I love having a roommate or two. It’s the best.
When I was about 12, I used to dream of living on my own. I would draw floorplans of the condo I wanted to live in. I think I even asked my parents to build me a shed in the backyard (they said no). I just wanted a space that was all my own.
Then I got to college and I was put in a single dorm room the first year. It was rough. I like making new friends, but I’m not very fast at it, and being in a single dorm in a distant building…it didn’t help. I had roommates every year after that, and I’ve never gone back to living alone. Even now, as I’m figuring out how to make it in the adult world, I’m happier when I have someone to at least partially share life with. My roommate and I walk to the coffee shop together, just because. We process crazy daily events. We share food in a pinch.
However, the next time I’m in a serious relationship, I couldn’t see myself living with that person before we were married. To me, the things I love about living with roommates don’t quite translate to that situation. In a romantic relationship, there are more serious factors at play, and I think living together before marriage is counterproductive.
I could boil it down to two reasons why I feel this way.
First is what I DON’T think. I don’t think it’s the things you learn while living with a romantic partner, that will determine if your marriage is going to last.
I understand the appeal of living together to test compatibility, and that you learn things about a person while living together that you can’t learn any other way. I get that. And I absolutely believe in making an informed decision about compatibility.
But the kicker is that people change, in unexpected ways. You might love being around the person your spouse is today, but they won’t be exactly the same person in ten years, or forty. You don’t what, or how drastic, those changes will be. That’s the adventure. And the risk.
Because of this inevitable change, I think marriage has to hinge on an unconditional commitment more than anything else. My Christian faith leads me to take it one step farther…I think marriage hinges on the God that my spouse and I will make a commitment to, and God’s work to hold us together when we mess it up—because we will.
But even if you don’t believe in a God who’s personally involved in our lives, I think it’s wise to let marriage hinge on commitment alone. Because anything else could change. And if you try to stop the change from happening, you could drive yourself crazy, or drive your marriage into the ground.
So, I’d rather not give myself a chance to let the experience of living with someone influence the decision of whether I want to marry them. That stuff is small in the grand scheme of things. I’d rather let it fall into the category of “stuff we just figure out.” Because we’ll probably have to figure it out over and over again throughout our lives.
Second is what I DO think. I do think living with a future spouse makes bonding with that person happen a little backwards.
If I live with someone before I get married, I know my insides would feel like a scrambled mess. Because I’d be creating a normal way of life with someone in a way that a deep bond would start to form, except that bond wouldn’t be built on top of the promise that they’ll be there tomorrow, or in ten years, or in forty. It may feel like a tired analogy to say “it’s like building a house with no foundation,” but the constant anxiety about whether the ‘house’ would fall in the next storm, would be very real for me.
It’s the difference between building a life together around the idea, “is this working for me?” or building a life together around the idea, “I’m committed to you.” I think it’s pretty hard to switch what your daily life with another person is built around, once you’ve already started.
The progression that feels healthy to me is more like walking out on a pair of diving boards together, holding hands, planning the best you can. And then together you jump (that’s the marriage part). And then together you’re swimming. And your only option at that point is to figure it out. I think there’s a special beauty in being in that situation with another human being.
True confession: I’m scared to get married. I’m scared of all the difficult things that are bound to happen after I intimately connect myself to someone who’s going to change. But I would be more scared to start building a life with someone if there wasn’t a permanent commitment in place first. I would always be waiting for everything to come crashing down.
Marriage is SO risky. But it’s a beautiful risk. And it’s a risk I prefer over cohabitation.
I’ve thought a lot about marriage, and sought a lot of wise advice about it, but of course I’ve never tried it myself. What do you think makes it work, and why? Should living together first be an ingredient in the process?