By: Jenny Foughner 

In an unusual turn of events, I’m going to get straight to the point, because we have a lot to cover today. While it’s true that moving in with your girlfriend can be hugely problematic, it’s time to accept the fact that it is something you’re going to do one day. Even if you think you’ll never move out of the five-bedroom apartment which just happens to be situated above that bar you love so much; even if you’ve made it a point to emulate George Clooney’s bachelorhood until the day you shuffle off this mortal coil. Hear me: you will, one day (and possibly one day soon), move in with someone you’re dating. It will surprise you, but it will happen.

Given the inevitability of this gargantuan life-step, it’s best to become familiar with hot-button cohabitation issues before taking the big plunge instead of remaining ignorant to them and getting screwed (unpleasantly) in the end. I know it’s daunting, but don’t let this list scare you. Let it educate you! Like health-care reform! Or the Saw movies! Or geometry! Except, geometry sucks. Moving on.

Financial obligations

Greenbacks and gonorrhea are two things most boyfriends don’t want to discuss in detail with their girlfriends. It’s understandable. Beyond maintaining gold-star health and the integrity of my 401k, I don’t especially want to discuss these subjects with my paramours, either. However, just like sharing your bed means sharing the results of your STD test, making a commitment to share rent, bills and household expenses with the person who sleeps in your bed means sharing your money philosophy and financial expectations. Not only does this avoid unpleasantness after the cohabitation honeymoon wears off (the New York Times reported that couples who fight about money a few times a week are 30% more likely to split up than couples who only disagree about finances a few times a month), but it also reduces the risk of one partner resenting the other for spending $500 she doesn’t have on sparkly stilettos (I have no personal experience with this. Stop judging me).

Some couples I know split all bills and household expenses based on income – as in, the high roller in the relationship pays more based on the percentage more he or she makes a year – both to be able to afford a nicer place and to avoid having to ask one another for cash when they inevitably can’t afford their rent. Don’t fight the fact that one person almost always makes more money than the other in a relationship, and that person is almost always used to living in nicer digs than his/her peasant mate; instead, set a budget you both can live with before you set foot in an open house. The same goes for groceries, electricity, cable, DVR, Netflix, internet, swingers’ club memberships, whatev. Start out by stating explicitly what each of you is willing to pay each month, and avoid a lot of surprises down the road.

Cleanliness

It’s a myth that girls are cleaner than guys (I think we just do a better job of hiding it if we aren’t), so if you’re a clean freak who assumes that his girlfriend, fiancé or wife is going to arrive at his doorstep with satisfactory organizational habits, then you might find yourself a clean freak who’s horrified by how much his girlfriend, fiancé or wife resembles Pigpen from Peanuts. Even if you haven’t achieved clean freak status, you could be surprised by your woman’s true habits, especially if she’s been working hard to hide her hot messiness from you.

Even if you’re the messy one in this equation, the fact remains that it’s important to establish who’s responsible for cleaning what, and when, well before you join forces under one roof. It doesn’t need to be a Gender War, either. Some people love to cook, some people love to clean, and some people love none of the above, so try not to base your expectations on anatomy. And if you can’t reach an understanding, then find a way to afford a bi-weekly or once-monthly cleaning service. They’re not as expensive as you’d expect, and they’ll do wonders for your relationship… and your sanity.

Sleeping Habits

Are you a night-owl or a staunch believer in the concept of early-to-bed, early-to-rise? And what about your girlfriend? While you’ve probably learned how to deal with differing sleeping habits just by virtue of being in a serious relationship, you probably won’t have spent every single night sharing a bed with a woman before you move in with her, which means that even if you see each other five or six times a week, you still have some solo nights in which to compensate for lost sleep. This, however, will become impossible once you and your girlfriend are on the same lease. It’s not the end of the world – humans are infinitely adaptable – but it can make for some exhaustion-fueled and exhaustion-inducing arguments. So while you’re having all of the aforementioned Honest And Open Conversations, clarify your sleepspectations with your lady, if only to avoid an unfortunate situation in which one of you feels it necessary to give the other a bedtime (apparently this happens, much to my understandable horror).

Personal Space

Some couples can spend every single minute of every single day together, but I doubt most of you want that to be your life for the next however-many years. Personal space is precious and should be guarded like a cave full of shiny treasure, regardless of how desperately you love your lady. If you can afford to live in a two-or-more-bedroom abode, then do it. Make multiple bedrooms a priority in your housing search. You’ll thank me later, because having the option to retreat to a room with a closeable door will make you infinitely more agreeable as days, weeks and months of cohabitation roll on.

Lest you fret about the implications of a desire for your own little corner of your own little room, let me assure you that wanting to spend time away from your partner does not mean you don’t like her. (In fact, I’m betting she feels the same way you do about Necessary Alone Time.) Plus, when given the choice between almost-equally-affordable living arrangements, who wouldn’t choose the one with the extra room(s)? Guest quarters are just the beginning. Think about all you could DO with that room!  OR THOSE ROOMS! Crafts! Weights! Puppy kennel! Den of Iniquity!

The Future

Welcome, gentleman, for we’ve arrived at the money shot. The most daunting thing about moving in with your significant other is that it puts a lot of pressure on you both to define the future of your relationship. Although deciding to move in with someone should be done some modicum of seriousness, it doesn’t necessarily have to equate to a marriage proposal. The key, as with so very many other things, is to be up front with one another about what you think this means to your relationship. You might find that you both think it means you’ll eventually get married. Good job; expectations managed. But you also might find that one of you thinks it ain’t no thang, while the other considers it to be holier than the holiest bonds of holy matrimony. The only way to figure this out is to discuss it.

One final thought on this subject: if you and your girlfriend have vastly different concepts of what it means to live together, then you might want to hold off until you’ve had a chance to get on the same proverbial page. There’s no faster pass to splitsville than shared rental obligations. Know what you’re getting into before one of you gets hurt.

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