursday, August 12, 2010

Cogitating on Cohabitating

Here's a topic that's been on my mind a lot lately-- how do you decide whether or not to move in with your sweetie? As I write this, mine is recovering from a knee surgery, and I'm playing nurse, maid, chef, and chauffeur. I haven't been home in a week, and I keep wondering if it's silly for us to live in two separate apartments, as this kind of situation highlights the need and desire to be together.
A while back, I tallied up the amount of space we occupy between the two of us-- 4 bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths, close to 1800 sq feet... in NYC, this is not necessarily palatial, but still rather luxurious for a childless couple. And yet, though we are a couple, we are also two individuals. We can each afford our individual lifestyle and we each have our preferences and desire for our own space. If two individuals are each living financially responsible lives on their own, does the fact of their being a couple change that and mean that they are financially irresponsible?
We'd easily save almost $2000 a month when you consider my rent and utilities. (Though I personally might not save all that much depending on how we split the bills-- Sweetie's expenses are somewhat higher than mine, and include things like basic cable TV, which I don't pay for at all right now.) We'd save on groceries. My plants wouldn't keep dying of neglect. And we'd save lots of time in not having to go back and forth. But how do you decide what the right balance is?
I feel rather self-indulgent thinking about how I need "MY SPACE." How many millions of people around the world don't even have a square inch to call their own, let alone a small New York apartment? But it's not really about a measured amount of physical space for me-- there is some consideration of that, of course, when you calculate how many books will fit on the shelves and how many hangers will fit in the closet. But for me, it's more about the mental space, and the feeling of control, or perhaps assertion of identity. I like having some sort of space, even if it's just a corner, where I am surrounded by my own things, chosen and arranged by me. Maybe it's books, objects, posters, or a combination of these things. And maybe I can find a way to have this in Sweetie's apartment, but I'm not sure. It's a bigger apartment than mine, but not that much bigger. And I don't want my moving in to mean that Sweetie has to completely turn the place upside down.
Ideally we'd just move to a different, bigger apartment together but there are a lot of good reasons not to give up Sweetie's place. So another thing I've thought about is renting the tiniest studio I can find within a block or two of Sweetie. I could use it as a sort of extra room, and if I had my sister's family visiting, it could function as an extra guest room. If I rented out my place, I could probably get a bit more for it than I pay in mortgage and maintenance charges. But a studio in the location I'd want would cost me anywhere between 2/3 to 3/4 of what I pay now for a two bedroom. That's a bit depressing, but would it be worth it for my own peace of mind? Would I actually have that peace of mind? Would I use the studio enough for it to be worth the expense? Maybe it would just be a transitional thing as we adjusted to occupying the same apartment and finding ways to fit in all our stuff without each sacrificing our preferences and habits.
New York is somewhat famous, I think, for being a place where couples move in together sooner than they normally would, and continue to live together long after breaking up, just because it's financially impossible to do otherwise. I don't want to make this decision based on money. But it's hard not to think about it...


Leigh said...

Obviously you know yourself best in making this decision, but I can add that I recently ended a relationship due to lack of space.

There were other reasons, of course, but one aspect was that we had lost ourselves as individuals, compromising to the point where neither of us was happy with the life we were living and who we were with the other around. A small apartment meant no escape from one another to be ourselves.

While people in other countries may not have the living space of Americans, their culture and expectations are different, so a comparison is unwarranted. There's no need to feel indulgent or selfish.

If you feel that having your own little corner of the world will make you a better person for yourself and Sweetie, trust your instincts. You aren't the first person to want "a room of one's own."

Anonymous said...

When this topic comes up, I feel like my advice is useless because my husband and I have always had such opposite work schedules that I feel like I have more than enough space. Add to that the fact that he moved into MY apartment (and left all of his furniture behind), and I still feel a lot like I did as a single gal living on my own. Having his things around doesn't affect me nearly as much as it would affect you to be the person who moves in.

