The Market

Shacking up: The do's and don'ts of cohabiting for the first time

By Virginia K. Smith  | July 31, 2014 - 8:59AM

It goes without saying—or it should, anyway—that living with a significant other is a very different undertaking than just dating, even if you already spend every night of the week together. Having no escape hatch to disappear to when you need breathing room will be a challenge. After all, sharing a bathroom is nothing if not a new level of intimacy, and minor disputes over the dishes (or the bills, your first cockroach sighting, or pretty much anything else) all of a sudden take on an entirely new significance.

The process can be so fraught that there are even brokers whose designated specialty is to ease the transition for new couples. It's also something a lot of New Yorkers jump into far too early in hopes of saving on rent. (Though in our experience, splitting up a one-bedroom is actually a little more expensive than sharing an apartment with roommates).

So, in the interest of sparing you the misery combo of a broken heart and a broken lease, we've culled wisdom from New Yorkers who've moved in together and survived with their relationships intact—or, at least, learned the hard way what not to do. As with most advice, a lot of this boils down to "share" and "don't be a jerk," but a little extra reminder doesn't hurt.

DO decide ahead of time what kind of place you want. This is true of any apartment hunt, but is especially important if you're trying to navigate the search while keeping the peace in your relationship.

"Make a list of priorities, i.e. close to the subway, price range, allows pets, on a certain subway line, close to friends, character, new appliances, close to a supermarket, etc.," advises Penelope, who's lived with her husband in Brooklyn for five years. 

"Number them and for each [priority], indicate how far you are willing to budge," Penelope adds. "Or, which combinations would outweigh others. This is good practice for the types of conversations you have to have once you're living together, and given that apartments can be there one day and gone the next, it's important to have a system in place that allows a couple to jump on a property as soon as possible." 

DON'T settle for a studio. No matter how much you love each other, sometimes, you'll want to be in different rooms. "A door is key," says Penelope. "It's especially helpful if people are on different schedules. While in school I was able to stay up late working with the light on when [my husband] went to bed. And now I can go to sleep while he's up working." And if a single room is all your budget will allow, at least make sure it's got features—like high ceilings or an alcove—that will help keep you both sane. 

DON'T put just one person's name on the lease. It's so much simpler to put your partner's name on the lease and call it a day—that is, until you have your first major fight. "All of a sudden you realize you either have no legal right to your own apartment, or will be left holding the bag financially if the other person decides they're over it," says Mike, who lived with his girlfriend for several years before moving out in 2013.

DO divide the utilities evenly. Instead of having one person handle all of the utilities (or putting both your names on all of them), divide and conquer—say, one person takes electric, the other gas and Internet. "50/50 is your best friend when it comes to anything money-related," says Nickie, who recently spent four years living with a significant other. Embrace Venmo, and be straightforward about shared costs from the beginning.

DON'T forget to leave the house. Everyone—seriously everyone—relishes alone time at some point, no matter how much in love they are. Give your partner a little space, take some for yourself, and everyone will be better off for it.

DO divide up chores early. Yes, another item that involves splitting up cost and effort as evenly as possible (it's important!). "Clean together but know what messes are your own," says Mike. "Even perceived balance is important, and little things can build up into larger resentments." To minimize nagging and keep things simple, try picking a day to clean once a week, and dividing up chores based on who has a preference for what ("I'll handle the dishes in the sink if you take out the garbage," etc.). 

DO downsize your stuff and compromise on decor. No one wants to end up in a fight over a wagon wheel table (or a box of old Speed Sticks). Try to include pieces that both of you like—or better yet, that you've picked out together—and be willing to know which of your stuff needs to go into storage or out on the curb—you'd want the other person to do the same, after all.

DON'T stress yourself out. Yes, it's a major step, but at the end of the day, it's not that earth-shattering a change. "Living with someone really comes down to a few things," says Nickie. "You split rent, you split groceries, and you spend a lot of time watching movies together. Other than that, the biggest adjustment is just sharing space, and unless you are an only child or never shared a bathroom with a roommate before, this stuff comes pretty easily. It's a lot more fun than people let on, so enjoy it!"


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