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Ask a Native New Yorker: Should We Move In Together?

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(Dean Drobot)

In the summer of 2013, Gothamist published the first of many advice columns from native New Yorker Jake Dobkin, kicking things off with the timeless question, "Is It Normal For Roaches To Crawl Through My Hair At Night?" Nearly six years later, the popular series has been turned into a book, Ask a Native New Yorker, with ALL NEW essays from Jake. This week we are running excerpts the book, which is on sale now! Today's question comes from Chapter 9: "How to Make Friends, Find Love, and Settle Down" and concerns when to move in with your significant other.

Dear Jake,

I’m a freelance writer in Bushwick happily dating a bartender who lives in Greenpoint. We’ve been together almost a year, and we’re thinking about moving in together. Our main reason is money:
My rapacious, parasitical, scumbag landlord wants a 20 percent rent hike when my lease comes up for renewal next month, and my boyfriend’s roommate is moving to Los Angeles around the same time.

If we moved into a one-bedroom, we’d save about 25 percent on what we’re paying now, combined, which could mean a lot to us—a vacation once in awhile, being able to go out to eat more than once every three months, etc.

My main reservations are that we’re not quite at that place where we’re sure this is going to lead to marriage, and rushing it could mess things up. Or, worse, we’ll just end up getting married even though we’re not perfect together, just because finding a new place in NYC would take so much work.


What should we do?

Sincerely,

Still Living with Roommates at Thirty-One

Dear SLWRATO,

You should definitely move in together. Dating in New York for a year is like being married for ten years in the hinterlands; if you can still stand each other, you’re probably a good match. You must abandon the pernicious idea of a "perfect partner"—no such thing exists, and you don’t want to screw up a good relationship looking for some mirage. Moving in with someone you like is one of New York’s greatest gifts; not just for the reduction in per capita rent, but also because it provides a healthy togetherness that will insulate you a little bit from the hard times here. Ultimately, of course, you must go with your gut. Moving in with someone who you’ve got serious reservations about is a recipe for disaster, but if you’ve just got some normal pre-habitation butterflies, I say plunge straight in.

This advice does not apply outside New York. If there’s no rent savings to be had because housing is cheap, and no major urban stress that coupling is necessary to protect you from, the downsides of moving in might outweigh the benefits. These are the places where people wait a year before holding hands, and then actually get married before moving in together, which seems both unbearably slow and dangerously foolhardy at the same time. Why would you wait until after you’ve made a binding legal commitment that’s hard to unwind to discover if your potential mate has any deal-breaking habits—a preference for never doing any housework and treating you like a maid, for instance? My point here is that your friends and family who live outside New York may not understand your decision, but their opinions are based on an entirely different courtship calculus and must be ignored at all costs.

Let’s examine your first objection: That signing a lease together might place unnecessary pressure on a good relationship and lead to a breakup. This will not happen. After a year, your relationship has already faced and overcome many stresses that you may not even be aware of: the endless opportunities the city provides to hook up with other people, all the schlepping back and forth between your separate apartments, the very high standards of your insanely judgmental New York friends, and so on. Dealing with these stresses has naturally already led you to discuss the big questions: how you manage your finances, how much crap you choose to keep in your apartment, your career goals, whether and when you want to have kids. These things come up much sooner here than they would anywhere else simply because of the intensity and difficulty of dating in the city. You’re still happy with each other? Feel lucky and move forward in peace.

Is it possible you’ll break up while cohabitating? Yes, just as it’s possible you’ll break up while continuing to live apart. Either way, your relationship could disintegrate at any time for reasons that have nothing to do with your living situation. But after this much time together, why not jump in and give it a try? You came to New York with a sense of adventure, didn’t you? If you two are not meant to be, wouldn’t you prefer to go all in and find that out sooner rather than later? Breaking up while living together is horrible, but let’s face it, breakups tend to be forced tours of hell no matter what. You’ll get through it either way if it comes to that, trust me.

Your other reservation: What happens if you do move in together and aren’t miserable, but it doesn’t feel as great as you had hoped it would— but, rather than face facts and deal with breaking up, finding another apartment, putting down another three months of security deposit, hiring movers, and all the rest of it, you just kind of float along like a corpse rotting in the East River, swishing around interminably between Hunters Point and Hell Gate? This kind of thing is also easily avoided: Simply ask yourself, right now, whether you can see staying with this person forever, despite their human frailties and annoying habits. If the answer is yes, then you’re going to be 100-percent able to work through all the aggravating small stuff that goes along with any serious relationship. Eventually, you’ll realize that the best person is the one you’re with right now: the person you were willing to move in with, the person you can see a future with. Any other hypothetical options are just unzen worry traps, and indulging in them only leads to unhappiness.

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Ask A Native New Yorker, now available in book form.
We haven’t yet discussed the best part of moving in with someone in New York: how it provides a cure to the egocentrism that this city creates. It’s a normal human reaction to be concerned with yourself in such a crowded, fast moving place—if you aren’t looking out for you, who else will be? But this can easily cross the line into self-absorption and a constant comparison of your life to the lives of everyone else, and a continuous worry about whether you’re doing well enough. Moving in with someone forces a kind of intimacy where you end up thinking about someone else as much as you think about yourself: how are they doing, what do they want, are they happy? These kinds of thoughts are a path toward wisdom, which will only deepen once you get married, have kids, and face a whole new set of benefits and sacrifices.

If you do move in together, remember, you still have to put in work to make the relationship work. It’s not like just sharing a bedroom is going to lead to long-term happiness or marital bliss. Keep having sex, keep going on dates, put your phone away for a few hours each night after work, eat dinner together, have a glass of wine and a real talk. This behavior will naturally lead to good communication, and that will be important because small fights are inevitable.

Someone has to take out the garbage on a freezing winter night, or kill that mutant cockroach family squatting in the kitchen, or wash the seven days’ worth of dishes that you both allowed to collect in the sink. Some couples, though they do love each other, can’t deal with these little provocations and, though they stick together, every bump in the road leads to increasingly frequent outbursts of mutual contempt. Avoid that kind of bad behavior at all costs. There are eight million people in the city who don’t give a shit if you live or die. Always remember that no matter how annoying your significant other can be, they do care about you and your continued existence. Probably.

Good luck; love is a wonderful thing!

Jake

N.B.: If you really have serious worries about living together, these can often be resolved by taking a test-drive at one of your apartments for a couple of weeks. Most bad habits manifest quickly. If neither of your apartments will work because of space constraints or roommates, consider Airbnbing for a week, or taking a challenging vacation together, like a long road trip; really any situation that puts you together 24/7 so you can see how you do.