Moving in.
July 7, 2005 7:40 AM   Subscribe

I'm moving in with my girlfriend... and cohabitating for the first time. Anything I should know going in?

Growing up and in the dorms, I had my own room. I've had a "bachelor pad" for years. That isn't to say that I'm completely unsocial -- I've stayed with friends quite a bit (but really never for over a week) and had girlfriends who stayed primarily at my place (but still kept a small place of their own elsewhere). Similarly, I've stayed with my girlfriend for several days in a row at her place in the past and her mine, so we know the basics, but I'm trying to find out the little things that may surprise me when we're partners and not guests. Issues like maintaining personal space, dividing financial responsibilities, doing the cleaning, buying/making/cleaning up food, that sort of thing. I've already promised not to leave little globs of toothpaste in the sink (an admittedly bad habit). Suggestions?
posted by eschatfische to Human Relations (26 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I'd say get a new place together if you can. Moving into someone's personal space is tough. Basically, you're constantly objecting to their choices. "I don't think that this is the best way to stack the dishes" or "I wouldn't have put that table there" ... whereas if you get a new place together, you can make choices together. Just my 2 cents.

If you have to move into her place, try to make changes gradually. For example, 2 months after moving in with my boyfriend I told him one day that if I was going to be the primary chef and grocery buyer, I needed to completely reorganize the kitchen. That may not have gone over so well on day 2.

FINANCES, most important:

I would make an agreement from the get-go about who pays what.

Add up your monthly bills that are shared: rent/mortage, phone, gas, electric, water, tv, internet, etc. and then figure, based on your income, what a fair percentage of each of your income each of you can contribute. (That is not 50/50 mind you, but based on how much you make.)

Also, if she owns, I feel that you shouldn't have to pay 1/2 of the mortage. You aren't the one benefitting from that. Or if she works from home and needs high speed internet, but you wouldn't have bought it otherwise, maybe do a 60/40 agreement. Or if you want HBO or digital cable and she doesn't, again 60/40.

Food is a tough one -- my boyfriend and I try to keep things fair, but who knows if it is. Maybe split 50/50 ?? I don't eat meat and he does, so I always make sure that he pays for any meat that he buys.

You can download a cohabitation agreement. Some may think that it is taking it too far, but hey - you're basically marrying this person without the legal safeguards. Trust me, one of you will threaten to leave/kick the other one out at least once.

You'll work out something fair, I'm sure. You may have different definitions of what is clean and how frequently something needs to be cleaned. If you feel that the toilet should be scrubbed weekly and she thinks monthly, looks like you're the one cleaning the toilet. Be considerate, that is the most important thing.

Try to be fair about who prepares what... try to do it together if you can. If one of you is better than the other, of course that person will end up doing a lot of the cooking. But the other should be fair and always do dishes or chop things or even take a cooking class!

This isn't like a roommate situation because you love this person. Whereas it is tough to tell a roommate that you want to watch something else on TV or that you're pissed that s/he ate your food, you can't do that with your lover.

Try to have an activity at least once a week that requires that one of you is out of the house. That alone time is completely needed. Join a basketball team, take a class, or do something that each of you gets a night alone once a week.

Try to have some different friends as well. You're going to be together a lot more and you'll need that space.

You'll probably end up doing some laundry together. Make sure that you're on the same page about how things get washed. It drives me crazy how my boyfriend often forgets to use fabric softener!

Happy domestic bliss!
posted by k8t at 8:53 AM on July 7, 2005

Be wary, women have a nasty habit of leaving toilet seats *down*.

Make it clear you don't like this.
posted by the cuban at 8:55 AM on July 7, 2005

Since every relationship is a disasterous break-up waiting to happen, keep an exit plan in mind. Always have some cash around for a deposit on your own place when that cute thing she did when you were dating becomes horribly obnoxious when you're living together.
posted by cmonkey at 9:07 AM on July 7, 2005

Good point cmonkey (not on the break-up part, but the rest!)-- always have 2 sets of keys to everything (mail, deadbolt, etc.) so that you (hopefully) won't get locked out if anything bad happens.

Again, a cohabitation agreement may be a good idea...
posted by k8t at 9:14 AM on July 7, 2005

Since you'll be around each other all the time, the time you have together becomes less special. It's important to go out of your way to not take her for granted, and continually surprise her with little ways of making it special again. It's easy to get so used to being together that you gradually grow apart from each other.
posted by knave at 9:36 AM on July 7, 2005 [2 favorites]

Since every relationship is a disasterous break-up waiting to happen, keep an exit plan in mind.

