These days is is generally accepted that a couple should live together before they swap vows. How else can they know if they are compatible? It's part of the stages of a relationship: flirting, dating, spending time at each other's place, moving in, engaged, and finally marriage. But doesn't splitting a relationship into stages ruin a relationship? Perhaps it gets too predictable, too mathematical. You lose that spontaneous spark that drew you together in the first place.
Now the main problem that people have in these stages is shacking up with your partner. It is debated whether you should wait until you are married before living together, or whether you should gradually move in together rather than leaping into unknown waters all at once. But what is best?
Of course there are pros to living together, most significantly the ability to get to know each other's quirks, habits and lazy behaviors. If you find that you're constantly nagging your boyfriend to pick his socks up off the floor, you might find you don't want to live with someone who keeps your room a mess. Equally if your girlfriend is too lazy to wipe the milk off the side when she spills it, you might want to look elsewhere. It's all good practice for your life together after marriage, not to mention the financial relief from renting one home rather than two. After all, you don't buy a car without test driving it first, right?
You might be reading this thinking "that sounds brilliant" - an excellent compatibility test. Or you might be reflecting on your own habits and wondering whether the magic will still be there after three months under the same roof. Because that is the real problem. It's not about the compatibility of a couple, or about money, or even about convenience. It's about making or breaking a relationship.
It is different after marriage. Yes it's true that divorce means less now than it did fifty years ago, but it still ties two people together in a strong (legal) bond. People are more willing to fight for their love when they are married over simply living together. If the spark is gone, most couples will try to bring it back or create a new one. On the other hand, two housemates who disagree or lose their sense of romance can simply pack up and walk out. It is easier to forget the reason why you started the relationship in the first place when stuff starts to piss you off. After all, you could have loads of girlfriends; there are plenty more fish in the sea.
Because of this, some people, and increasingly in young adults, are less willing to move in first. They would rather keep it a surprise for later on, when they're all loved up in the honeymoon period. It's a huge step to co-sign a lease or a mortgage, and in legal essence could mimic a marriage contract. After all its a bit of paper and a signature...
A 26 year old friend of mine who has just broken up from a ten year relationship was chatting to me about this. He had been living with his girlfriend since university, and she had just given him an ultimatum: put a ring on it or get lost. It wasn't that he didn't want too marry her. On the contrary he would have married her for sure, but he just wasn't ready yet. And it dawned on him that after living with her for so long, he felt as if he had indeed been married for ten years.
So in the end living together can be great for some couples, those who are on the same page in their relationship, those who are ready to get married. But for some people, it ruins the relationship completely. Personally, I feel that each relationship has its own unique algorithm, its own stages to a happily ever after, and for some that doesn't include moving in before marriage. You just need to decide what works best for yours.