In my often-tragic romantic history, I have lived with two of my girlfriends. On both occasions, we had been going out for more than a year, and it just seemed like the next obvious step in the tired old plotline of things couples do before they decide to get married -- it's like marriage's on-deck circle.
Obviously, having never been married, things didn't go that well either time. That being said, I'm grateful that my exes and I decided to shack up. The arrangement exposed fatal flaws in our relationship, and saved us from certain heartache and deeper resentment.
You should, without question, cohabitate with someone before you tie the knot. Marrying someone without first seeing if you can live with them is about as naive as marrying someone without ever having sex with them. Unless you have some religious objection to it, you have to know if you're compatible. Marriage is too complicated a proposition to enter into blindly.
But before you move in, I've devised a checklist of things you should accomplish before you decide to settle down. Some are just coming-of-age events, others are specific to the actual act of moving in with your partner. In no particular order, here is the list:
Live on your own for a while. If you're not comfortable being alone, living alone and taking care of yourself, there's a good chance you're not a grown up and don't have a strong sense of identity. You need to know yourself before you really understand what you want out of a relationship.
Make sure you've traveled somewhere out of the country (and your senior trip to Cancun during spring break doesn't count). You learn a lot about yourself while traveling abroad, and it provides valuable perspective by seeing how people in other countries live. Try not to get caught being a drug mule.
Have sex with more than one person. In order to find out what you like sexually, you have to have different partners. No one wants to live with a boring lay. Also, people who have only had sex with one person are destined to get bored.
Talk to your partner about finances. You should know what your financial future is going to look like before you move in. There's nothing worse than not getting to have HBO because you found out your partner's job at the firm was actually a low-paying internship.
Be up front about what you want out of your partner. Before you move in, let him/her know if you don't want kids, or plan on following a cult leader to South America.
Make sure your lifestyles are compatible. It's a good idea to talk through how your days and nights are going to be spent. Many people believe that once you shack up, the party is over and there's no more dining out and/or closing down bars. That can be confusing to a person, especially if all you've ever done previously to living with one another is dine out and close down bars.
Living with someone is nothing like crashing at their place for the weekend. There's no escape. If you haven't accomplished the first three things on the list, chances are you're not ready to move in with anyone. And if you don't check the last three, you're setting yourself up for failure. If you have something you'd like to add to the list, I'd love to see it. Please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.