Shacking Up: The Smart Girl's Guide to Living in Sin Without Getting Burned
By Stacy Whitman, Wynne Whitman
Moving In Too Fast
Let's begin with the fact that some people shack up without giving it a whole lot of thought. Not you, of course. We're talking about all those other twenty- and thirtysomethings who jump into their live-in relationships within a few months or even weeks of dating. What the heck are they thinking? In many cases, they're not. Some are blinded by love, so they dive in without the blink of an eye. Others figure that shacking up isn't a big deal and can be easily undone (a.k.a. "you can always move out"). Still others rush the decision because of extenuating circumstances-perhaps one or both is relocating and it doesn't make sense to get two apartments. In any event, when they set up house, they don't always know their new roomies well enough or have a deep level of trust.
Certainly, you don't need a ring on your finger to be 100 percent devoted to your partner. However, it's fairly safe to say that a large number of shacking-up couples aren't fully committed to their relationships. Think about it: The reason many of us live together is because we're not prepared to make the type of commitment that we traditionally associate with marriage. Some of us aren't ready for or interested in that kind of legally binding relationship. We're not completely sure about what we want, so we choose to take a wait-and-see approach and keep the legal system out of it.
Needless to say, all of this uncertainty about "tomorrow" can really work against us. First of all, it can make us feel flustered and insecure and totally neurotic. We may question our mate's feelings about us or worry that they'll walk out if things don't go perfectly. Thus, we may not make our relationships a top priority or have the gumption to work through our problems. "Couples without a strong commitment tend to be less tolerant of their differences," says David Steele, a relationship coach in San Jose, California. "They often don't realize how much work a relationship takes. They think. 'It should just work, right?' If they're not getting along, they're apt to think something's wrong with their partner or their relationship. If your attitude is one of commitment, there are no exits. You're going to work things out no matter what. It's a very different attitude than 'If it doesn't feel good, I'm gone.'"
These question marks about the future can also weigh heavily on our loved ones. Take your mom and dad, for example. They may be concerned about the "impermanence" of your shacking-up relationship. (This is the main argument we got from our own folks.) They're apt to wonder where your "friendship" is going and whether it will end in matrimony. Even if you and your mate are very committed to each other, your family members and others may not see your relationship as a long-term thing. As a result, they may treat your partner more like a flash in the pan than a future family member.
Of course, some of you may have hip, open-minded parents who would be fully supportive of your move-in decision. Lucky girls! Hut for those of you whose near and dear ones are decidedly unenthused about it, even if you think their disapproval doesn't matter, you may find that it takes a psychological toll. "It's hard enough to build a relationship without having family members nay-saying or causing problems," says our friend Tricia, who shacked up a few weeks ago, to her mother s dismay. First, you may have to deal with constant negativity or pangs of guilt. Second, you could lose a valuable source of support. This may not be a problem when you and your beau are happy and hitting it off. Hut when you're annoying each other or duking it out, you may find yourself questioning your relationship or feeling isolated and lonely.
Just ask Nadine, thirty-three, of Miami. Her parents are very traditional and. as she puts it, the shacking-up concept didn't register on their mental radars. When she told them she was moving in with her boyfriend, Ed. they were very upset and tried to talk her out of it. "I felt terrible, but I knew living with Ed was the right move for me," Nadine says. "So I went for it." A year later, Nadine says her live-in relationship is going strong but her folks are still acting distant. "They barely ever ask about Ed, almost like they're trying to pretend he doesn't exist. There's always an undertone of 'You're doing something wrong.' It makes me feel like I can't be myself around them. I don't feel like I can talk about Ed or tell them what's really going on in my life. It makes me sad."
Married or unmarried, none of us know exactly what to expect when we cross the threshold for the first time. But unlike matrimony, there are no unspoken rules or codes of behavior for living together. "While we may not have the same view about marriage, we often have assumptions about what the commitment means and what our rights and responsibilities are," says Nock, author of the book Marriage in Men's Lives. "But with cohabitation, there aren't any norms, laws, traditions, or conventional assumptions that can ho made." Generations of women haven't shacked up before us, so we can't look to our elders for reassurance or guidance. When it comes to figuring out the dynamics of this living together stuff, we're more or less on our own.
For some of us, shacking up can be a gray area that's vague and undefined. With so much ambiguity, we're not always sure how to behave. At times, you may feel like a wife, but you're still wearing the "girlfriend" title. Like our friend Liz, some of you may find yourselves walking on eggshells or wondering how many liberties to take. "When Kevin and I moved in together, he said that he thought our relationship was moving toward marriage," Liz explains. "I knew I wanted to marry him. But I couldn't quite assume that's what would end up happening. So I didn't feel like I could say everything that was on my mind. I couldn't say, 'Should we spend Christmas with your family or miner' or 'Honey, what room will we put the kids in?' As much as I wanted to be confident about the future, I didn't want to assume something and then be proven wrong."