Not at all to put a damper on things, but I really agree that the cohabitation's potential impact on the relationship is definitely something to consider. Lots of people have great cohabitation stories, many of which ended up in marriage. If you don't think that you're heading in that sort of direction at all, the cohabitation may very well hasten the end's arrival.

I've had a cohabitation where having a nutjob move into my place turned the relationship into a nuclear bomb. I've also had a "I need to move, and you have nowhere to stay so come with me" cohabitation quickly turn a relationship into a tepid friendship.

I suppose what I'm saying is that if relationship is with the most super importantest, awesomest, once in a lifetimest person ever, step carefully into cohabitation. You may do it and things will work out grand. Or you may do it and things will work out miserably. But if it's not a necessity at this point for the relationship's future, don't think of it as one.

From my experiences, I look at it as more of a "Is this a risk I want to take with this person at this point of the relationship?" rather than a "Won't this be fun?" Not living with someone for more time might actually make living together in the future easier, or even as my mother says, being married to someone before moving in with them provides more motivation and incentive for that cohabitation to work out.

More or less, I'd take "Cohabitation" and replace it with "Group sex" and then give it the same level of thought.
posted by VulcanMike at 9:39 AM on July 7, 2005

I strongly recommend the book, "Unmarried to each other," which I read before my boyfriend and I moved in together. It has lots of good info on conversations you should have before you move in together -- stuff like cleaning and money, as mentioned above, as well as the "what does this mean" conversation. The folks who wrote the book also run the Alternatives to Marriage Project, online at, but you don't have to be opposed to marriage to get a lot out of what they have to say.

There are lots of reasons to live together, including: to see if you're compatible, as a precursor to marriage, convenience, money, as part of a permanent relationship with no intention of ever marrying, etc. If you and your girlfriend have distinctly different views on why you're going into this, it can be trouble down the line.

Beyond the book -- which I think helped me initiate important conversations about money and our relationship -- the number one thing that has helped me and my boyfriend live together successfully for two years is tolerance for our differentness. It's the things we have in common that brought us together. But we both have some divergent interests and personality traits, and being able to say, "he/she's just that way" and shrug it off helps a lot.

Warnings aside, the experience has been great for our relationship.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 9:43 AM on July 7, 2005 [1 favorite]

Congrats on the big step!

If it's an option, I also recommend finding a place together rather than move into another's space.

You are already aware that the toothpaste glob is an issue. Your girlfriend will discover others. And you will find out things about her that will drive you bonkers. (It's the little things that I'm talking about.)

When something comes up, let her know gently. (Of course, she has the same right to do the same to you.) Most important, don't expect that letting her know will get her to change her behavior. Some things you might just have to live with.

And, speaking as a woman, I don't care if guys leave the seat up (really, I don't). However...I have zero tolerance for anything that doesn't make into the bowl. Yeah, yeah. I know it's the anatomy. It sprays. Wipe it up.

And if you are taking a shower together, don't pee in the shower. Most women I know really, really, REALLY hate that. At least ask first, to see if she minds.

Good luck!
posted by luneray at 10:30 AM on July 7, 2005

Trust me, one of you will threaten to leave/kick the other one out at least once.

Truer words were never spoke (k8t gives great advice in general), and you need to play this scenario out in your mind, both ways, so you don't freak out excessively when it actually happens. It's very likely to end with reconciliation (and great sex), but the more you can keep from losing your head when it happens, the less chance of lingering hostilities. (And make sure you have a friend you can stay with overnight and bitch to if need be.)

the cuban: This is not the place for teh funny.
posted by languagehat at 10:40 AM on July 7, 2005

I second knave's suggestion. Sitting together watching whatever's on TV with a pint of ice cream when you're just dating pretty much seems like a date. After the fourth evening in a row of this when you're living together, it can get *way* less special.

Make sure you're still doing things to impress the other one -- whether that's dressing up nicely and taking her out to dinner, or helping with the cooking, or suprising her with a night out dancing, or picking up a book you think she'll like... whatever that might mean in your relationship. Don't assume that you've "won" her and can stop trying now.

