The Truth About Living Together

Continued (page 2 of 5)

At least part of what makes it so hard for engaged couples is the fact that he's your betrothed and not just a bunkmate. When there's a lot of tension in a plain old roommate situation, one or the other can just move out at the end of the lease. Even unengaged romantic couples who move in together have an escape hatch: breaking up. If things don't work out, sure it's painful, but there's not the added ignominy of then sending back the gifts and selling an unused bridal gown on eBay.

But some couples just don't know when to call it quits. "I had always been very judgmental of people who got married when they knew they shouldn't have—people who didn't have the courage to back out of their marriage because the wedding-planning train had left the station and there was no way of stopping it," says Jennifer Shotz of Brooklyn. "They knew, in their heart of hearts, they shouldn't marry this person. Sometimes, the wedding takes on more importance than the marriage." But after moving in with her then-fiancé, Brian Murphy, in spring 2003, Jennifer found herself having a good amount of empathy for people who just couldn't put a stop to all the wedding plans. "There are so many major decisions to be made, so many financial issues to work out, and all kinds of complicated family matters that you're dealing with while adjusting to the fact that you've just moved in together. So I began to question myself, Brian, our relationship, and even the wedding itself," says Jennifer, who eventually was able to put her doubts aside.

Even if you're completely sure about the guy you're marrying, you may still have second thoughts about giving up your individual life and lifestyle. "Moving in together means couples are joining more than just their piles of stuff—they're joining their habits and individual quirks," says Erica Ecker, a professional organizer and owner of The Spacialist in New York City. So, yes, this definitely might mean grit-teethedly enduring his Bubba recliner… or having a judgment-free (more likely judgment-lite) conversation about its (hopeful) eviction from your new home.

While cooperation and compromise are needed for shared space, Sarah found out (after many arguments) how important it is to designate areas of the apartment for each member of the couple. "Someone told me it was crucial to have a space that was mine alone—even if it was just a shelf. I thought, Don't be ridiculous. I'll have more than a shelf. But it's crazy, I didn't." In retrospect, she realizes, "The first thing men do is claim their territory, and I should have been more forceful staking out my space, too, the minute we moved in. Kind of like negotiating for vacation days before you take the new job."

For Alysia Poe of New York City, maintaining separate closets with her fiancé was an excellent start to happier cohabiting—one of those small but crucial ingredients in the marital recipe. "Even though we are sharing almost everything for the first time, we each have a space that's just for us," Alysia says. "We get to keep whatever we just can't throw out. He has seven nautical photos in his closet, and I have a stack of foreign-language novels."

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