Every relationship has its memorable milestones: the first time you kiss, the first time you have sex, the first time you binge Sex Education instead of having sex…. And while some of these milestones can feel pretty low-pressure (what’s a little spit-swapping, really?), others can leave you sweating through your favorite sweater or grinding your pearly whites at night.
An example? Moving in together—because how, exactly, do you know if you’re ready to cohabitate? Is it a matter of how long you’ve been dating? Or whether you’re getting married? Or whether you’re in love? Or whether your leases are conveniently expiring at the exact same time? Of course, different people have completely different priorities, beliefs, and values that help inform this important decision, but talking with several experts made clear that there are some common denominators that point to a romance not quite being ready for roommate status. Plus, there are several questions to ask yourself to help you decide.
First off, take the time to do a bit of self-reflection and decide whether you feel truly ready for this level of commitment. “A very clear ‘no’ that you’re not ready is that you still feel like you want to date others,” says relationship expert Jaime Bronstein, LCSW. [Editor’s note: Open relationships can certainly be healthy, and being in one doesn’t mean you’re not ready to live together. In this case, introspect and make sure that your potential roommate is a partner with whom you are confident you want to enmesh your life.]
“You just need to remind yourself that you have the rest of your life to live with this [person], so there is really no rush.” —Jaime Bronstein, LCSW
And, PS, if you’re not ready, that’s totally okay. After all, cohabitation isn’t a race. “You just need to remind yourself that you have the rest of your life to live with this [person], so there is really no rush,” Bronstein says, adding that the duration of your relationship shouldn’t be a deciding factor, either.
But if you do feel confident about taking that next step, first make sure your S.O. does too (Bronstein warns that pushing the issue when your partner isn’t as gung ho about a shared welcome mat could mean bad news for your relationship). Then, be sure to discuss what living together actually signifies so you can ensure you’re aligned about your expectations.
“Ask questions like, what is the purpose of living together?” advises relationship expert Terri Orbuch, PhD. “What does the future look like for us? Are we doing this for convenience or for taking our relationship to the next step? Is marriage on the table at some point in the future?” Next comes the task of getting on the same page logistically. Dr. Orbuch recommends working through this checklist of topics:
Is one of you in debt? Are you super-skilled at saving money? How will expenses get shared? Do you want to open a joint account, or would you prefer to keep things separate? (These points are crucial: According to a recent Experian survey, 59 percent of divorcees say finances played a role in the breakup of their marriage, so handle the money talk early, regardless of whether nuptials are on the table you’re sharing.)
2. Home maintenance
Are you a cleaner or more so a person who doesn’t care how your living situation looks or feels? Who will do cleaning maintenance (you, your partner, or a commissioned third party)?
Do you like food available in the kitchen (meaning weekly grocery hauls), or are you someone who shops at the spur of the moment for what you need? In cases like these, it’s important to be respectful of each other’s comfort levels and to come to an agreement about how you’ll handle different types of home situations as a couple.
3. Family and friends
Do you like to plan get-togethers, or can people just drop by? Do you have holiday meals with family at your house? Do you like to throw parties?
This may sound like a lot to talk through but remember: You are combining lives in many ways. If you’re able to come to an agreement on all (or almost all) of these points, it may very well be the right time to sign your names to the dotted line of a lease. If you’re not, consider taking more time to get to know each other and grow your relationship.
Ultimately, says Bronstein, “You need to feel in your gut like this person feels like home.”
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