Cautiously Moving Toward Moving-In Together

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Photo by R. Horning.
Photo by R. Horning

Hey, Al:

So, here’s the situation I hope you can help me with. My boyfriend, “Damien” wants us to move in together. We are in our mid 20s and have been dating for less than a year. He makes me laugh, thinks about my feelings, and I love him. At this point in our lives, moving in together makes practical and financial sense since we spend nearly every night together at my place anyway.

I’m concerned a little because he’s not very good with money (student loans, credit card debt). So I am wondering if the primary motivation for him is mostly monetary, even though I don’t doubt that he loves me by the way we feel about each other. Since I am pretty good at managing money, I think that I could help him get his finances in order if we shared a place.

He lives with a bunch of guys who don’t really take care of the place and it makes him feel that he’s not really an adult in that kind of living situation.  Our lives would be much more organized if we lived together.  Moving in together seems like a good way to find out whether we really have a future together, which I think we do. What do you think?

Up for Moving In Together

Dear Up:

Except for your declaration of love, you’ve described some circumstances that apply to a possible roommate rather than a live-in boyfriend. As a former banker, I always reflexively imagine the worst-case scenario first, especially when someone is described as “not very good with money.”  So, caveat empty (beware of boyfriends with nothing in their wallets).

Even though I know that anticipating a new living arrangement is exciting with someone about whom you can say, “I love him”, I want to ask you to do something:  Try to consider rationally what your future could be like while you still have the freedom to say no to a life that hand-cuffs you as a kind of  “passion’s slave” to someone who can’t master his Mastercard.  Of course you’ll say that the worst case couldn’t possibly apply to you and your cynosure Damien, but let’s try it out just to make sure that you aren’t missing something through your rosey-scenario glasses.

First, before we even get to the advisability of moving in together, what do you mean by, “ I love him”? As an expression that can justify a magic mountain of decisions, it can be slippery slope to disillusion and regret. Looking back I can remember about half of the faces and none of the names of women who had feelings for me and made me laugh but never made me even breathe the “L word.”  Love has to do with a level of understanding, acceptance, and devotion that usually takes a number of years, not months, to reach. The expression from the 60s was, “If it feels good, do it!” but the advice I’d add is, “Just don’t call it love.”

While I’m not against moving in together per se, I am apprehensive about two romantically-involved people doing it when their animating impulse is based upon money or circumstances or, even worse—both. From what you say about Damien’s handling of his finances and his living situation, you have two good reasons to hesitate.  And don’t ever try to “get his finances in order” if you want to “have a future together.” Have him talk to a paid professional.  If you try to do it yourself, you’ll be breaking up before you decide who takes out the trash.

When you say that you’re not sure whether  “the primary motivation for him is mostly monetary”, I think you know or suspect that it is. Living with you would be an obvious, situational improvement for him whether it has any relation to deep emotional attachment to you or not. What should motivate the two of you to share your living space is the recognition that the other person shares your commitment to, as well as your excitement about, the two of you being together.

You say: “Moving in together seems like a good way to find out whether we really have a future together”; but is that really true? It could be if it is a logical, next step in a relationship that has had time to ripen past the first blush of physical attraction and emotional infatuation. However, if you haven’t had time to see and feel the rougher sides of each other’s exterior, you might not know what to make of the interior when it’s bumpy or brittle. And then what do you do?

Living together makes breaking up more complicated and daunting, so most people avoid it even when they know that something isn’t right. They stay together even when they aren’t happy together because the certain and right-now pain of being without someone is worse than the possible and far-off pleasure of being with the right one. Call it “relationship inertia”; it’s almost as powerful as compounding interest. Even though moving in with someone seems to solve a problem emotionally and practically for you now, it will also create new ones later.

