There's this weird thing that happens when you've been going out with someone for more than two years. You grow extra arms. And then start worrying that you should be living together because, erm, everyone else is doing it and oh my god, are you weird? The number of couples living together without marriage has risen by 30% in the last decade - and, when you're in your late 20s, the percentage of friends in your circle living with their fancyman/fancywoman/fancyperson rises by approximately 180% (probably) - so it's unsurprising that living separately can make you feel a bit insecure.
Does everyone think you're childpeople who can't work washing machines and co-habit? Should you sack this off and go find someone who can provide increased stability so you don't have to forward plan your handbag every morning on the off chance you end up crashing at his? No. It's all in your head, and you should stop letting society make you feel backward for not fast-forwarding through the tunnel of life. A tunnel that includes conversations like 'Should we have a spare room in this next house for the WINK WINK', and buying non-stick woks. Because that's for later OK? That's not for now.
According to a recent study, 27% of respondents reported moving in with someone within the first six months of their relationship, while only 7% would recommend playing house so quickly. Not surprising, then, that a lot of us (i.e. occasionally me) feel the pressure to push on with our lives - even if that's not actually what we want, in our actual hearts and souls. 'If people ask me, I just tell them all of the reasons why I don't want to move in with my boyfriend, and then they still look at me weirdly,' says Jess, 28, who currently doesn't live with her boyfriend in London. 'Especially when I tell them that we've been together nearly seven years. But I’m pretty happy, and I’ll do it one day, but not now OK? So get off my back, society.'
My boyfriend bought a flat recently, and I didn't move into it because it's his flat that he bought, and I like my own flat. I signed onto another year with my long suffering housemate who has to deal with me setting the smoke alarm off everytime I cook onions and moulting all over the place. Suddenly my mates and colleagues started either presuming we'd moved in together, or asking really helpful questions like 'Why do you not want to live together?' and 'Do you not wonder why he doesn't want to live with you?'. Helpful questions because well, now I WAS wondering. And overthinking. And for about a week I panicked and became convinced I had committment issues, he was a child, and all our friends who cohabit with their fancymen/fancywomen/fancypeople had their shit together way more than we ever would. Then we crashed a dinner party with a load of his friends and their cohabiting fancypeople and I realised that in no way did I want to get involved in this until I was at least 35. It was like a grownup dinner party. After exactly an hour, we made excuses and left - both feeling like kids who wanted to leave the dinner table so they could go play.
If this sounds like you, then stop giving yourself a hard time - and start revelling in your choice to remain an independent woman (part 2, question, tell me what you think about me, etc) because...
... **You're living like you're in your 20s. Which is FINE. **
Allow me to really get my teeth into the aforementioned tunnel of life metaphor. You see, this tunnel is 100 years long. You're travelling through it for nearly a century, if all goes to plan, so in order to keep things interesting and fun, each section of the tunnel is different; it's got all these cool pictures, and games and and sound effects and things to do on the way that change dramatically every ten thousand miles you walk. Otherwise, by the time you reached halfway, you'd be going totally mad seeing that same things, right? Right. So why actively choose to make your tunnel walls all the same? Why homogenise your goddamn tunnel?
When I was at uni, there were a lot of girls who spent their time having coffee and cake meetings, getting early nights and talking about cross-stitch or god (I went to a Christian college, due to an administrative error). They pretty much all got married before the age of 23, which is great because they were really happy, but I still wanted to yell: 'Why have you decided to be old now, when you have your whole life to be old? You're going to have nothing to look forward to when you're an old person! You'll just get decrepit without having the benefit of relaxing into boredom and monotony, because you're already there!'. In your twenties, I firmly believe that you should live like you're in your twenties. I don't mean you should necessarily do drugs and get drunk and be a dick, but when you look back, aged 40, do you want to say 'Ah yes, my twenties. When I was the hottest and fittest I'll ever be. So glad I spent it navigating washing powder and discussing mortgages with my boyfriend!'. Yeah, you might also be having loads of fun, but I would argue that you don't want ANY talk of washing powder while you're a 20-something. You'll have all the washing powder conversation you'll ever need in the following six decades.
