It’s no secret that, for Millennials in relationships, cohabitation is sort of the norm. It makes financial sense (why not split the rent?!), it makes spending time with a significant other much easier, and perhaps most importantly, it’s a way for many couples out there to get a trial run in before committing to marriage.
But here’s the thing about moving in with a significant other: If the relationship doesn’t pan out, things can get messy. Case in point: The stories of these people, all of whom moved in with romantic partners…and then broke up. Here’s what their experiences looked like.
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How long did you date before moving in?
Katie: Less than two weeks! I went out one night, unhappy with my current dating situation, and met him. We hit it off immediately and were immediately inseparable. He was living with roommates and I had a one-bedroom apartment and, after about a week, he was essentially living with me (key and all). When my lease ended two months later, we moved into a house together with a roommate and then another house with just us and our two dogs for 2.5 years.
Dee: We dated for two years before moving in together.
Megan: We dated for 7 months before moving in together
Sayzie: Three years.
How long did you live together?
Katie: We lived together for four years.
Dee: We lived together for two years, and got engaged a year into living together.
Megan: Just about 18 months.
Sayzie: We lived together full time for a year. Then he was awarded an academic fellowship in another state, so we visited one another during the academic year and he would come home for 3 and a half months in the summer. Then we lived together again for a year and a half before breaking up.
What were your primary reasons for moving in?
Katie: In retrospect, I was just happy to have found someone that was as into me as I was him. I didn’t want it to fall apart so I jumped to the next step as fast as I could.
Dee: It was a step forward in our relationship, though in hindsight I was pushing it along a bit more than he was.
Megan: I was leaving our hometown for law school and didn’t really want to be alone or want a roommate I didn’t know, he was looking for grad school programs and decided to apply to one in the same town where my school was. Looking back it was more convenience than romance, but at the time I told myself this was the first step on the path to forever.
Sayzie: Initially, we decided not to live together until we married. We figured if we had the rest of our lives together, then why rush things? Then we were both moving to another state for my graduate program, and we were both in the second half of our twenties, and it seemed silly not to. Really, we were just excited to live together and start this new chapter of our lives together, so we did it.
Do you think cohabitation played a role in your break up?
Katie: If anything, it was responsible for keeping us together. It’s much tougher to break up when you’re living together. There’s nowhere for you to retreat to, so you’re forced to work through issues rather than having time apart to reflect.
Dee: No, living together didn’t play a role in our breakup, though it did help highlight some issues between us—-which I consider a good thing, actually! Better we broke up before getting married than after. Overall though, we were actually great friends and roommates, just not great romantic partners.
Megan: No. I think living together only made our fundamental differences come to light sooner. We wouldn’t have worked out, we just were too different.
Sayzie: No, I don’t. But I think it forced us to ask the question of whether we wanted to cohabitate for the rest of our lives given our obvious differences–but those differences were exacerbated by distance rather than by living together.
Would you be more cautious about moving in with a partner again?
Katie: I wouldn’t jump into another living situation so quickly, that’s for sure. However, I would never consider marrying someone without having first lived with them. I remember a friend of mine went that route and two months after the wedding they were running into all sorts of issues – what to do with his college junk, his furniture, his cleaning style (or lack of), etc.When you live with someone, you get to know them much more intimately. Maybe this is because you try to be on your best behavior when dating someone and that’s impossible to do around the clock. Eventually the real person seeps in and you get to know, love or hate him.
Dee: If you asked me a few weeks or months after the breakup, I would have said absolutely yes. Now, I’m on the fence. Part of me wants to be more cautious, but if I want to live with a partner in the future, I don’t think delaying that step will make the relationship any stronger.
Megan: No way! My mom always told me it was vital to live with someone before even thinking about marrying them so I knew who they really were, and I totally agree. In fact, my next boyfriend moved in after we had been dating 7 months too, and we ended up married.
Do you think the fact that you lived together made the breakup harder/more complicated?
Katie: Absolutely. I found out he had cheated on me and, after trying to forgive and forget for almost a year, it was clear that wasn’t going to happen (bye, Felicia!). We had two dogs together that I would keep (wasn’t even a discussion, he didn’t want them – sweet, right?), but that made finding a new place incredibly difficult because my salary just couldn’t cut it. So, I had to quit my job and move home (500 miles north) with my parents. I think people don’t realize the grieving that can come with these changes, but it was the death of my relationship and the future I envisioned together. As dramatic as that sounds, it was difficult.
Dee: In a way, living together made the breakup more painful—-coming home from work and seeing your ex on the couch for a month makes it pretty hard to get them out of your head. But we also took the opportunity to show each other kindness and generosity during that time, which I think helped us leave the relationship thinking highly of the other. After a few days of giving each other the silent treatment, we just decided to be friendly and live together as roommates until we could move out. We even helped each other pack and move into our new places.
Megan: Absolutely! Having to divide up furniture we had purchased and figure out the dirty details of our shared finances got ugly, and destroyed any chance we ever had at staying friends post-breakup. In fact, he’s the only partner I’ve ever lived with besides my husband and the only one I’m not on good terms with, and I sometimes wonder if the fact that we lived together is why.
Sayzie: Definitely. Because we were so much a part of each other’s daily lives, we had to accustom ourselves to the absence of all the little things we lost in the breakup as well as the loss of the romantic relationship. It was devastating.
Did one of you move out? If so, how did you decide who would leave and how was the move handled?
Katie: He left the house for two months so I could pack and move. It was heart breaking for both of us. He stayed in the area for another year before moving back to Oregon.
Dee: We both moved out. Financially, I could have afforded to stay there myself, but I wanted a change of scenery.
Megan: He moved out, because I still had 2 years of law school left and he was done with his program. One of our issues was how homesick he was, so he was more than happy to move home to be with his mom. I was there when he came to get his stuff, he and a mutual friend of ours, but we started to fight. I wish I had left the apartment and gave him some space.
Sayzie: He moved out. We discussed it, but it wasn’t really a question. I loved the apartment and was much more attached to it and to the location than he was, and I simply had a lot more stuff. Also, he wasn’t prepared to take our cats, and they needed a home. He left his belongings there for months while he sublet a room elsewhere, and he moved them out months later, when he had a place of his own. Within three months, though, I also moved out. Not only was it too painful to stay in the place where we thought we were officially beginning our life together, it was too expensive for me to afford alone. In fact, the whole city was too expensive for me as a single person, so I ended up moving back across the country.
What advice would you give someone who is on the fence about moving in with a partner based on your experience?
Katie: If they are thinking that the relationship may go to the next step (marriage), then absolutely go for it. The only regret I have is not leaving sooner, so I would recommend that she doesn’t convolute her ideals with reality. Moving out is still an easier and more economic option than divorce.
Dee: Make sure both of you are on the same page about what the move means for your relationship. Are you moving in together to save money on rent, or do you see this as a step toward marriage or lifelong commitment? If either of you are hesitating, why? Have those hard conversations before you make the decision to live together, not after.
Megan: If you feel like they could be the one, bite the bullet and make them your live-in. If a relationship is meant to end in a breakup, then it will fall apart whether you move in together or not. You’re not ruining a good thing by moving in together, you’re either moving on to the next stage or it’s going to push your issues to the forefront, and then you’ll be better off anyway because you’ll know they were never the right one.
Sayzie: It’s not really about how much you love the person. Be sure that you’re both in it with the same level of commitment you would have if you were getting married. Be sure you’re both ready and sure that you want to build the rest of your life with this person and vice versa. Be sure you know that you can live with the other person’s flaws without it adversely affecting your own well being.