To cohabit or to marry...or not...
December 6, 2012 8:45 AM   Subscribe

For people who were/are in a long-term relationship, what were your reasons for cohabiting or choosing that over marriage? Was the former a path leading to the latter? Or were the two independent choices and you picked one over the other- and why? If you chose one over the other, did things turn out the way you expected or otherwise? Basically, I am interested in knowing why people who cohabit actively choose that, over marriage, if thats also an option. Did the results corroborate the premise?
posted by xm to Human Relations (60 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Truthfully? I cohabited for two years in my early thirties, when what I really wanted deep down was to be married. Only, not to him, as it turned out. And I was too cowardly to admit it to myself, let alone to him, and too insecure to call it off and be alone.

As someone who believes in marriage, I feel that cohabiting for years without marrying is, for myself (no comment on anybody else), a wishy-washy option. I won't be doing it again.
posted by Salamander at 8:51 AM on December 6, 2012 [5 favorites]

(NB: This only concerns heterosexual couples.)

I (think) I only know one couple that did not cohabitate before marriage, and they have a wonderful marriage, but they are both very unique people in a very unique situation that extrapolating it on a general basis is pointless.

Other than that, past having to cohabitate out of necessity, in my peer group it was almost always either the prelude to marriage, or the prelude to a breakup because one half of the couple thought it was the prelude to marriage and the other one did not. In fact, if you go through AskMe about dating advice for people past their mid-20s, you'll see a common thread of "if you're moving in together without planning to get married, and have not actively agreed to not get married, you're in for some deep shit down the line." I've yet to see that not resolve in exactly that fashion.
posted by griphus at 8:52 AM on December 6, 2012 [23 favorites]

I'm maybe not a good person to answer this as I am engaged to him and we're getting married next year, but when the decision was made that I was going to move in with my then boyfriend/now fiance, the decision was based on:
1. Finances: I was hardly spending any time in my own apartment and it seemed like a gigantic waste of money to pay rent for a place I wasn't using. Also, cost savings since now all bills were split.
2. Convenience: It was easier to just live with him instead of us always driving back and forth.
3. Love: We both just really loved each other and wanted to spend all our time together. Always going to sleep with him and always waking up beside him is god damned fantastic. Being able to call things "ours" makes me happy, and building a home together (with or without marriage) has been a wonderful experience.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 8:53 AM on December 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

I've lived with one gentleman for two years and another for three. In both cases, I loved them very much and assumed our lives would go one together beautifully and we'd eventually get married.

The fact that I was so, incredibly, laughably wrong about that makes me certain that

A) I am in absolutely no hurry to move in with anyone. (I have been with my boyfriend 1.5 years and it is not on the table)

B) I think of marriage like eating at McDonald's-a decision I may make someday in a moment of weakness to appease my base instincts and desires over better judgement, that will end in regret.

If I live with somebody for 10 years and still think they're the bee's knees, maaaaybe, but until then, why make the inevitable breakup process that much worse?

An Obvious Product of Divorced Parents
posted by Juliet Banana at 8:57 AM on December 6, 2012 [8 favorites]

Both times I have done this, finances were a primary reason. Also as PuppetMcSockerson said, we were spending all our time together anyway.

I lived with my ex for 3 years before we were married. We ignored all the red flags, and were divorced 4 years later. I basically forced him into marriage. (not proud of any of that)

I have been living with Mr. Getawaysticks for 7.5 years. We have been common law married for 7. I would like to be "really" married, but I don't know if it's worth the trouble since we're already legally married.
posted by getawaysticks at 9:00 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm a big fan of cohabiting. We are now married. I had one long-term cohabiting relationship before this one.

Reasons I have been in favor of cohabiting:
  • Being more sure that the person I was waking up next to really wanted to be there
  • Not promoting conventional social models of relationships (ie: why do we assume adult family structures need to consist of one man and one woman?)
  • Messing with the squares
  • Letting us, individually, grow in our own paths and go our own way if our individual needs took us in separate directions, not assuming that we're going to continue to grow in lock-step for the rest of our lives
Reason we're now married: We wanted to buy a house, and provide a little more shared long-term economic stability, and marriage was the easiest way to build those legal structures.
posted by straw at 9:01 AM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

There can be a significant US income tax penalty for marriage. If you look at the tax rates here, a married person moves into the upper tax brackets at lower incomes compared to a single person. This acts as a disincentive for a couple to marry if they both make a good income, though I think it favors marriage when there is an income disparity between the couple.
posted by exogenous at 9:04 AM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I wanted to cohabitate because we were both in complicated financial situations, through student debt, illness in the family, divorce and inheritance. It wasn't so much unequal, as uncertain on both sides, and not looking like it was going to get resolved soon. Huge financial disparity would be another reason, I imagine.

I also had been married, and having that experience again was not a priority.
posted by BibiRose at 9:05 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was in a long-term relationship with my partner for 10 years, cohabiting 7 of those. Then we got married and have been married for a year and a half. For a long time, I was opposed to marriage for philosophical reasons (part resentment of letting someone else have authority over the legitimacy of my relationship, part feeling like it was intellectually dishonest to say "forever" to anything). To be honest, cohabiting and marriage don't feel that different to me - before we were married we bought a house together, and we made sure we were on the same page as to the important issues (finances, kids, pets, lifestyle). We were always planning a life together, even if it didn't include marriage.