It's kind of like preventative care. Putting some effort in continually won't necessarily stop big problems from occurring, but it'll probably make them less severe and make both of you more willing to work through them, since you've already demonstrated an ongoing commitment to her.
posted by occhiblu at 10:46 AM on July 7, 2005 [1 favorite]

I meant to add: I also agree that you should keep up outside friends (even if they're mutual friends that you sometimes see separately). Your home life will now be combined; if your social life is also totally combined, you start to run out of things to talk about. You need non-partner stimulus from friends (or classes, or an engaging job or hobby).
posted by occhiblu at 10:48 AM on July 7, 2005

Unless something makes you so upset that you will move out if she doesn't stop/start doing it just let her do it her way. Seriously, we do most things around my house the way my wife wants them to be done because I'm just not as interested in the process/outcome as she is. I do have preferences, but by not arguing with her about everything we have a lot less stress than most couples. When the odd thing comes up that I'm really invested in she lets me do it my way.

Knowing that most disagreements are simply not worth fighting over is probably the best advice I can think to give.

(btw, things we do my way: computers, grilling, baking and lawn care. Short list isn't it? :)
posted by oddman at 10:57 AM on July 7, 2005

Sometimes it's little things that cause problems, and yielding small amounts of ground, even if it's unfair, gives a big payoff.

Even if you resent it, put the toilet seat down, every time. It's healthier anyway, since flushing with the seat up swirls water from the bowl into the air. See

Agree on separate shelves and spaces in the bathroom and dresser top. Never use anything of hers -- razor, toothbrush, comb, deoderant. Even a tube of toothpaste is cutting it close.

Cheerfully do "manly" things for her. Changing light bulbs and fuses, using a plunger to unstop the toilet (even when full).

Make and hide in the back of a drawer a complete extra set of keys -- lobby, apartment door, mailbox, car. One of you will lose a set sooner or later.

Don't merge book/CD/DVD collections for at least a year.

Don't stop her if she tells a story you've already heard, especially if others are present. You do the same thing.

Like, or at least try to like, her family. Say nice things to them. Say nice things about her to them.

Keep a sense of humor.

Sex will be fine, but will not be every night after a while. (The real decrease comes after you get married.)

When something good happens, and especially when something bad happens, tell her immediately. Nothing strengthens the relationship more than sharing important things, and nothing kills it faster than hiding them.
posted by KRS at 10:59 AM on July 7, 2005 [1 favorite]

Don't sweat the small stuff. And listen.
posted by jtron at 11:25 AM on July 7, 2005

I agree with croutonsupafreak on reading "Unmarried to Each Other". Also get a copy of Living Together: A Legal Guide for Unmarried Couples. There are plenty of books out there on cohabitating, but these are the two most useful. Make sure she reads them both all the way through, too. Pester her about it. And then pester her some more.
posted by clearlynuts at 11:31 AM on July 7, 2005 [1 favorite]

I was going to put input, but oddman hit exactly what I was going to say. So..

At random intervals, bring flowers (if she likes them).
posted by eurasian at 11:33 AM on July 7, 2005

Seconding everything up there, especially the stuff about keeping things separate and covering your ass ICOB (In Case of Breakup). My boyfriend and I actually had a contract drawn up with the landlord as our witness that covers our plan ICOB. We've lived together (happily!) for three years, but neither one of us regrets having the contract. Having a plan makes all the difference--we're not dependent on one another, and so we choose to live together. We recently split a $100 Ikea bookshelf, and it's literally the only thing of value we own together. It actually felt like a bigger commitment than cohabitation, because the boundaries are so clear. Being pragmatic doesn't lessen the romance at all.

Also important: have a place to go to that's yours. My boyfriend has a cafe a few blocks away he visits when he wants space. I rarely go there unless he invites me. I have a tea shop and long drives in my car. Having our own spaces to breathe and think outside the apartment--and to go to when we're fighting--helps so much. Having separate interests, some friends to ourselves, some independent hobbies... makes all the time we spend living together in a matchbox so much more breathable and interesting.
posted by hamster at 12:15 PM on July 7, 2005 [1 favorite]

croutonsupafreak, thanks so much for the link to -- great resource!
posted by scody at 12:42 PM on July 7, 2005

'kay, so I've been reading this because I'm about to do the exact same thing, only I'm the girl. Since a lot of this advice is nice things to do for your girlfriend, anyone have advice for the other half?

FWIW, I'm moving 1000 miles away, we're getting a new place together, and marriage is the goal, as soon as we're settled in; trying to plan a cross-country move, new job, cohabitating for the first time ever and other various non-negotiables meant we decided to leave the one thing we could choose to plan for later.

eschatfische, I hope you don't mind that I glommed onto your post rather than start another almost exactly the same. And the advice here so far has been great; just looking for the other side, a bit.
posted by jennaratrix at 12:49 PM on July 7, 2005

Don't ever allow a TV in the bedroom, or a bed in the TV room.
posted by skylar at 1:05 PM on July 7, 2005

Jenna, make friends IMMEDIATELY. Join a yoga class, find a local chill out bar, do SOMETHING. If you're moving to where he is already residing, you're going to need a support network. If he has friends that are coupled up, become couple friends - you and one of the ladies might really hit it off.

