Tired of putting on a hazmat suit every time you brave the corona commute to your significant other’s house? Well, one solution is to move in with them. Cooking, shopping, and cleaning for two is time-efficient and can save you money, but it can also put serious stress on a relationship—especially during a pandemic when spending time with other friends is harder than ever.
One thing’s certain: You do not want to end up in a situation where you go through all the effort, expense, and risk of finding a place together just to realize it was the wrong thing to do and have to move all over again, or worse, break up. To make sure your relationship is ready for this step, read through our checklist of all the conversations you should have and milestones to hit with your significant other before you reserve the U-Haul.
You’ve agreed on a budget.
Who doesn’t love Zillow stalking, drooling over your dream home? But when it comes time to find new digs—especially with your partner—you have to burst the fantasy bubble. Before you start going to open houses, it’s important to have an honest conversation about your price range, and how much you’re willing to spend on rent (or a mortgage). It’s the only way to manage your partner’s expectations.
You’re not doing it just to save money.
Sure, moving in together knocks one rent out of the equation and condenses two sets of utility bills, but the end of your lease doesn’t automatically equal move-in time. Jessica Massa, author of The Gaggle: How the Guys You Know Will Help You Find the Love You Want, warns, “You have to say with 100% confidence that moving in together has nothing to do with your finances.”
You’ve already practiced cohabiting.
Are you spending four or five nights a week together (hopefully without too much midweek back-and-forth, to stay pandemic safe)? Good, says Amy Laurent, who wrote 8 Weeks to Everlasting: A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting (and Keeping!) the Guy You Want. “You should be getting a sense of what it’s like to be waking up to your partner every day before you move in together.” If you’re thinking about merging your living spaces but haven’t done a trial run yet, Laurent suggests giving it a go, especially if you’re used to spending only a night or two together now.
Your schedules are compatible.
Playing loud music late at night when your romantic roommate needs to be up early in the morning is a relationship killer. And now that many people are working from home, there are so many more aspects of scheduling to think about. If you’re both on Zoom calls all day long, you need to be able to share the room with the good lighting. And loudly doing the laundry or cooking while the other person tries to meditate won’t work. If you are your partner have wildly divergent schedules, or lifestyles, try making a shared calendar. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. It’s your home too.
You regularly talk about your finances.
Money is one of the last great taboos. But when you’re living with someone and sharing the cost of living with them, it’s important to get into the habit of discussing your finances. Try casually working it into your dinner table conversation, or folding the money talk into your regular weightier discussions.
You know how you’ll split rent.
Chances are you’re not making the exact same salary as your partner. So how does that impact how you’ll pay rent? While that’s important to figure out, as Kathleen Burns Kingsbury, the author of Breaking Money Silence told The Cut, it doesn’t need to be set in stone—especially considering income or job status changes. “Each couple needs to check in and see what feels right at various points in time,” she says. “A lot of people think that if you decide on a strategy, you have to commit to it for the rest of your relationship. Instead, think of it as, ‘Okay, new job, new situation, we’ve just come out of a tough patch. Let’s try out this arrangement for a few months and see what it feels like.’”
You have a plan for sharing expenses.
So you’ve got your rent situation down, but what about utilities? Maybe your partner takes much longer showers, or sleeps with the television on—racking up large water and electric bills. Or you have totally different tastes in food and what you’d like to stock the fridge with. Before this causes a fight, come up with a game plan for how you’ll divvy up expenses. When you first move in, you might agree to a 50-50 split with plans to check in in three months or to split things proportionally to your income.
You’ve successfully taken a trip together.
Laurent says the intensive time of taking a vacation as a couple is like a mini living-together opportunity. Her test: Have you gone away for a week or two and spent 100% of the time together—and actually enjoyed it? “If you haven’t traveled together, you don’t necessarily know each other’s habits,” she says. Since taking a trip isn’t really in the cards right now, try spending a couple weeks at just one of your places, like a test-run of permanent cohabitation.
You can deal with each other’s mess.