I'm not sure I could tell you in so many words why I ultimately chose marriage (my partner was always willing to get married but also wasn't pressuring - she said "I want a 10 year anniversary party or a wedding, let me know which one I should plan"). Partly legal reasons (we are both women but live in a state where we can get married). Partly family reasons. Partly because I felt that my partner deserved commitment from me. But mostly just because it felt right. And still does feel right.
posted by marginaliana at 9:06 AM on December 6, 2012 [7 favorites]

I tend to do it before considering marriage, though I am not married yet. Things ended but all for different reasons and I don't think cohabitation was part of it.

I think of cohabitation as a trial run for marriage, in my case - an acid test to see if there are any little ways in which we drive each other crazy so we can figure that out while we're still able to break up without asking the state for permission.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:07 AM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Moving in with someone, married or not, with an assumed agenda is pretty much always going to end in tears and disaster, whether it's who's getting married or who is doing the dishes.

I have lived with a boyfriend without any expectation that we'd get married, or indeed without any expectation that our relationship would survive our early adulthood. We were happy together but clearly did not have compatible long term goals. On the other hand, we were like 22 and neither of us was particularly anxious to thrash on with those goals. It was cost effective, we spent all our time together so it was practical, and cohabitation is social currency.

The social advantages come from the fact that if you're living together, people rate your relationship as more serious than they do if you are not living together, even if you've been not living together for 10 years. I can get away with only inviting Juliet Banana to my wedding, but if she's shacked up with Love Boy, it would flat out be rude not to invite them as a couple.

PS: You know there is a huge amount of readily available social research around cohabitation and marriage, yes?
posted by DarlingBri at 9:08 AM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I cohabited with several of the men I dated, out of convenience. Typical for those, as well as several of my friends' relationships: couple has been dating about a year, in grad school or with a job with major commitments that made scheduling difficult, neither with a major income. Thus, most socialization (with each other, as well as with friends) happened at home, rather than "going out". If most of your time together is at one person's apartment, it stops feeling necessary to keep two apartments.

However, in such a situation, there was a pending date (graduation, or end of residency/post-doc/jobcontract) at which one person was going to have a major life change. Usually moving in happened when that date was >1 year out, and by the time that date was <4 months out, the couple was either broken up, engaged, married, or were prepared to just quietly end the relationship when one moved out.
posted by aimedwander at 9:09 AM on December 6, 2012

Oh, hell, I lost a whole long answer. Short version: Two totally separate discussions.

We never had any intent of getting married; still don't, although we may give in and do it for paperwork reasons someday. He's indifferent and I'm philosophically opposed, so we're in no hurry.

Cohabitating was not a huge decision. After a couple of years when we were spending all our time together anyway, leases were up and it felt like "Hey, we love each other, we like each other, let's see if we can live together without strangling each other." It felt like an experiment; if it hadn't worked, maybe we'd have stayed together and lived separately, or maybe we'd have broken up, and we wanted to see how that would work and have the fun and joy of even more time spent together.

The big decision was a few years after that when we decided to buy a house together. That felt way more like the marriage decision might for other people - the "Oh, hey, we're talking about entering into a commitmentment for 30 years, with major ramifications if one of us breaks it. Let's seriously think right now about whether we're both in this forever." It felt like the most grown-up thing I'll ever do, with no plans to marry or reproduce. It was big and scary and wonderful and I'm so glad we did it.

We might get married at some point to make some legal things easier, if I ever decide the ease of paperwork and financial savings outweight my philosophical objections. We almost did it this summer when money was tight and being married would have avoided several months of COBRA payments. If we do it feels like it'd be tying up loose ends on the current reality that already is our partnership and lives together. We talk about it once in a while; if we do it we'll do it quietly, no fuss, no muss, no parties, no whatever.
posted by Stacey at 9:14 AM on December 6, 2012 [5 favorites]

My husband and I cohabitated after college for several years before getting married. The primary spur was financial due to relocation. The reason we didn't get married is that we weren't ready to get married yet. We were too young. We both knew that. I didn't really even want to get married. I did have a powerful want to get engaged for a while though. Then after a while we were ready.
posted by bq at 9:21 AM on December 6, 2012

Older couple here, cohabiting.

GF says marriage is for making babies, we are past that. I say marriage is for medical decisions in the case of catastrophic events.

We are totally committed to each other and have lost no devotion over the years. Neither of us has a belief in God, so it's not like we have to give him a shout out as to our love.

Until health issues arise, and they will, we are content. I keep telling her I'm a DNR guy ( and my Mom so hopefully no issues there) but this is a deliberate decision on her part not to participate in the convention of marriage.

I figure IF we do have a falling out all will go more smoothly without the legalities and costs of separation. But you never escape the feeling that your SO is always eyeing the exit.
posted by Max Power at 9:28 AM on December 6, 2012

I would also like to point out that you do not need to be cohabitating to be married, and in fact I know several couples who are married and have never lived together. One of them is raising a delightful child who happens to have a bedroom and an Xbox in two houses.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:29 AM on December 6, 2012

We wound up cohabiting because I was moving to another state, she had no place to go, we were sort of a thing, and I said, "Hey, want to come with?" Marriage was never really a thing either of us was after in the first place. The only reason we got married was I was moving overseas and it was the easiest way to get her a visa, otherwise we were completely content as a couple and the only real benefits were the (admittedly nice) tax and insurance breaks and making things easier legally speaking. But we're not religious at all.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:31 AM on December 6, 2012

My wife and I cohabitated before we got married, but this was primarily because we were in a long-distance relationship before that, and it just seemed silly for her to waste money on a place of her own after moving literally across the country to be here. We both wanted to get married eventually, so living together was a prelude to that. We got engaged about a year after she moved in, and have now been married for a little over a year.
posted by kindall at 9:33 AM on December 6, 2012

My boyfriend and I have lived together for two years--we've been together for four. We moved in together because we are very much on the same page about marriage being our end-goal with each-other and we both think that you should live with someone before you get married to make sure you CAN actually live together. You get a much better picture of someone when you're co-habitating (it's a lot easier to hide bad habits/behavior and potential deal-breakers when you don't see each other 24/7, for one) and we'd rather find out if there are things we just can't live with before making the commitment to marriage (something we both take extremely seriously and would not walk away from unless there was a major, life-shattering issue).

