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Fifty-plus years ago, the American male went to college, found a wife, then immediately jump-started a family—going straight from the dorm to the den. In 1960, the average age of marriage was 22; now it’s nearly 30. The upsides to this trend are obvious and well-documented: a longer, richer single life, more time to learn what you like (and what you don’t) in relationships, more boozy trips to Vegas. Yet there’s one sneaky catch: After years of living alone, men who do finally move in with a woman, be it a girlfriend, a fiancée, or eventually a wife, have the cohabitation skills of a 7-year-old.
The change can seem daunting. “I was worried we’d end up hating each other,” one friend tells me. Another confessed, “Doubling down on the time we spent together seemed like asking for trouble.” Or, as a third put it—speaking, no doubt, for legions of guys everywhere: “There’s only one ideal living arrangement for any couple: separate but adjacent mansions.”
So, on the off chance you can’t swing the whole mansion thing, follow this advice from the experts when moving in with your squeeze.
Jeff Wilser is the author of Alexander Hamilton’s Guide to Life (Three Rivers Press.)
You’ve had a long day. Deadlines at work, a stressful commute, a punishing trip to the gym. Now at home, you just want to shut down your brain and relax.
“Maybe in your world it’s cool to just zonk out and ignore someone, but most likely in hers, it’s not,” says Matt Lundquist, L.C.S.W., a psychotherapist in New York.
That doesn’t mean zero downtime. But it’s crucial—especially when you’re first establishing the norms of cohabitation—to be mindful of, well, keeping her in mind. Luckily, there’s an easy hack for this:
Even if the night’s plan is to chill and grab takeout, “take the time to charm her a bit, to make the moment of coming together again feel special,” says Lundquist.
His trick: After work, when he gets to his door and reaches for his keys, he “presses pause” on whatever he’s thinking about and takes a moment—just a moment—to “honor” the person he’ll see inside, thinking, “How do I want to walk through the door? How can I make her feel valued and important?”
“In reality it takes about 20 seconds,” he says, “but it sets a tone for the night.”
Talk about moving in before you actually move in. She has anxieties, too. Let her share them.
“Talk extensively about expectations ahead of time, and come clean as much as possible,” suggests Gary Lewandowski, M.D., chair of psychology at Monmouth University. Do you want a weekly night out with the guys? Will you split the grocery bill 50-50?
“One of the most taboo topics in a relationship is the relationship itself, so you need to spend time talking about co-habitation ahead of time.”
“The two of you have to literally get out, have drinks, go to the park—whatever you gotta do, as long as you get off the couch,” one of my close friends advises.
And as cloying as it might sound, a “date night” can do wonders. Cook an elaborate dinner together. Splurge on a new restaurant. See a play. The spark of romance takes effort.
“Because things can get very routine very quickly, a regular date night can work wonders,” says Lewandowski.
“Just because you’ve moved in together, that doesn’t mean all romance and excitement should go out the window,” says relationship expert Andrea Syrtash. “You’re not just roommates—you’re lovers. Something as simple as closing the bathroom door matters.”
Also, bonus tip: “Please don’t go to the toilet in front of each other,” says Syrtash. “Separation of bed and bath is a good thing.” That said…
“Everyone farts, and all women get their periods,” says Lundquist. “And, of course, everyone has hair that inexplicably piles up in every corner of the bathroom. Get over it, be respectful, and you’ll be fine.”
Moving-in chores, like hanging curtains or painting the bathroom, can feel like a burden. So reframe the task.
“Try to see your new household duties as interesting and challenging activities you can tackle together, not tedious chores,” recommends Lewandowski.
One typical blunder men make when co-habitating, according to Lundquist, is not setting aside enough time to be their “old” selves.
“People give up their friends and their activities, then once the move-in honeymoon is over, they wonder why they’re bored. One person isn’t a life.”
The fix: “Short of bringing home another woman, do what you’ve always done—the trick is moderation.”
For example, explains Syrtash, “you may need a little more balance with some of your hobbies. You can still play video games, for instance, but probably not all weekend.”
The days of “monogamousish” relationships are over. Commit or break it off entirely.
After moving in with his girlfriend, one guy I know confessed, with just a touch of remorse, “I know I can never go out for a bender, grab some bird and bang her, and bask in postcoital bliss from stranger sex the next day. I mean, I probably don’t even want that anymore, but I still mourn its loss.”
If you’re suffering that kind of grief, do the following:
Don’t become one of those couples who lose touch with their old friends.
“Relationships with other people are key,” says Lundquist. Hang out with other people, go to parties, squeeze in a regular “guys’ night.”
“Creating experiences outside the relationship gives you stuff to talk about. Part of what makes a roommate/partner interesting is that she doesn’t spend the whole day with you.”
This sounds trivial, but it’s a real game-changer—not to mention it fills me with massive relief. During normal dating, when she’s over at your place, or vice versa, you feel obligated to hang out together. But when you’re co-habitating, spending time in separate rooms or areas is a must.
“You have to be OK with being apart,” another of my friends observes. “You don’t always have to watch the same shows. She feels like watching TV but you feel like reading? Cool, split up.”
Everything in life is a trade-off, so your mindset matters. “Focus on what you’re gaining, not what you’re losing, when you move in with her,” says Syrtash. “It’s nice to have a Sunday-night Netflix buddy, it’s fun to have regular sex, and it’s comforting to have a supportive person to vent to after a bad day at work.”
“People who tell you that sex automatically becomes less frequent, less exciting, or both once you move in—they can go fuck themselves,” says Lundquist. “Sex changes, absolutely; but if you embrace that change, it doesn’t have to be less good.”
How does it change, exactly? As one of my shacked-up friends says, “The animal stuff has mostly gone, but the soft, gentle stuff works as well. And sometimes it’s not full-blown sex but just a wee bit of something here and there that keeps things ticking nicely.”
And if all else fails, splurge on the two mansions.