Cohabitation: The “margarine” of relationship arrangements

Cohabitation: The “margarine” of relationship arrangements

Last update on June 11, 2013.

Our culture seems to be pretty into keeping it real.

We are franker about sex than our parents or grandparents were. We complain loudly about airbrushed pictures of models. Organic food is a pretty hip thing now. Margarine is super “out.” And don’t get me started on hipster devotion to local art and unsigned musicians. We want the real thing!

But there is one institution where our culture seems to be perfectly comfortable with knockoffs, and that is relationships—specifically, our acceptance of cohabitation.

Exhibit A: “Cohabitation Examination: 7 Sticky Moving-In-Together Issues, Solved.”

The article, which appears on Cosmopolitan’s web site, above [*] offers useful solutions to handling issues like divergent decorating tastes and how to pick whose furniture stays and goes, but in large part, the whole arrangement (as it’s described in the potential problems and solutions listed) just seems to miss the mark. The solutions turn chilly and formal once finances come up: the authors suggest each person contribute a set percentage of their income toward shared expenses, such as housing and utilities.

And so goes the rest of the article. On personal independence: “Moving in means sharing a home and a bed—it doesn't mean giving up your life.” Regarding the future: Couples shouldn’t worry about the purpose or direction of their cohabiting relationship. They should ignore questions from family and friends about marriage plans and live in the moment, because cohabiting is “a big deal.”

These suggestions break my heart. Doesn’t the real unity that comes with true love require exactly what this article says not to do—giving up your life, “just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her”? And shouldn’t all relationships be entered deliberately, with at least some thought for the future? I don’t speak from much personal experience, but it doesn’t seem to me that there’s any way to “casually” cleave to someone. And that is exactly what you are seeking to do when you share your heart, your space, your bed, and your resources with another person with nothing but feelings to keep you there. (Cohabiting relationships aren’t stable: wait for the Marriage and Religion Research Institute paper to come out on this!)

I get it: Cohabitation seems like a great way to have some fun while keeping things light, to hang onto your independence while getting what you want, to learn more about a person before deciding whether to take the plunge. I won’t deny that there have been days where getting an apartment with the guy of my dreams looked a heck of a lot easier than making a legal and religious commitment to him in front of everyone I know. But I’ll take butter over margarine any day. And as far as I can tell, cohabitation’s just a cheap substitute for the real deal.

[*] Disclaimer: I don’t suggest you take relationship advice from Cosmo.


Anna Shafer

Anna Shafer is a 20-something social science editor, rom-com enthusiast, and newlywed. Follow Anna on twitter @BrightlyAnna.


Post your comment