For what it's worth, we had the chance to move in together about six months before we did and we passed on that opportunity because 1) even though we thought we loved each other it enough to take the next step, the prime reason would have been necessity (our respective roommate situations were ending so it would have 'made sense' to just move in together), and 2) I had never lived on my own and since we were already talking long-term/marriage stuff, I knew that was something I definitely wanted to do before settling down with someone--I knew if I went right from a roommate to him, the guy I'm quite certain I will end up married to, I would always kind of kick myself for missing out on whatever self-discovery/freedom that comes with living alone. So I lived on my own for a while and he found a new roommate and ultimately we DID move in together, and neither of us has ever regretted delaying the decision--when the time came we both felt 100% ready for it and we've been very happy ever since. (It actually worked out really well because I eventually replaced his new roommate in that apartment of his, and now we always talk about how we never would have ended up with our wonderful apartment if we'd moved in somewhere else at that first opportunity.)
posted by lovableiago at 9:34 AM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I moved in with my boyfriend because I loved him and wanted to live with him. Marriage was never on my to-do list of expected life activities, and the idea of marrying somebody I'd only known for a year -- no matter how much I loved him -- would have seemed alien and maybe a little foolish. I had no doubts about my love, but I had also limited experience with love and did not know what would happen or how we might change and our relationship might evolve. We read "Unmarried to Each Other" first, which helped us identify potential pitfalls and legal issues associated with non-matrimonial cohabitation. It took time and practice for us to learn to live together and for our love to deepen, but gradually I came to know deep in my heart that he was the man I was likely to be with for the rest of my life, and he came to feel the same way about me.

Eventually, we decided to get married. To me, at least, the marriage was a mostly symbolic act. We had grown into a unit years earlier, and by formally wedding one another we were displaying to the world (and our grandparents) what we already knew about ourselves and our relationship. It was also a little bit about peer pressure, since more and more of our friends were getting married, and about wanting to have a big party that loved ones would travel long distances to attend.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 9:45 AM on December 6, 2012

I did not want to cohabitate before getting engaged. My promise to myself was that up until he was ready to make a serious commitment to me, I would continue making decisions for one person, not for the relationship. (I was ready to commit for a long time before he was). So I was living and working in another city. When we decided to get married, we rearranged our lives to cohabitate.

I did not want to rearrange my life and intertwine finances for it to end in a few years. (Of course, it's not like we are immune from divorce, but I did want the reassurance of something more permanent before we combined our lives).
posted by murfed13 at 9:47 AM on December 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

26 years ago my (now) wife said to me, after living together for 2-3 years, either marry me or move out. I moved out and soon realized this was the woman to who I wanted to be married. We were soon married. Several years ago in a casual and friendly discussion she said--I don't know why people get married--people should just live together. I disagreed. Over a period on months/years this came up off and on in friendly conversations among ourselves/friends. Finally I said OK, let's get divorced and just live together. Without missing a beat she said--over my dead body. We continue to be very happily married. No matter how you cut it, rationalize it or explain it. Marriage is marriage and living together is living together. They are fundamentally different legally, economically, culturally but most importantly in terms of an articulated/pubic/sanctioned mutual commitment.
posted by rmhsinc at 9:55 AM on December 6, 2012 [7 favorites]

I used to be staunchly anti-cohabitation, but I've softened up bit in my old age. I think a good rule of thumb is to make sure that you are both on the same page as far as intentions, goals what have you, to avoid nasty misunderstandings or regret down the line.

Anecdotally, I'm on the verge of getting married and have recently moved in with my fiance for the first time. I now wish we'd taken the opportunity to live with each other before we started planning our wedding (but we've been planning to be married for far longer than we've been officially engaged, so there's that.) However, a newlywed friend of mine, who was originally indifferent on cohabitation, wishes she had waited to move in with her husband, so that when they got married it would actually mean starting a new life together, rather than returning to the same apartment, life and routine that they'd had for years. So, YMMV.
posted by sundaydriver at 9:59 AM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've been cohabiting for 14 years this April with no real intention to get married. I do not need it to satisfy society or myself, and cannot be bothered with the paperwork. We have bought houses, travelled, shared lives, are considering a child and in general act like an old married couple, except the wedding/last name change thing.
posted by tatiana131 at 10:00 AM on December 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

We had a lot of discussions about whether to live together or not. He preferred to live together before deciding to be married. I preferred to decide to be married before living together. So while we were at different points in the decision making process, for both of us it was a part of the larger decision to get married.

I guess that the way I see cohabitation (for us) is like the entry of a member state to the EU. There is an interim period where a member state is required to take on certain obligations, make certain assurances, get their economy under control, and meet certain benchmarks before the accession can take place in a smooth and orderly manner.