- Don't mother your boyfriend. (Not that I don't do it occasionally, but...) Even if you really feel compelled to explain to him why fabric softener is important or why plastic bowls go in the upper part of the dishwasher, find a way to tell him that is comfortable and doesn't make him feel like a child.

- Do let him know the benefits of living together and remind him if he seems to want to stray from it.

- Do tell him that you appreciate what he brings to the relationship.

- Do make it fun! Glad that you're getting a new place together - make it an activity to decorate and make decisions together.

I'll keep on thinking. My boyfriend and are in year 2.5 of living together.
posted by k8t at 1:13 PM on July 7, 2005

Try to have 2 feeds for your TV if he is a sports nut and you're not (or vice versa) and get TiVo.
posted by k8t at 1:14 PM on July 7, 2005

Being careful about things like the little globs of toothpaste is a good idea, but both of you will have little habits that disproportionately annoy the other. Some you will train out of each other over time, if the relationship lasts, others will never go no matter how sincerely you try, as far as I can tell from my 25 years of experience. The trick is not to let these petty things get in the way of the relationship

When you get past the early stages you will both work out what gets to each of you. The advice "not to sweat the small stuff" is good, but the point is that the annoyance factor is not entirely rational, so you can't always just pretend that it doesn't get to you. What has worked for me (YMMV of course) is to allow myself to get a bit angry, because that way I get over it faster, BUT, and this is the important part, don't say anything about it, especially not while you are angry -- bring it up nicely later only if absolutely necessary. So, for something like the globs of toothpaste, you swear quietly to yourself for fifteen seconds, wipe up the mess, get in the shower and then forget about it, confident that you have done something equally annoying recently.

Relationships last not because you stop annoying each other, but because you care more about each other and the relationship than you do about the irritating habits, and seen in the big picture those bad habits are trivial and forgivable. The trick is keeping your sense of perspective; you trade tolerance for each other's faults, and gain greatly by the trade.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 1:31 PM on July 7, 2005

Based on my previous experiences:
* State assumptions before you act on them. You'd be amazed how "the right way" differs for people.
* Give space & time for bad days, sad days, grumpy days -- living with someone means they're not going to keep up a front in front of you and realize that it's intimacy, not a sign that something is disasterously wrong
* It's your place too. Talk about what you need/want around the house, but mutually figure out a way to solve needs rather than just having two of everything
* Don't assume all time belongs to you unless otherwise stated
* Let it be known if you're going to be home late, eating out or have plans or etc. so plans to make dinner, etc aren't made
* More planned/structured is better than "we'll figure it out when it comes up" for finances, time, basically everything
* Cut slack and expect slack, but state when you feel slighted. Resentment kills love.

Based on my personal insight:
* The toilet seat only needs to be down when it's dark so no one falls in
* Flowers are ok unless they're an apology or it's Valentines. Plantable flowers are even better, but something Archie McPhee-like is always the coolest
* Don't harass me about my questionable copyright movies and music
* I'm making a bigger deal about the toothpaste than it is. Go ahead and glob away if you need to ;)
posted by Gucky at 1:51 PM on July 7, 2005

wow... I don't have much to add but just want to put in one comment to balance out things a bit, that it's not necessarily that enormously complicated. The one person I ever lived with happened kind of by accident (I needed to find a new place anyway, was just going to stay for a few weeks... etc) which I wouldn't recommend in general, but only because it made the relationship by default more serious - the actual living together was never really any more complicated than dealing with roommates, or non-cohabitating lovers, or whatever.

Likewise, my sister moved in with her boyfriend just by endlessly staying over at his place, until they got a new place together, and that also was not more complicated than just going out to start with. Like anything, it's a question of how you get along, how well you communicate, etc.

I know you're looking for actual advice on how to deal with worst case scenarios, etc, & I'm sure this is all useful advice, but also just keep in mind, it's just sharing more of your life with this person, so it's all about how you relate to this person to start with. Relax, communicate, be aware, make an effort to make things better for them, and appreciate what they do to make things better for you.
posted by mdn at 2:02 PM on July 7, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks, everybody! Lots of great advice.
posted by eschatfische at 3:23 PM on July 7, 2005

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