Guess what? Living with a messy person won’t make a tidy person messier, and living with a tidy person won’t make a messy person tidier. You’ll just annoy each other. That is, unless you decide to make compromises and accept each other’s levels of organization and cleanliness. It’s an ongoing, and often annoying, conversation, but it has to happen. And it’s especially important during the pandemic to make sure you have at least compatible safety standards. Do all dirty masks go straight in the hamper, or are you leaving them on the couch? You need a plan.
You share the chores.
As part of the previously mentioned “mess conversation,” how are other housekeeping things getting done? Some people expect their partner to deal with checking and sorting the mail, unloading the dishwasher, doing all the laundry, checking the expiration dates on food. Some people like things done a specific way and get angry when their routines are changed. It doesn’t have to be a perfect 50-50 split on every task, but everyone should be pitching in and should feel their contributions are valued. That way everything gets done without anyone’s feelings being hurt.
You know the rules of social media.
Knowing what’s kosher to post online is part of any modern-day relationship, but it’s doubly important once you start living together. Some people may not want their home all over Instagram, whether for safety or privacy reasons. Other people like to tweet every funny thing their partner says, and when you live together, you hear it all. Be clear about your boundaries and respectful of the other person’s choices.
You don’t have any financial secrets.
There’s a lot you might not know about your partner. Do they have student loans? Credit card debt? Bad spending habits? While these things might seem personal, when you’re living together and splitting costs, they can affect your financial standing as well—so it’s important to put them out in the open. “Put all your debt on the table—student loans, credit card debt, personal loans, auto loans, items in collections—everything needs to be discussed,” Pamela Capalad, founder of Brunch & Budget, told Insider. “If you’re getting an apartment together, you’re going to find out what each other’s credit scores are, so no need for unnecessary surprises.”
You’ve already survived a huge fight.
Remember the fight you thought was going to end your relationship? Turns out the fact that you and your partner successfully survived the Big Blowout of 2020 makes you more ready to share a place. Laurent says knowing how to recover from a huge disagreement is essential for a couple to take the next step: “You’re going to need those tools when you move in full-time.”
You’re on the same page about pets.
Will your cat be allowed free rein to scratch up the furniture? Will your partner be rescuing dogs and letting them onto the bed? Who is in charge of picking up poop and paying for vet costs? If one of you is bringing a pet into a shared home, you need to know whose responsibility the animal will be, especially if you think you might get another while you’re together. And painful as it is to imagine, you should probably have a plan for who gets custody if you break up. Exes have been known to hold animals hostage when things turn nasty, and you don’t want your beloved parakeet subjected to that!
You don’t ignore your relationship problems.
The time you’re spending together already can be a good barometer for whether you’re ready to share space permanently. Massa says to look at the conflicts you and your partner have: Are the same issues coming up? If they are and no one is working on them, that’s a bad sign. “Once you get in the space, you’re on top of each other, and the problems just explode,” she says. “If you see that both of you are trying to make progress, that’s one thing, but if you’re living together, they’re only going to get a million times worse.”
You’ve discussed your future.
Laurent says the biggest mistake couples make before moving in together is not talking about what moving in together actually means. “Say, ‘Let’s sit down and discuss why we’re moving in together. What’'s the next step? Why are we now taking the time to move in together?’ That's when both people are communicating this is the next step,” she says.
You don’t feel like you’re rushing into it.
If you feel pressure to move in from anyone (your parents, your friends, your partner—even yourself), you may not be ready. “Anytime there’s a big, uncomfortable question mark, figure out how to take some time and make it work,” says Massa. She suggests finding an alternative, such as waiting a year or compromising by moving closer to each other. “If it’s even a question, just wait.” We’re all extra lonely right now, but you should take this step because it’s right, not because you’re scared about the pandemic.
You have an exit strategy.
Unfortunately, not all relationships stand the test of the time. But if you break up, that doesn’t mean your finances also have to take a hit. When you move in together, be up-front about what will happen if things don’t work out. Maybe one of you will stay in the house or apartment, or you’ll put money aside in case you need to break the lease. It’s not romantic, but it’s important.