I was pretty hard-line for a while, and flatly refused to consider starting that process without at least being engaged. But ultimately, there were some factors that I considered which all led me to accept that cohabitation was a good and practical option for us:

1) Finances. Quite the opposite of most people, I would have considered living with someone again (absent marriage) ONLY if finances were NOT an issue. Finances were not an issue for me/us. We were both happily living alone in places we liked and could afford. There was no urgency or need for one of us to be financially dependent on the other.

2) Practicality. It isn't legal for us to marry. So getting all angsty that we are living together without legal or social protection for our relationship rings a little hollow. After all, we can have the loveliest Canadian marriage ever, and it would still amount to a hill of beans here in Texas.

3) Time. We weren't in a rush. We had time to make this decision and make sure that it felt right and like it was forward movement. We decided to move in together in late Spring, with anticipated cohabitation in late Summer. I was keeping my apartment at least until October. That actually gave us a handful of months both before AND after moving in to really make sure it was the right decision.

4) Progress. He underscored that living together and commingling finances was a greater level of commitment on the road toward marriage. Frankly, I love my boyfriend and want to spend the rest of my life with him. If the price of admission is living together before he feels comfortable making that level of commitment, then that is a VERY low price to pay and one that I can afford. I was also confident that living together wouldn't reveal anything weird or undesirable about me or what our life would look like together.

5) Kids. We don't have them, yet. So that particular factor isn't at play right now. But we've discussed the fact that we both want children and want to start working on that part of the equation sooner rather than later, and when we do being married will be a more important issue. Since we're talking about having kids in the near future, that reassures me that this isn't a wandering cohabitation with no real endpoint. We have mutual goals and are working toward them together. I doubt either of us is going to suddenly wake up and realize that this life that we've been building together isn't what we want after all.
posted by jph at 10:08 AM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

My friend in a long-term relationship said: "After spending shitloads of money on divorce lawyers and being ordered to finance the lifestyle of some of my ex's relatives, I'm never getting married again."
posted by Melismata at 10:09 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think a lot of this is to do with upbringing and cultural context. I was brought up that commitment to your partner is the important thing, not some random piece of paper. My parents were quite clear that the only reason they got married (rather than just living together) was because of my mother's parents.

I've been happily cohabiting for a few years. We may get married if there's a financial or legal benefit. Otherwise it's just an expensive way of presenting what is right now a fait accompli in terms of our relationship.

The agreement and understanding is between you and your partner. If you want to get the government and your friends and family involved, hey, why not, but they are totally unnecessary.
posted by Coobeastie at 10:10 AM on December 6, 2012

We moved in together after dating for about 8 months, got married two years after that. As I see it, cohabitation is a necessary prelude to marriage (though marriage is not a necessary outcome of cohabitation). We both needed to figure out if we could live together, if we were on the same page with actually living together as opposed to just dating and hanging out. We knew we were serious going in, but man, there is no way in hell I'd ever consider marrying someone without knowing, intimately, their daily habits/quirks/midnight snacking routine.

As a data point: I only know one couple who did not cohabitate before marriage and they were divorced within six months, in great part because their home-life was incompatible.
posted by lydhre at 10:15 AM on December 6, 2012

My now-husband and I started living together our senior year of college - technically he had a separate room but it was in the same apartment, so it was more of our private living room. When we graduated, it didn't make much sense to move into separate apartments in the same city.

The decision to get married was a completely separate decision, based (for us) mostly on financial factors (he was essentially unemployed, he was getting kicked off his parent's insurance, I didn't want to support him through getting a degree without legal recognition of that support, etc) but of course I can't deny the social benefits of marriage.

If we had decided not to get married, I don't think one of us would have moved out.
posted by muddgirl at 10:15 AM on December 6, 2012

Oh, and another note on cultural context: I'm British and the only people I've ever met who haven't lived together before marriage are very seriously religious. I think it would be considered very strange here to not cohabit before marriage unless there was a religious objection to doing so.
posted by Coobeastie at 10:16 AM on December 6, 2012

I would also add: Our wedding was one of those "by the way, relatives, we're married now" events (there's a longer cooler story, but it only involved a few other people), but even so it has been a challenge to keep people from pushing us into traditional marriage roles, and from having those pressures subtly influence us into doing things at home that make us unhappy.

Society pushes expectations on to the label of "married", and if you're wanting to pick and choose which of those to adopt I've found that it takes conscious efforts to remember that I didn't want to slide into them.
posted by straw at 10:24 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've lived with my (same-sex) partner for a bit over 4 years. We moved in because she had some financial/employment difficulties. We'd probably be married by now, but we're both waiting until she's in a more stable place - she's still recovering from some mental health issues (depression hit her really hard). Not to be a financially stingy litigious freak, but I'm not comfortable mingling our community assets etc in a legally recognizable way until she's in a solidly stable place.
posted by rmd1023 at 10:30 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I moved in with Mr. Nerd nine months after we met.
I wanted to drop out of college, but I didn't want to move back in with my parents. I was only 21, so I wasn't ready to get married. He was in his early 30's and not quite sure about marriage.
He proposed a little over 3 years later while on vacation in Maui, and we quickly eloped. We've been married 12.5 years.
posted by luckynerd at 11:00 AM on December 6, 2012

I think that this is in part a cultural issue. When I left the UK, myself and all my friends and peers tended to cohabit rather than get married, more 'why bother' that anything else. Some of them are now married, but did it quietly and without fuss because they had been together for so long. I don't know if that's still the cultural norm there now, but I assume so.

