It's a big, exciting step in a relationship, but moving in with a partner can also be a minefield of new complications. Just ask Meredith Goldstein, the Boston Globe's Love Letters columnist who's been answering readers' relationship questions with a familiar warmth and comedic candor since 2009.
Goldstein's new memoir, Can't Help Myself: Lessons & Confessions from a Modern Advice Columnist, is by turns hilarious and heartbreaking as it traces parallels between her own ups and downs and those of her readers. She's answered thousands of questions on nearly every romantic quandary imaginable over the past decade, but says there are recurring themes that trouble just about everyone at some point — even if these common issues manifest in endlessly unique ways. And a big one that comes up again and again is moving in with a partner.
If you're considering leaping into a lease with your significant other, here are some tips from Goldstein based on the most common cohabitation questions she's received over the years.
1. Don't make big relationship decisions based on a lease.
"Honestly, the most common question I see in my inbox is about leases," Goldstein says. "Readers feel like they have to make big emotional decisions based on temporary contracts. What if you're not quite ready to move in with your partner, but the lease is up next month – and you don't want to wait a full year?"
My wife and I made this mistake when we were dating. We were roommates first, and lived in a three-bedroom apartment with my best friend — but he was moving out, having bought a house. My future wife and I had been dating for about six months when the lease renewal form came, and it seemed unfair to bring a stranger into the apartment as a third-wheel roommate. But in hindsight, it was too soon in the relationship: We nearly broke up twice in the new apartment.
"Sometimes readers feel like they have to take a big step in love simply because it's close to June 1," Goldstein says. "[But] there is always someone who will sublet a room. I also tell them that it's better to wait many more months than to rush a move-in just because a lease is up."
2. If you can't discuss money with each other, you're not ready to live together.
Arguing over money early on in a relationship is a top predictor of divorce down the road, so it's important you're able to discuss financial issues with your partner before you start sharing rent and utilities.
"If you're not comfortable talking to your partner about money and bills, don't consider making this move," Goldstein says. "Sharing financial obligations changes a relationship – and you have to be ready. You have to be very open to saying, 'Yes, that West Elm end table is lovely, but I can't afford it.'"
3. Recognize what's important to your partner.
When you move in with another person, there are often redundancies: It's fine to have multiple coffee mugs, but you probably don't need two coffee tables or coffee makers. But paring down your belongings and sharing stuff can be a major grappling point for some couples; there may be a sense that you're shedding bits of your own identity or past along with your possessions.
"If you're asking a partner to pare down their belongings before a move-in, a good question to ask is: 'What is important to you?'" Goldstein says. "Don't tell a partner to throw away the stuff you happen to hate. Let them decide what they want to keep."
If the process gets confrontational or passive-aggressive, and you have the means to do it, Goldstein recommends hiring an organizer for a day. "It's nice to have a third party say, 'There's a better bookshelf for this,' or, 'Do you need a couch with cup holders?'"
4. Avoid making the move in cold weather if possible.
In cold-weather climates like the Northeast, Goldstein says, it's best to try moving in together during the summer — or at least not the depths of winter. "It sounds silly, but during warmer seasons, there's plenty of time to take walks and find privacy – to get used to the new living situation," she says. "Do it in January, and it's a lot at once: A new routine, and you're stuck in the house."
5. Don't take your new roommate for granted.
Goldstein says a common complaint-sparking behavior once couples are actually living together is overlooking a partner's contributions around the house.
"I think people can forget how things in the house get done. For instance, if the kitchen counters are always clean, how did they get that way? Who cleaned them?" Goldstein says. People have a tendency to keep track of their own chores while ignoring tasks they didn't think to do, which can breed resentment on both sides. "So notice – and say thank you."
Of course, these are generalities, and every situation has its own unique circumstances — whether your S.O. displays keepsakes from his ex around the apartment or you're starting to regret moving in with each other… because your partner doesn't pull his weight financially. If you want to ask Goldstein your own question, you can submit one here.