All that aside, we made the decision to move in together because he was always at my place. I think we seriously may have had three days from our first date that he didn't spend the night here. So, I thought, "Why not have him here to pay half of the bills since he's practically living here anyway?"

Money is going to be a consideration. It shouldn't be the only one, but it's not wrong to consider it. and when it comes to things like bills that you wouldn't have on your own, I think negotiation is fine. My husband and I split the electricity bill 65/35 because, while I'm fine with just the fan on, he runs the electricity 24/7.

Do what feels right, though. If you're having these kinds of hesitations, it's probably not time yet.

WellHeeledBlog said...

I recently moved in with my boyfriend, and there's been a little bit of an adjustment that comes with sharing your space with a partner. But it's nice to see each other on the weekdays (previously we were a weekend-only couple), and the savings on rent was not insubstantial ($200+ a month for me).

The space issue is a real conundrum - I'd say it's worth giving it a try if you are interested - set a trial period of, say, 2 or 3 months. You can sublet your condo and then move in, and see how it goes. I like living with my partner - there are the good and the bad but overall, the benefits (financial and emotional) outweigh the bad.

Little Miss Moneybags said...

This sounds so cliched, but...I just knew. Yes, we were practically living together anyway. Yes, we would save a lot of money by living together. But more than that, I wanted to share a home. I just didn't want to maintain my independence as much as I had been. I look around our shared home of one year, and I no longer see "my" space and "his" space -- I see "our" space, "our" things. Which, in a previous relationship, would have been terrifying -- and in this relationship is both comforting and thrilling.

I don't think you can leave the money out of such a decision. But if the money is the biggest part of it, and if you're still so protective of your space and your things, I think that's a way of telling yourself you're not really ready.

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scissorbill said...

When you give up that last stronghold of yourself your relationship will thrive. Run to him. Say yes.

Moneymonk said...

I agree with scissorbill

If it's worth it, hang in there. My husband and I lived together for 3 years before we were married. We have the same issues for as space we eventually bought a home.

frugal zeitgeist said...

I faced this in my recently ended relationship. I couldn't give up my beautiful, fully paid off space in Manhattan that was all mine to be a de facto suburban stepmom with no space of my own. It definitely kept us from becoming us (as opposed to him and me), and perhaps that was the beginning of the end.

In your case, if you feel ready to try it, I would suggest renting your apartment out on a month to month basis and skipping the studio. If it works out, you can always change your arrangement with your apartment; if not, you can always go home. One of my best friend did that, fully expecting to be engaged within a few months. He ended up going back home and not making what would have been a catastrophic mistake.

KD said...

I slowly moved into my (now) husband's place when we were dating. After 1.5 years we got married and found a new place together which we then furnished between the two of us with a couple of pieces bought together.

it was a hard adjustment to move to london where space is limited and we definitely have our arguments...mind you in 400 sq.ft. of space compared to the 1100 we had. funny enough after several years we have started to realize that we don't need all the junk we would have had by now if we were in a bigger place.

i agree with frugal zietgeist this would take some of the pressure off of things and the flexibility would still be there. but you probably should be prepared that if the living situation doesn't work out the relationship probably won't either.

Anonymous said...

My sweetie and I moved in after we got engaged. It made things easier to wrap my brain around it once things were more permanent. The money we saved helped pay for the eventual wedding.

Since it's so difficult to find another place of your own in nyc, I suggest renting it out (even at a slight loss) just to keep your options opened.

Anonymous said...

My brother-in-law had a dumpy little studio apartment. His girlfriend had a super nice 2-bedroom apartment, and he spent a lot of time there. Days. Nights. Weekends. We thought he was crazy not to give up his place and move in with his girlfriend. We were sure that the girlfriend would have loved him to do that.

A few years later, they broke up, and he had his dumpy little apartment to go back to.