I have been co-habiting with my SO for 17 years. We have a mortgage and two kids. Neither of us is interested in getting married. He is indifferent, and I am opposed to it for various reasons; but my stance on some of them is softening as I get older and don't care to be such an in-your-face feminist anymore. I am a bit of a contrarian, and the US cultural insistence on everyone getting married definitely riles me up and makes me dig my heels in a bit.
posted by Joh at 11:19 AM on December 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

My mother told me, again and again, that if she had lived with my father before she married him, she never would have married him. That resonated with me.

When my then-boyfriend was looking to move out of his parent's house, it was my mother (surprise, surprise) who suggested that we live together. We had been together for a little over two years at that point and while we were talking about getting married someday, we weren't ready for it quite yet.

He moved in, things went great, and we were engaged a year later, married six months after that. It's been almost 20 years of marriage now and I still think he's awesome.

I'm not sure if I would have been comfortable marrying him before we co-habitated. My parent's marriage made me marriage-shy. I'm glad we lived together first. I will suggest the same to my children when it's time.
posted by cooker girl at 11:25 AM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I cannot comprehend marrying someone without living together first. In almost every case I've seen it results in serious issues because neither of the couple fully understood how the other half lived on a day to day basis. There's a newly wed young woman in my office who only found out after the wedding that her new husband never cleans. Ever. He apparently only cleaned up when she came over and never, ever let her come over if he hadn't cleaned. She is continually stressed and this seems like it will be a long-term issue in their relationship.

Personally, I've cohabited with three men, one for 8 years, one for 5, and my husband of 2 years. My husband and I moved in together a few months after we got engaged and he was the first person that I moved in with because we wanted to live together, rather than a convienence thing. He was also the first person that I actually had the "how will we deal with chores" talk before the first box was packed. We chose an apartment together so neither was moving into the other's turf and made decorating and placement decisions together even though he was going to be moving into the apartment a few months before me.

He was also the only person I've ever lived with that I actually intended to marry. The other two were a result of convienence or financial issues rather than this is a step that will lead to marriage. The 8 year relationship could have possibly resulted in marriage but we were both very, very young when we got together. With the 5, I never really thought of marrying him as a valid life choice.
posted by teleri025 at 11:38 AM on December 6, 2012

I have cohabitated with several people, always out of wanting to and not for convenience/monetary reasons. I am currently married to someone I cohabiated with.

It was a prelude to marriage in both cases only inasmuch as any step in dating was, I guess? I mean it wasn't a particular goal, exactly, but I considered it one more step on that road. I was never sure I wanted to marry someone I was moving in with, and that was, basically, the point. I was sure I wanted to live with them for then at least. I was not sure I wanted to marry them. I would have never, ever married someone who I hadn't lived with first, that was completely not an option, but moving in did not mean I was necessarily going to get married to them. Because I'm a hardcore practicalist, in each case when I moved in with someone we discussed what would happen with our house/finances if we broke up and needed to split it before we moved in, and in the cases that did not lead to marriage that always worked out fine.
posted by brainmouse at 11:41 AM on December 6, 2012

I'm a straight white male, late 30s and cohabitating. I have found and co-habitated with the love of my life... three times now. :/ I wrote and then deleted quick summaries of all three and realized I might be getting into tl;dr and/or off-topic stuff for the question. Each relationship and its lessons has flowed into the next, of course, so I'm not sure how detailed you want answers to be.

My current (hopefully forever) partner was strongly anti-marriage when we first got together, but she has since mellowed on it a bit... but I'm okay either way and there has been no pressure from either of us.

Ultimately: I've come to the conclusion that all relationships -- married or not, monogamous or poly -- work until they don't. I don't look down on marriage and I can see why people value the formal commitment, but on a personal level it's something I don't need. I genuinely don't want my S.O. to be with me if she doesn't want to be here anymore and I expect us both to work on resolving differences or conflicts because we love each other, not because we made a formalized agreement. Something about having the explicit freedom to walk away and choosing not to makes it a little more genuine for me.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 11:46 AM on December 6, 2012 [9 favorites]

Unlike some, I don't think moving together for financial reasons is a good idea. I've seen a lot of people stay in unhappy relationships for a little too long because they can't afford to move out. I've also seen people rush into cohabitation with someone they probably should have broken up with, just to save money on rent. I think it works better if you are living together voluntarily, and are not beholden to each other because of finances.

I, personally, would require a period of cohabitation before getting married. The test-drive approach, so to speak. However, I am careful about moving in prematurely, or with someone I didn't truly see a long-term future with. Thus, I've only lived with one person. I was once in another (younger and stupider) relationship where we were talking about marriage, and he was trying to get me to move in with him, but I held off on doing so because I had a gut feeling that he was secretly a douchebag and that it wasn't going to work out. We did still keep discussing marriage, but I wouldn't move in until, basically, I felt that I would actually want to marry him, even if it would happen in a distant future. I never did, so I didn't.

I think you can have a cohabitating partnership without marriage, and some of the points above point to some valid viewpoints on that - there is a marriage tax penalty, marriage can get really complicated if you have a complex family/business/inheritance situation, and if you are not going to make babies, marriage doesn't obviously seem necessary. I think you can have a real, lifelong partnership with someone who isn't into marriage for those reasons (though, oftentimes, at least some legal docs need to eventually be put in place).

