I somehow made it through my 20s without ever living with a partner. I was the anomaly. My friends all seemed to drift blissfully into cohabitation, quickly mourn their independence, then break up in favor of couch-surfing. Rinse and repeat. But as someone who self-defined as allergic to commitment, the idea of moving in freaked me out. Once someone shows up with their side tables, I thought, There’s no easy escape.
I believed all the clichés: You move in and before you know it, you’re two slugs in sweatpants, eating onion bhajis while clipping your toenails in front of 90 Day Fiancé. You start fighting about toilet paper. You bicker about who’s going to be on top. Essentially, you trade romance for a discounted rent check and a crash course in codependency. I vowed to never let this happen to me. Instead, I imagined my romantic future mimicking the often-referenced living arrangement of Woody Allen and Mia Farrow: two separate apartments, facing each other, on either side of Central Park. I feel like it really worked out for them.
But then I fell in love. Oops. As we all know, falling in love is like having a panic attack while on MDMA—you’re basically dying, but you’re so high that you forget to care. Not great for rational decision-making. As if with amnesia, I suddenly found myself flying across the country with trunks full of my life—clothes, shoes, Monistat, enough vibrators for a family of four—love drunk and stumbling into domesticity, head first.
My boyfriend and I have now lived together for nearly a year and a half, and while I’m so happy we made this choice, it’s on-brand for me to worry that I’m somehow going to fuck it up. So, I want to know: Is living together worth the risk?
Clearly, one of the biggest issues when living with a partner is space. Before I met my ex-girlfriend, I lived in a cockroach-infested Bushwick cave shared by several hundred bartenders. Tragic. But once she and I started dating, I basically lived at her place. It was great—life was an endless sleepover, and we could hole up and cook pasta dinners to our hearts’ desires. That said, if we were ever driving each other insane, or if I wanted to stab at my ingrown hairs in peace, I could just walk the 15 minutes back to my hellish apartment.
But when you live with someone, what are you supposed to do when you need alone time? Hide in the bathroom? Wander around CVS again? Sleep on opposite sides of the bed with your backs to each other in a queen-size cold war? It can get a bit grim.
“This is New York—apartments aren’t big enough for two people’s feelings,” my friend Evita told me over a recent taco dinner. Evita lived with her ex-boyfriend for more than a decade, starting at 25. It felt so claustrophobic that now, at 40, she’s been self-diagnosed with Cohabitation PTSD.
“By the end of my last relationship, it became really difficult to live together,” Evita said. “When you live with your partner, you carry their energy. My boyfriend was going through a major depression and it was hard for me to wake up and stay happy. He was constantly monitoring where I was going and with who. It was exhausting. I went out way too much. Basically, I developed a drinking problem because I didn’t want to be at home.”
Now, Evita is in a new relationship that she’s deeply committed to, but says for her sanity she needs a few nights a week to herself. “I suffer from insomnia and jerk off to get back to sleep. But I’m not going to turn on my loud-ass vibrator while my boyfriend’s sleeping next to me. And when I try to sneak out to the living room, the creaky floor wakes him up.
“My boyfriend thinks we’re moving backwards if we don’t move in,” Evita continued. “But I disagree. I don’t want to rush home from my high-stress job so we can ‘figure out dinner.’ I want to maintain mystery. Like, I don’t want to get to the point where we’re having fart competitions.” (Author’s note: Gross.)
It seems obvious that rushing into cohabitation because of partner pressure, or because it feels like a requisite step, or specifically to save money (unless absolutely necessary) are recipes for resentment. Moving in should be a decision you make together. If fiscally possible, choosing a neutral space seems ideal. And clearly, the greatest luxury is having two bathrooms. (Sharing a bathroom is one of the leading causes of depression among entitled adults.)
But not everyone suffers from move-in anxiety. Take my friend Kaitlin, a fiery redhead who’s been living with her boyfriend on the Upper East Side for two years. I find her blind faith in the institution of shacking up a great comfort. “To me, living together is the height of romance,” Kaitlin told me, beaming. “This is probably a holdover from kindergarten, but I think if you love someone, you want to play house.”
Kaitlin’s strategy is to move in fast and furious. “Not living together before marriage is like not having sex before marriage: crazy,” Kaitlin urged. “Until you share an apartment, you don’t know how someone deals with money or how they actually spend their time. Like, are you really a ‘workaholic’ or are you just binging TV shows? Once I moved in with my boyfriend, everything about his personality became clear. When you’re just meeting for dinner in these perfectly curated environments, you have to wonder: Who even are these psychos?!”
Beyond vetting purposes, Kaitlin informed me, cohabiting has other functions. “Living with your partner makes you grow up in so many ways. Like, I never used to do dishes, and when my roommate would complain I’d be like, ‘You’re a dish Nazi.' But I’m far more willing to take out the trash for someone who cares about my five-year plan.”
That’s not to say you won’t have to iron out the kinks. For instance: My boyfriend and I both sometimes work from home, and I was convinced I wouldn’t get any writing done with us both in the house. Turns out, I was right. For the first few months, he was the mascot of my procrastination. Why work when I could force-feed him memes and nag him for I-don’t-want-to-write sex? I eventually developed a strategy: locking myself in the bedroom and wearing noise-canceling headphones.
Aesthetic differences are also an issue. Once, we had a heated two-hour debate about a beautiful, furry pink blanket that he described as, “Are you fucking blind, Karley?” But verbal abuse notwithstanding, it’s all worth it to find out: Can we live our individual lives in the house where we make our life?
While I’ve devoted a lot of space to the risks of shacking up, the truth is, it can be pretty great—even for a skeptic like me. And as for it putting a damper on your social life: the rumors are true, and I’m chill with that. Before moving in I went out almost every night, which is expensive and fattening. Honestly, I’m happy to be a little less poor and a lot less hungover.
Living together is a way of making your lives a collaboration. It’s comforting. And this probably sounds embarrassing, but I kinda love living amongst my boyfriend’s stuff (even the mountain of dirty socks inexplicably located in the kitchen). I like reading in bed on weekend mornings, creepily staring at his passed-out body. And most of all, there’s just something about being around the person you love that makes life better. It’s like when you get a really great candle—you sometimes forget it’s even there, but it makes being in your apartment, like, 35 percent better.