I wonder if his fear of commitment caused him to want to hold on to "his space". Or maybe something in his subconscious mind knew that the relationship was not going to last forever, and was acting in his best interest to make him want to keep his space.

In your case, Madame X, I wonder if wanting to hold on to your space has nothing to do with your relationship, but rather the fact that you worked so hard to save and buy your apartment all on your own, with no help from anyone. It was a great achievement! It's hard to give that up.

Fig said...

I just recently moved in with my new fiance. In a way it's strange because I gave up my own space to share a very cramped area with him. But for me it was worth it. And I think if the relationship is right and for the long haul it will always be worth it and having enough space won't be an issue.

clear_water said...

Like you, Open Wallet, I have a real need for my own space - I chalk it up partly to the fact that I am a working artist; I suspect most creative people need a LOT of physical as well as mental / emotional space. I wonder if you truly want to live together or if you're feeling (on some conscious or subconscious level) that this is what couples are "supposed" to do. I do wish respondents wouldn't equate the desire and ability to live together full-time as the indicator that a relationship is or isn't "right" - different people and different couples have different needs and expectations for and from relationships. If you and your sweetie are happy living in different spaces and neither feels the desire to live together full time (thus causing the other to feel hurt or resentful), I say why do so?

Crystal Stemberger said...

I don't know what would be best for you, but I can tell you that Mr. BFS and I began living together in a 550 sq.ft. 1 bedroom apartment at the end of 2004. It was tight but we were cozy and happy for 13 months before we moved into a 1050 sq.ft. apartment in 2006.

We bought our 1750 sq.ft. home in 2007.

So, I guess I'd base my decision on how long you two will be in a certain place and how much space you both would need to be comfortable. Good luck!

SuperCop said...

Well first off, being the long-time reader you know I am :P I have to say that I'm pleasantly surprised that you've even begun to THINK of moving to the next big step in your relationship.

I would say the most important thing is that if you decide to move in together make sure you and Sweetie are on the same wavelength. For the past few years Ive been reading your blog Ive gotten the feeling you are alot like I want a relationship where you can build something together with the person you love..yet not be so intertwined financially that you're leaving yourself exposed and/or dependent on someone else if something goes bad.

I recently took the plunge myself and bought a 2,200 sq. foot townhome with my new wife. Before doing so we sat down and talked everything out..each of us explaining what we felt we needed and what we were willing to give up and what we insisted on keeping. What we agreed on was that we would split the mortgage 50/50, and I would pay the majority of household expenses (seeing how I make 3x as much as she does). We candidly decided that IF anything ever happened down the road and we decided to part ways that I would keep the house and buy out her half thus her keeping everything she had invested. Some might think of this as defeatist but I think it goes a long way towards having peace of mind and knowing we could each walk away with something. Saying that..I agree with Frugal Zeitgeist with her idea of renting out your space or maybe selling it and investing in something bigger with Sweetie and have it worked out from the get go who is bringing what to the table and having an agreement you can both live with.

As far as coming to the decision of whether of not you are ready for that commitment..of giving of your space and sharing it full-time I honestly think you should follow your heart. Numbers and planning aside, I knew Wifey was the One when I saw that she was everything I had ever looked for in a person and while I dont believe in someone "completing" someone else..theres alot to be said for someone that helps you grow or brings out the best in you. I knew Wifey was the one from the beginning when I saw she shared the same dreams I have and was completely committed to helping me realize them. Shes practical, trusting, smart, thinks long-term, and is very smart with her money. She doesnt make alot but I was amazed one day when she called from work to have me access her bank accounts as her internet was down and I saw that from her account transactions...she spends ZERO money on frivolous things and has a surprisingly large savings account balance relative to what she makes. Prior to that..I knew she was something special when she moved into my rented house awhile back and all of her clothes took up only HALF the closet and dresser and keeps only the bare necessities. Because of her minimalist attitude about possessions and expenses and me watching marathon episodes of "Hoarders" I've completely trimmed the fat from the expenses and thrown out or donated every non-essential possession I have. Plus she lets me keep the garage as my man-cave and to park my motorcycle so there was no doubt she's it. If Sweetie makes you feel the way I do I would definitely say...GO FOR IT!!