But, something does gnaw on me, and is something that does make me view take the view that cohabitation < marriage: if you are really are serious about staying together until one of you dies, then I think it's risky to be unmarried when you're, like, old. Because of how laws and regulations are written regarding social security payments, disability, inheritance junk, and FMLA, it seems like a bad idea to stay unmarried when you're aging together. I dunno. Assuming I were in a parallel universe, and worked in my last office until I were 50, I would be concerned; they were pretty flexible with leave, but frankly, if my boyfriend had surgery, got into an accident, broke his hip, developed pneumonia, got cancer, etc., I could not take more than a day or two off for take care of him. He would not be my legal spouse, even if we had lived together 20 years, and thus he would not qualify for any of my sick time and personal leave benefits. The thought of him needing help, and me needing to go into work, even though I could be the one to help him, makes me feel kind of horrible, and does make me worry, because health concerns become more frequent as you get older. Maybe that's something to consider.

So - I think you can make those decisions separately. Obviously, you shouldn't move with someone who refuses to ever marry if marriage is one of those dealbreakers. But if you really love someone and want to be with them, you can make those decisions according to how they fit into your relationship, and when they seem to be necessary. And I think you can define your partnership according to what's important to you - I guess the key is being on similar pages, even if your initial definitions differ, and recognizing that if you choose to stay unmarried, but want to be together for the long-term, you are going to have to have discussions like, "who will take care of you if you get sick, and my work won't pay for me to stay home? Your family? A paid nurse? Will I have to quit? How do we feel about that?" as well as a bunch of other logistical conversations about finances and legal scenarios and stuff.
posted by vivid postcard at 11:47 AM on December 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

Because cohabitating is a hell of a lot easier if no kids are on the table for the immediate future.
posted by empath at 11:59 AM on December 6, 2012

My now-husband and I lived together after we'd decided to get married. Before that, including an earlier relationship, I thought it was unwise because breaking up would be a lot harder for a couple living together. I also didn't want to give up my privacy and autonomy over my own apartment for someone I wasn't certain was a keeper. My husband and I have been married 25 years, BTW.
posted by wryly at 12:08 PM on December 6, 2012

Maybe I will end up being single forever, but I had chosen not to live with any of my partners. Especially, now that I am in my 30s and own my condo, I wouldn't want to have someone move into my space. I would want to find a new place together.
posted by parakeetdog at 12:10 PM on December 6, 2012

Where I live, same sex marriage is legal, and common law marriages are legally the same as formal marriages (same rights, same responsibilities). The courts actually count the combined living together/married time when calculating spousal support according to the guideline table. You can get spousal support if you only lived together and the assets are divided equally regardless of if it is legal/coomon law marriage. Living together seems to be the thing to do when you are in your early twenties but by their thirties most people I know have a formal, legal marriage.

I lived alone when I met my now-partner (he was with roommates); I moved back in with my parents for a couple of years to save money. We signed paperwork that we were common-law (we actually weren't but we were together most nights) so he could get my health insurance benefits. He moved in with us a few months before I gave birth in order to save money and we moved into our own apartment when the baby was five months old and we had been married a couple of months. I actually felt "married" long before the ceremony, it was just a party for friends and family.
posted by saucysault at 12:23 PM on December 6, 2012

Partner and I moved in together when we were 23 and 22 respectively and since I'm about to turn 34, that means we have been cohabitating for nearly twelve years. We decided to start sharing an apartment mainly because (a) it would make it easier to network our computers together and (b) I was basically sleeping over at his place every other night anyway, and both of us were beginning to feel a little weird about me being That Girlfriend Who Never Goes Home.

Anyhow, over the years of our cohabitation thus far, marriage has come up a few times, but it's mostly been other people (like my nosy younger sister!) broaching the subject. In our case, it's not so much that we object actively to being's more that we haven't so far felt like it was important enough to actually go through with. Neither of us is religious, we both have jobs via which we currently have health insurance, and we don't have kids. And as we're both quite introverted, neither of us likes a lot of fuss or attention (which we'd likely attract no matter whether we had a wedding involving actual guests or whether we did the "courthouse" thing).

So, in short, we haven't chosen NOT to get married so much as not bothered getting married. Currently we own a house together and have 4 cats so it's not a commitment-phobia thing on anyone's part. It's just one of those situations where time has gone by REALLY fast and neither of us has felt sufficiently motivated to prioritize "getting married" over other activties that take a lot of bandwidth, e.g., home-improvement projects.
posted by aecorwin at 12:32 PM on December 6, 2012

We lived together for about 4.5 years and had a 3 year old child when we married: at the courthouse, with the couple in front of us in line as our witnesses and we as theirs. It was for practical reasons (we've bought and sold cars and a house together, had two add'l children), and although I never saw myself getting married when I was in my late twenties, I'm certainly not sorry we did. They were decisions made for utterly different reasons and, really, in utterly different situations for each/both of us.

She kept her name, I kept mine; the kids are hyphenated.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 12:51 PM on December 6, 2012

We've been together for 13 years, cohabitating for 6 of those years, and we own one house, and have two cats and one baby. At earlier points in our relationship I was rather anti-marriage, mostly because I never saw myself as someone who would get married in her twenties, and I'm sure I made various down-with-patriarchy arguments against it. Now that my twenties are a fading memory, we mostly just haven't gotten married out of, I guess, laziness? There seems to be no advantage to doing so. We're in Canada, and as far as I can tell there is no monetary/tax benefit to marriage as opposed to cohabitation. We both like attending weddings, but we're deeply practical, unsentimental people. And I especially do not like being the centre of attention, so a big wedding seems rather terrifying. We did have a cohabitation agreement drawn up when we bought a house together.

