As a young girl, I was always warned about guys, and why would they “buy the cow when they can get the milk for free?” Fair enough, but on the other hand, wouldn’t you test drive a car before buying it? Shacking up is a great way to figure out whether in fact you are good roommates, even though it is not a perfect indicator of success.
When you are dating, you are presenting your best self, and while you each have your own place to escape to, it is easy to only show up when all is good. But when you live with someone 24/7 things can (and do) drastically change. All of a sudden you are forced to share the same space both in good and bad times– there is no separate abode to retreat to after you have had a quarrel. You will also have to coordinate your social time, either together or apart, and there is no avoiding money talks once you are under one roof because you need to be on the same page about joint expenses and money management.
I think it is important and wise to live together for at least a year before tying the knot to make sure you are aligned with your core values. Luckily, “living in sin” now is much more acceptable than it was 40 years ago when I was a kid, although this can be tricky for older couples that have children from a prior relationship because you really don’t want to drag kids into some social experiment that may not work out. When there are kids in the mix, I would discourage shacking up with another person until you are engaged, and I’d highly recommend discussing a cohabitation agreement to have clarity up front as to the payment of household bills, rights and interests to joint property, and what happens in the event things unravel.
When you are young and single, it’s okay to take a chance, play house, and see how it all pans out. But, if you have little ones, it’s important to recognize that they are more fragile, and some really hate roller coasters, so it simply isn’t possible to take as many chances so you need to carefully weigh the pros and cons of a family merger well before you ever move in with someone.
In the end, I think the choice to shack up is a very personal one, and it really depends on the situation. I don’t see much of the downside when you are single, except that the refrain is true– why would anyone buy the cow when they can get the milk for free? Perhaps having a time limit of how long you are willing to play house would be a wise thing to do, and always be prepared to walk away if things are horrible, especially if you have kids.
By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.