JP said...

Since no one has said it, I thought I would chime in. Keep in mind I am in my early 20s still, but I guess I'm old-fashioned so I still like to idea of not moving in with a significant other until marriage (or at least engagement), for many of the reasons mentioned. For me, it basically boils down to the fact that if you are ready to share a home with your Sweetie, you should be ready to make a life-long commitment.

charlie said...

i am actually experiencing the same dilemma as to whether i will move in with my significant other or not. we both have its own preferences when it comes to arranging and managing our respective rooms. and in 2 years of being together in a relationship, i noticed some differences between us and i know, if we live under the same roof, the likelihood of clashing upon each other has a big possibility though i am not praying for it to come.

it may be true that saving can be taken as an advantage when i moved in, but the notion of being legally bounded to live under one roof is somewhat questionable (in my own opinion). maybe that's also one reason for holding off into moving in.

anyway, as long as the persons in a relationship remain honest and loyal to each other, assuring that they both love each other and so on, living in together may be a good idea when you are already sure enough that this moving in is your step towards one level up of your relationship. take one step at a time and there is no need to rush things. :))

flybigd said...

You sound like you still have a lot of questions, and so I would suggest that you stay put. His knee will heal eventually. See how you feel then, when you're NOT at his place all the time. But good luck to you both!

Serena said...

I'm going through something similar right now, and I definitely don't have it figured out yet. We've been together some time now, and I'd like to get out of my current apartment, I still don't want to move in with him yet. It would save beaucoup bucks without me requiring a random roommate in a strange town. But, really, it's hard to make the decision based on finances OR feelings alone, but at the end of the day, finances and all, your peace of mind is what counts the most. Think of the amount of financial wrangling you might have to do in a blended-finance household, too.

And don't do what I've been doing - be honest with your sweetie about your true feelings, and don't let him dismiss them!

kgf said...

What JP said! My first thought after reading your post was - Don't move in together until you're married. That being said, I realize everyone is not as old-fashioned as I am, so my opinion is, at the very least, do it MORE because you love him and see him in your long-term future and LESS for financial and convenience reasons. If love is the driving force, keeping your place shouldn't be necessary. I am big on MY SPACE too. Perhaps you can create your nook in the 2nd bedroom?

Anonymous said...

I would strongly recommend couples counseling if you are thinking seriously about moving in together. A good counselor can help you navigate thru all these discussions and what ifs before anyone packs a box. That way, the amount of misunderstandings ("I thought I would get more closet space because I have more clothes!" "I thought you would get rid of that painting you know I hate!" "You make more money so you should pay a bigger share of the mortgage") is significantly reduced, because you have made decisions about these issues in advance. And you have an independent moderator for the inevitable issues that crop up once you are living together. My now husband and went this route, and although we still had disagreements, I think the counselor helped a ton.
Lastly, move in together because you can't stand spending nights without him, not purely for financial reasons :)

Wendy said...

I'm with JP and kgf. I've had a serious boyfriend and a fiance move in with me, and have now decided, based on those experiences, that I don't want to live with a significant other until after we've gotten married. I'm not super-conservative, but if a guy isn't willing to marry me, why should he have all the benefits of marriage without any of the legal standing that goes along with it?

Personal Finance Mama said...

I think living together is awesome! But, I'm not like others. I moved in with my now husband at 21 and got married at age 24. I just knew. Of course, we had no money or savings or real jobs. We just had each other. Think about this, we started off in a little studio that didn't even have a bathroom door. if you can do that, you are ready. don't let money be the judge. let your bathroom be the judge.

Lily said...

Well! That question got a lot of comments. Personally I know it's the wrong thing to do. Keep the commandments.