Most people assume we are married, and sometimes I even forget we're not. Also, once we had a baby, all pressure from relatives to get married ended. Occasionally, friends will bug us to have a wedding, but they just want an excuse for a big party, I think.

Maybe in the future we'll get married (I think there's some sort of capital gains tax thing that we might need to take advantage of at some point?), but it's definitely not on the top of the to-do list.
posted by raxast at 1:22 PM on December 6, 2012

My partner and I were not intending to get married when we bought our house, so buying the house was that demonstration of commitment to each other. And it really just made sense -- I'd been effectively living with him for almost two years at that point, so it was easier and cheaper all around. We talked about it a lot beforehand -- about what this "meant for our relationship," and "where things were going," agreeing that we both saw this as a permanent decision. We signed a contract about who acquired what portion of the house in the event of a breakup or death.

We ultimately married because I left my job to stay home with our son and start my own business. I needed that legal protection in the event that something happened to my partner (especially as there's no common law marriage in my state). It wasn't a sentimental thing for us; we were already as married as we were ever going to get, but getting it done legally made a lot of things safer and easier for us. Plus, tax benefits, yay!
posted by linettasky at 2:16 PM on December 6, 2012

I have cohabited with two men -- my current fiance and my ex-boyfriend of 3 years.

With the first boyfriend, I was very young (just 21, which seems both an eyeblink and an eon ago). I moved in with him because we were spending most of our time together anyway and it just seemed more convenient. I don't think I thought about marriage seriously at the time, though I thought it might happen in some hazy date in the future. I certainly thought I wanted to spend the rest of my life with my then boyfriend. By the time I realized I could not marry him and did not want to spend the rest of my life with him (some 2.5 years later) our lives were thoroughly intertwined and the breakup was extremely messy.

I moved in with my fiance only in August of this year. We've been in a relationship since May of last year and he asked me to marry him at the end of October of this year. A fast schedule for most people, but we actually went through a series of considered careful decisions. I can see much more clearly why this guy is right for me, not just because we love each other, but because we are good for each other in many different ways. I didn't want to cohabit unless we were fairly sure we wanted to get married, because I remember how messy it was the last time.

I guess I have always assumed that I would get married at some point but I was willing to take my own time about getting to that point. I come from a culture (Indian) where most people do marry, so there was definitely that cultural influence steering me in that direction. On the other hand, I've always been a feminist and definitely rejected the notion that one needs to marry to have a complete life. If I found the right guy, then fine, but I wasn't going to sit around moping if that didn't happen. I also was quite clear that I wanted to cohabit before marriage, something that Indian culture definitely frowns on. With my first relationship I did not tell my parents that I was cohabiting, which was really tough on me. With this one, my fiance insisted that we tell, which I am extremely happy about, because they took it much better than I expected.

I don't think I have the same negative feelings about marriage that some here have expressed. My parents have an extremely loving and egalitarian marriage so I think I've always felt that a marriage is what one makes of it. Yes, society does sometimes try to stuff one into regressive roles, but I know that can be successfully resisted, as I've seen my parents do it. My grandparents have also had long and loving relationships. For me, that fact that it is more difficult to leave a marriage is a feature, not a bug -- I want it to be hard to renege on this commitment, both for me and my future husband, to give us time to think the decision through completely.
posted by peacheater at 2:16 PM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

My boyfriend and I started out as flatmates in a share house. Other friends came and went until eventually it was just us two living together. Nearly 12 years later we've added a dog and a daughter to the mix. Neither of us sees the point of marriage (for us anyway) - we've talked about our commitment to each other and then proven it with our behaviour. Although if either of us did want to get married, we'd do it. We do have separate bedrooms as we don't sleep well together and like to have our spaces. That has always seemed very natural, probably because we started out living together like that.
posted by Wantok at 2:25 PM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

For me, cohabitation is essentially a trial marriage - a step to find out serious compatibility before making a lifetime commitment. However, I will admit to absolutely wincing on the marriage tax - if I didn't love my fiance as much as I did, and didn't value our future marriage as much as I do, I might not be willing to do it. Our taxes are going to go up about 10%.

We could have been married earlier. But I've been married before, and that was a nightmare to get out of, and cost way too much in divorce costs. I don't want to make a mistake again.
posted by corb at 2:33 PM on December 6, 2012

Marriage is to publicly state your love and lifelong commitment in front of God, the state, and the community.

We can't see how the state or community needs to know a damn thing about our private lives, and neither of us believe in god.

A ring and some fancy words don't have anything to do with commitment. Daily actions do.

In other words, none of the things that happen when a couple gets married has anythign to do with the idea of being married. So why get married?
posted by Ookseer at 3:06 PM on December 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

I have been cohabiting with my partner (I am male, she is female) for, um, eight years now? We have a child together, with plans for more, and have upgraded the apartment mortgage to a house mortgage.

We didn't get married for a lot of reasons. Firstly, it seemed kind of an afterthought. After being together for two years we moved in together; we are not religious so no stigma in living together, or pressure to get married there (though there was some pressure from her parents).

Secondly, my partner has a Viet cultural background; there would be a lot of hassle if we had a wedding and didn't invite all sixty kabillion of her relatives and a shitload of her parents' friends. These weddings typically cost 50k or more. We decided a mortgage deposit and holidays was an infinitely better use of that money, and a Viet style wedding full of people I barely (or don't at all) know is basically the antithesis of what I would like in a wedding - indeed, is something I would actively hate.