**...You can be a bit gross and nobody will know **
I'm gross with my boyfriend. Probably the grossest. But sometimes I don't want him to see me lying on my unmade bed, mixing ketchup in a can of kidney beans and wearing makeup from the night before last. Or I want to go out really late and be able to crash and smash about the place without feeling bad about waking someone up (long suffering housemate aside - but we have separate rooms so it's a bit different). Or I want to cry hysterically because it's all a bit much, and this time I don't want to talk about it. Or I want to veet the crap out of myself. Or I want to get into bed on Friday and stay their all weekend without showering. Or anything that, at that moment, I don't think anyone needs to see. Bearing in mind I've done all of the above with, or in front of, my boyfriend - but sometimes it's nice to do it in private, y'know?
...You've got loads to look forward to!
Instead of staring at marriage, you've got the whole moving in thing still to come! That's exciting, and fun, and a whole new stage in the relayshe which will be a novelty for about six months so feel smug that you've saved this for later. It's like when you bring lunch to work, go to eat it at 10am and then think 'No, you know what? I'll wait until when I'M hungry, rather than whenever I look at someone else with some food and start salivating'. Jess agrees with me: 'I’ve got the rest of my waking life to live with him and while I love him and all that’s a LONG TIME. I get very scared of being one of those couples that comes home every night, cooks dinner and watches TV,' she said. 'After nearly seven years, it still feels like a treat for me to do that once or twice a week. Plus, we’re at the age where we’re both working like all the time because we really want to forge ahead in our careers that if we lived together we’d probably get mad at the amount we’re both working/networking (vom)/socialising.'
... It could ruin your relationship
If you do it too quickly, that is. Considering so many of us are financially squeezed, and social media is pressuring us to hit those milestones even harder (Facebook makes us sad, instagram makes us compare our relationships to others', blah blah), a lot of people are rushing into the cohabitation game before they're actually ready. Or mature enough. Or can be arsed. Which is bad news for the relationship.
'When my boyfriend moved to the UK, he was looking for a job and it made sense for us to just live together,' says Jen, who was 24 when she moved in with her boyfriend of three years. 'I was a bit weirded out but we did it anyway, and ended up fighting so much. I got so stressed out with having to be in, having to tell him where I was, and he ended up going back to Greece - with me thinking I wanted to break up with him.' Thankfully, they didn't break up, and he moved back to the UK recently into his own flat. Which has meant that, in her words, 'the pressure's off'. And it's true - everyone is ready at different stages, and periods, of their life - but if you rush into it for financial reasons, or because you can't be fucked constantly living between two flats and never having the right facewash at the right time, then you could do way more harm than good. Just like people who have babies to save their marriage. Or have babies because they think it's probably the right thing to do. Or do anything because they think it's the right thing to do.
... There are practical things to consider
Sometimes you need to do things alone. Like having the full bed, not being affected by the fact they're stumbling in drunk (because you're not there), being able to have a private cry about climate change without having to explain yourself to someone (this might just be me), eating dinner when you're hungry withou having someone get all offended you're not eating together, eating really gross shit like ketchup and mayonnaise and a can of kidney beans without something being like 'Urgh have you got some sort of illness'. Basically, everything you do alone that is really disgusting and weird is sacred - and while they know about all of that stuff (and while learning about it is part of the fun of living with someone), sometimes you don't want to explain yourself. Or speak. Or do anything other than stare.
So don't feel like a weirdo for preferring to wear shit makeup, use his Lynx and fashion outfits out of his clothes (that don't fit you) a couple of times a week, rather than move in right now. Because while the former is annoying, the latter is something that requires a lot of thinking - and a lot of commitment. We're not living in the 1950s, so own that independence, (non-cohabiting) girlfriend.
Like this? You might also be interested in...
Follow Stevie on Twitter: @5tevieM
Picture: Maggy Van Ejik
This article originally appeared on The Debrief.