Life’s a series of rooms. We move through them with varying speed: in some rooms we spend a short time, in others a long time, and sometimes we don’t move on at all.

Once we reach adulthood, we close the doors to the childish rooms forever, which is not to say we can’t be child-like from time to time. Being innocent and fun – if only in a stylized way – is a sweet element in many of our lives. But as self-control, motives, understanding and responsibility change in our teens and twenties, we close successive doors behind us as we walk into new rooms. No-one really adequately explains this at the time, but we use code words like “growing up” or “maturing” as shorthand.

I was struck yesterday when a colleague explained that he was spending the afternoon with his girlfriend’s parents. Now this guy is in his thirties, an upright citizen (as far as I know) and a hard-worker, but it turns out the woman I thought was his wife is not so: she’s just a shack-up honey.

The problem with a couple opening the door to the shack-up room is that it has one big entrance door, and only a tiny mouse-door out. That mouse-door is the only one that takes both of them forward in life, but it’s difficult to squeeze through. In most cases, both of these people will move backwards out of the door through which they came into the room, returning to the point at which they decided to co-habit a residence.

Yes, people do go on to succeed long-term in shack-ups, but couples so-based are mostly a kind of silent killer. With a limited time on this planet making a decision that stops the normal progression of life is both wasteful and destructive. Yes, justifying the decision to shack-up is relatively simple, an exercise in which I have indulged myself, but the reasons are oftentimes shallow, reflecting a deficit of some kind in the individuals or the relationship itself.

Why would we deliberately walk into a room that will simultaneously decrease our chances of seeing the fullness of life as an individual and reduce the likelihood of the relationship fulfilling its possibility?

What Can I Do For You?

Here’s my stance on marriage:

Do not marry before age 27, especially the male side.

Date for a minimum of 18 months before setting a date with a ring.

Do not shack up.

In the intervening period, sign up for 6 months of pre-marital counseling with a licenced and mutually agreed professional who specializes in this area. A religious counselor will be additional should you require one.

If the counselor covers matters correctly, you will both have a clear picture of whether the wedding should proceed. If unresolved problems remain, it is absolutely fair play to call the whole thing off.

If this happens, or things fall apart at any point, start again. If not, be married with the confidence that you have at least done most things mostly the right way.

Shacking Up: Podcast #29

When a couple set up house, is a stronger, deeper relationship the result? Here are my thoughts on why couplehood suffers when you choose to share and split the bills.

Let’s Give It A Shot!

I used the following justifications:

  • It will be fun!
  • We’ll get to know how we fit together
  • Think of the money we’ll save
  • We spend so much time with each other anyway

and the most fake excuse:

  • Why bother with getting married?

The “it” is the relationship I had with my (notably ex-) girlfriend from many years ago. We decided that moving in together was an idea, an idea worth doing.

We shacked-up.

Not that we called it “shacking-up” then. The milder term was “living together” or even the platonic-sounding “sharing a place.” For parents, hers in particular, this was a softer blow. Does any father really want his daughter co-habiting without the commitment of marriage?

A few thoughts on shacking-up. Firstly, this:

“Asserting cohabitation is basically asserting that one is not ‘locked in’ to a commitment,” he says, whereas marriage sends a signal of dependability and predictability. “The take-home implication is that our brains are sensitive to signs that the people we depend on in our lives are predictable and reliable. And our brains will depend upon — will, in effect, outsource to — those we feel are most predictable and reliable for our emotion-regulation needs.+

In other words, marriage has an entirely different emotional basis than shacking-up. Living together is not a cipher for, nor a pre-cursor to marriage. They are different ways of coupling.

Secondly, I am willing to bet that the motives for people shacking-up are much less about creating a strong couple than secondary economic or sexual expedience. Saving money and access to each others’ bodies might sound like a good idea…but does any mature person truly see this as a basis for something long-term?

Thirdly, forming a couple is a process. Shacking-up appears to be a short-cut that speeds up the months or years that it takes to discover if this person is really a match. But beware: short-cuts can take you away from the experiences that allow us to see one another in various situations. Stress – without the pressure of co-habiting – is a good thing, if we both come out the other side with new and positive understanding of each other. Having our own places allows room for mistakes and recovery from the inevitable problems.

The daily grind of ill-founded domestic bliss has only one resolution if matters go awry.

+ Time article worth reading.