Home and Away

Is dating the same as living together?

“No” is the answer, in case you are in doubt. And yet the mixing of the two continues, a circumstance that will continue to cause problems until we figure out the difference.

Romance is not domesticity. When put as plainly as that, no-one denies the difference. And yet the idea:

Let’s move in together…

…will be asked millions of times in the coming month.

What won’t be asked is:

You know, we get along on a romantic and fun level, how would we get along being together 24/7?

The answer, in case you haven’t guessed, is not to shack up. Shacking up is never a path to anything other than uncertainty. It is an experiment with utterly unknowable outcomes, except that if it fails, both participants will be diminished. Sometimes irreparably.

Being boyfriend/girlfriend is a game of home and away. This is not the same as home games only.


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.