In the financial world, we often looked at risk in terms of cost of entry and cost of exit. So put off moving in with Damien for a year, until you’ve both had a chance know more about each other’s feelings and Damien, in particular, knows more about his finances as well.  You lose nothing by waiting, and you might even stipulate that he make a certain amount of financial progress. Even though I’m talking about emotions and not finances, the principle of risk still applies in your case:  Be careful because even if getting in won’t cost you, getting out might break you.

Got questions about life? Love? Parenting? Work? Write to Whit’s End, an advice column by local husband, father, teacher, coach, former executive and former Marine Corps officer Al Whitaker.  Send your questions to [email protected]



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14 COMMENTS

  1. Good advice, Whit. But if she decides to let him in anyway, it’s imperative that they keep all their finances separate!! Agree in advance how much of the rent he should pay (half) and the utilities bills. He should also contribute a certain amount for the groceries, etc. And his share of the housework & laundry should be negotiated in advance. If he can’t stick to this arrangement & proves to be a deadbeat, you’ll find out soon enough. And your love will no doubt turn to hate. (I’ve been there!) Susie Q.

    • Thanks, Susie Q. You make a valuable point about the financial precautions she should take, especially given the caveat empty condition of her boyfriend and the deficient contribution most guys make to household maintenance.

  2. At the risk of sounding like a Whit’s End groupie (oh wait, I think I AM one), I think he hit this one out of the park. And by the way, he hit it out of the park with sensitivity and good humor as always (caveat empty, master his Mastercard, rosey-scenario glasses, and on and on — hilarious). I wish I could make his columns required reading for ALL twenty-somethings. In fact, when is the Whit’s End BOOK coming out? It should be a de rigueur gift for all college graduates, as they begin to navigate adulthood, and then they can pass it on to their kids!

    • Thanks very much, Millicent. You’re pretty good at turning a phrase yourself (am I sounding like a groupie?) Keep reading and commenting!

  3. While living with someone might sound great, you have to be careful that you don’t push things to a point where you stress the relationship too much, too soon. Even aside from the issue of whether the letter writer might be getting taken advantage of, love is fragile, and cohabiting can be stressful. Having moved too quickly in the past myself, I think it’s a good idea not to risk wrecking something that could have been great, given a little more time to grow. The pressures of sharing everything from toilet cleaning to finances can kind of dampen a fairly new couple’s growing appreciation for each other. I see a lot more downside than upside for the writer in moving in with this guy or any guy prematurely, even if he has his act together moneywise.

    • You make a perceptive point, Dude, about not rushing because of the fragile state of the relationship at this point. I really hope the LW can resist the BF’s pressure to move in.

  4. I think what most spoke to me was what the advice seeker was least focused on: the “L word”. Definitely something that comes with time but something we throw around with abandon given what seems like a forever (ie. a few weeks or months) of new romance bliss. The end of the honeymoon stage can kind of sneak up on you without realizing. It’s a test that we don´t really see coming but should definitely pay attention to so as to avoid staying in a relationship that’s no good or not appreciating a good one that we take for granted. The wisdom Whit provides that waiting for a year to move in wouldn’t hurt is exactly that period of testing we should pay attention to. Thanks Whit!

    • Glad it made sense to you, 20 Something. Hope the honeymoon period lasts or at least the end doesn’t catch you snoozing’. Thanks for your comment–keep reading and writing!

  5. As a mother to two daughters 18 and 30 I thought your advice was great. I married a man with lots of debt and no financial savvy. He gladly signed over his pay checks to me seeing I had more aptitude for money management but we did not share a bank account until we had 3 kids and I lost my job.

    • Thanks, planet mom, for your comments, especially the cautionary tale about merging or not merging banking accounts with someone lacking financial savvy.

  6. Al, your response is both kindly and practical. As a father of a daughter myself, and as someone whose counsel on this topic has been sought by younger proteges, I agree with your advice to “Up For Moving In.” It’s so important for her to think–not just feel–carefully about taking such a step, especially if the man in question may not fully embrace adulthood and all that it means. Yours is a keen response.

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