(Photo by twoology.com)
These days, cohabiting is often lumped in the same category as marriage, whether your finger is occupied by something shiny or not. Questionnaires and forms are the main culprits, placing just a mere forward slash between the two, as if they're the same thing. It used to infuriate me. I ain't nobody's wifey. But then I reasoned. People might have a point. Are we cohabiting with a view to marry, or stay together forever at least, in the end, anyway?
A wise woman once said, 'there's no point us being together if we're not going to live together after all this time'. Ok, it was my friend. Talking about her own relationship. But she was echoing the views of me, and probably a fair few other women in the world. She didn't see the use in continuing her long-term relationship if it wasn't going to develop to the next stage of moving in. Which, if went well, she then hoped would lead to marriage, or a 'forever'. In this day and age of possibilities and opportunities, we sometimes struggle to say forever, just in case. But it's fair to say that most of us wouldn't make such a big cohabiting commitment if we didn't have the same expectations as a bride-to-be: a future together.
Alas not all of our male counterparts feel the same. You'd think happily using the phrase 'going home to the missus' would mean they were dedicated to the relationship - not just to a year's lease and shared Asda shops. But a 2013 study by Pollard and Harris found that 41% of cohabiting men aren't 'completely committed' to their girlfriends. This goes hand in hand with research that claims women are more likely to view cohabitation as a step toward marriage, while men are more likely to see it as a way to test a relationship or postpone commitment.
For me, and perhaps others, the physical transportation of possessions alone points to the fact that the couple believe their cohabitation is going to be somewhat permanent - and that's not considering the other, bigger, deeper, factors. Stuff seems to hold a lot of meaning for women. If or when we ever think about breaking up and moving out, it's the separating of DVDs and the deciding what to do with photo frames that seem to cause the sudden wave of tears.
But new storage provider, Lovespace has turned this sentimentality into practicality. They store duplicate items for people who might want to keep hold of a spare set of tea towels, should the relationship fail. Steve Folwell, the managing director, said: 'We wanted to help the biggest commitment-phobes move in with their partners.' Will it be successful? Most probably. But it feels like an easy way out of a decision that requires either full commitment or none at all. It doesn't seem to bode well for the relationship if, at the very first big hurdle, you're saying yes but also saying maybe not at the same time, by secretly stashing spare everythings in case it all goes tits up.
I understand. Cohabiting is hard. For most of those who do it, it's not as simple as just living together and carrying on as normal. Compromises and sacrifices must be made. You've got to deal with the fact that this person, who used to give you your space, is now all up in your space. Just wriggling around in it, 24/7. But that's a choice you make. No safety nets or back-up plans.
Still, Lovespace cynicism aside, it's getting hard to ignore the stats, and the practicality that is slowly enveloping the idea of cohabiting. A recent Co-operative Legal Services survey found a fifth of couples only cohabit to reduce their living costs. In a time of Generation Struggle-To-Pay-Rent-And-Will-Never-Own-A-House-Ever, this isn't so surprising.
There are plenty of stats on married folks being happier, and research showing cohabiting parents are more likely to split (bore off). But the question of whether cohabiting inevitably leads to marriage, or if cohabiting can be the end result itself, remains. Many happy couples would say that staying together for 20 years without being married is just as, if not more, blissful. Other couples believe that if they hadn't married, they would've been stuck in a fruitless cohabiting rut. But really, it comes down to what cohabiting means to you - a future or a 'for now'.