Cathi: Though Dan and I didn't live together before we got married, I did live with my college boyfriend ‑- a great guy whom I loved ‑- because neither of us could afford to live alone in New York. But I never intended to get married at 21. So we broke up a year later, when the relationship probably would've ended anyway. Though it was hard going our separate ways, we had a good time while it lasted.
Dan: I, on the other hand, never lived with a woman before I got married. And, in fact, Cathi and I didn't even live together for the first six months of our marriage! So I feel uniquely unqualified to discuss living together. But what I do know about is marriage. And it seems to me that the most important aspect of marriage, for both good and bad, is that it makes breaking up more complicated ‑- or at least more emotionally fraught.
Cathi: I'm also guessing that couples who cohabitate before marriage are perhaps more casual about sex, marriage and their relationship to begin with, which in turn might make them more casual about divorce.
And I wonder if couples who live together before marriage enter into cohabitation more casually than they would marriage, without really asking themselves ‑- and each other ‑- if they really want to be together for the rest of their lives. If that's so, then it would also make sense that they'd proceed to marriage more lackadaisically. Then it's not until after they're married that they find themselves dealing with the real issues and asking the important questions.
Dan: See, I feel like the greatest risk of living together before marriage is that you'll break up over things you wouldn't have broken up over if you'd been married. Let's face it, there's not much of a stigma (or financial cost) in simply breaking up. Living together can be as stressful as it is joyful, and sometimes you need more of a reason to stick it out through the tough times than just a shared lease and shared utilities. In my opinion, the odds are likely that people who choose to get married after they live together carry some of that mentality into their marriage.
And I don't know if it does much good to generalize about men being less committed or women always being on the path to marriage. I know plenty of women who get just as claustrophobic in relationships as men (including my loving and committed wife).
Cathi: Agreed. I don't think any of these scenarios we've discussed implies a lack of commitment on the part of men. When I recall the couples I know who lived together in their twenties, in very few of them did the relationship end because the guy wanted out.
At any rate, I think the best way to avoid the problem of moving in together with completely different expectations from your partner is to discuss, up front, both the arrangement itself and what you expect it to lead to. If you're not in synch, that might be a reason to reconsider living together ‑- rent savings notwithstanding.