Thirdly, we live in a country where gay marriage is not legal. My partner and I both are big believers in equality, and she struggles with the idea that she would be "allowed" to have something that other people - just as in love as us - cannot. I do not disagree with that sentiment.

and finally, for me. My parents were married for 27 years, mostly unhappy. My mum was 19 when they were married, and during the course of that marriage I got to see what "marriage" as an institution is worth - jack and shit, basically. If you're not bringing something good into it, and working at something good, the ceremony is basically meaningless. Being married kept by parents together way, way longer than they should have been, and they were both deeply unhappy until they broke up. Upon divorce, my mother has remarried, and my father simply cohabits now.

I'm not anti-marriage - I love going to weddings! But it wasn't right for us, and I don't think it offers any kind of special magic that a healthy relationship doesn't already have. In Australia, cultural expectation is HELL YES you live together before getting married, and the only couple in our peer group that didn't are on the rocks as I speak, cause let's face it, hanging out with someone is pretty different to living with them.
posted by smoke at 3:07 PM on December 6, 2012

You may be interested in this Ted talk about "sliding vs. deciding" which discusses cohabiting from a research perspective, and also cites major studies in the area.
posted by tinymegalo at 3:23 PM on December 6, 2012 [5 favorites]

Your question posits that cohabitation and marriage are alternatives to each other or somehow mutually exclusive. I think they are completely unrelated ideas. We could cohabitate and be unmarried (the option your question seems to assume as an opposite to marriage) or we could marry and cohabitate (the "traditional" method), or we could marry and live separately (less common but I've seen it).

For us, cohabitation was primarily motivated by economies of scale--apartments are less expensive with more people per bedroom. Also, we prefer to see each other every day, so cohabitation was more a convenient way to spend time together.

Whereas marriage is primarily motivated by our desire to have legal and economic benefits, which cohabitation doesn't provide to couples any more than it does to friends who are rooomates. Also, to publicly state our commitment to our community, which I'm also not sure cohabitation provides.
posted by epanalepsis at 6:16 PM on December 6, 2012

I have been married for almost ten years. I lived with my husband for six years before that, five of them in a home we owned together.

I knew he was my forever guy when we bought the house, but we had no immediate plans to marry. I wanted to marry him for sure -- marriage is important to me for cultural reasons -- but I was very young (22) and I had what I can probably most generously describe as a dynamic and dramatic personality, and we both knew that those things needed to change.

My husband was actually very ambivalent about marriage; I finally drew my line because I wanted to have children and he was the one with the great health insurance, plus I felt strongly that I should have a legal commitment to the father of my children. He came around reluctantly at first, but he accepted that this was important to me and by the time our wedding day rolled around he was really excited.

I've never lived with another boyfriend, I met him when I was only 20. I am very, very glad we cohabitated before marriage, there were so many issues we needed to solve before we were good partners for ourselves OR each other that we would have totally swept under the rug. I would strongly recommend to my children that they cohabitate before marriage.
posted by KathrynT at 7:26 PM on December 6, 2012

I live with my guy because I want to live with him. I am not married to him because neither of us have any reason or desire to get married. I mean I literally can not understand why I would possibly want to get married. So I haven't.
posted by emilyw at 6:06 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

My partner and I just celebrated our 12th anniversary, and we've been living together for 11+ of those years. We made the decision to move in together after nearly a year of dating because we'd already pretty much integrated our lives and wanted to do it under one roof, plus the trek of 1-2 hours (depending on traffic and the vagaries of public transit) between his place and mine was getting inconvenient.

Marriage has never been a goal for us and we have no intention to get married. Some people don't believe us, and think that one of us must be secretly holding out for a ring, but we've discussed it several times and our lack of interest in marriage is mutually sincere. The institution of marriage just holds no meaning for us. We're not religious, so we lack that incentive to marry, and we've both seen enough awful marriages and happy unmarried couples that we "marriage" and "happy/successful relationship" have never been correlated in our minds. We're also not interested in having children, so we don't need the legal protections marriage would offer us as parents. And, honestly, neither of us believes that our relationship is any of the government's business (which I know makes us sound kinda wacky, but it's true).

We have our ups and downs but our relationship is still a strong and committed one, and has survived a lot of stress and change and relocation and family tragedy.
posted by rhiannonstone at 5:49 PM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

"Try before you buy"!

To me it makes sense to live together prior to marriage. Moving in together and figuring out how to live together is difficult. Why not do it prior to getting married?

My now-wife and I moved in together because she was in her second year if med school and we hasn't really gotten to see each other much during her first year. We also saved on rent. We'd been dating for about a year and a half at that point.

Haven't regretted it at all.
posted by reddot at 6:05 AM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've lived with 4 partners now.

I didn't live with my husband before we were married- after we got married the living together part was fine... together 5 years... we're still very good friends

Post marriage:

moved in with boyfriend 1- because I hated where I was living and I was in love (it lasted 5 months) the lease was in my name and not his- and when we split up he was extremely abusive, squatted in it, and tried to start a cannabis grow house. Oh god.

Boyfriend 2- moved in with him (lasted a year) because we were in love and for financial reasons, we broke up in the end...but for some reason (see above) I had refused to get on the lease- despite his many attempts to get me on it... so that was no big deal.... I just walked out the door. I'm glad I lived with him, before I lived with him I had wanted to marry him.

New partner- we're really happy and mellow folks, I live in his house (but still refuse to get on the lease)

I guess my answer shows that nothing makes sense!
posted by misspony at 11:32 AM on January 8, 2013

the new mr. pony and I are talking marriage though!
posted by misspony at 11:34 AM on January 8, 2013

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