Friday, October 16, 2009

The Cohabitation Blues

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any questions you may have to

DEAR JIM: I'm a 34 year old woman. I've been going with my boyfriend for about four years, and living with him for two years. When he moved in with me, I thought it would be the next step in our relationship, and that we'd soon be making plans to get married. Instead, it seems like we're farther from marriage now than we were before. Whenever I bring up the subject, my boyfriend says "Why should we rock the boat?" He feels we've got a nice thing going right now, and that marriage is just asking for trouble (he likes to cite the 50% divorce rate). My friends say he's stringing me along, but I'd like a man's perspective, which is why I'm writing to you. Thanks. ("Frustrated" in Portland, Oregon)

DEAR "FRUSTRATED": I agree with your friends: your boyfriend is stringing you along.

He may not be doing it intentionally, but he's perfectly happy with the current set-up and he has no motivation to change it. My guess is he has a nice place to live in and a nice woman to sleep with, cook for him, and keep him company. If you're not going to press him for a commitment, why should he offer one on his own?

The problem with cohabitation arrangements is that most women go into it with your attitude (that it's a step closer to marriage), and most guys go into it with your boyfriend's attitude (that's it's a great way to eat well, live in a clean house, and have sex regularly). Unless the woman gives the guy an ultimatum, things just drift along until one of the other of them takes up with someone new or finds some other reason to end the relationship.

And that's my advice to you: give him an ultimatum. But an ultimatum doesn't have to mean a threat, nor does it have to be delivered in an angry tone. In fact, it's a positive message. You'd be telling your boyfriend you love him enough to want to spend the rest of your life with him. You're willing to make a lifelong commitment to him, but only if he's willing to make one to you, and by "lifelong commitment" you mean marriage.

As for a timetable, I think it's reasonable to give him thirty days to make a decision, but I wouldn't give him more than that. And I wouldn't accept an answer that says he'll marry you "someday" or in "a couple of years." Unless he's willing to set a wedding date within a year, move on with your life.

By the way, the argument about the 50% divorce rate is, at best, very misleading. We know the divorce rates because every state keeps statistics on the number of marriages and the number of divorces each year. But there are no official statistics on the break-up of non-marriage cohabitations. My guess is, though, that 95% of such cohabitations fail within ten years, and probably only 25% of them last as long as five years. So, if you're looking for permanence, don't look at cohabitation.

Good luck, "Frustrated", and let me know what happens.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A Disaster Waiting to Happen

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any questions you may have to

DEAR JIM: I heard you on a radio show talking about online dating, and I remember you said that long-distance relationships are not necessarily a waste of time, especially when one person is seriously thinking of moving close to where the other person lives. I live in the Tampa Bay area, and I met a great guy from Chicago through He says he's fed up with Midwestern winters, and wants to move to Florida before Thanksgiving. The only thing is, he won't have the money to buy a place here until he can sell his condo in Chicago. He says that if I let him move in with me temporarily, he'll pay me $1,000 a month rent. I do have an extra bedroom, and I could certainly use the money, but I feel a little funny about having someone move in that I don't really know (we've talked on the phone many times, but have never met in person). Any thoughts? ("Jennifer" from Clearwater)

DEAR JENNIFER: You're right to "feel funny" about all of this. In both a legal and a personal sense, this could turn into a disaster for you.

Legally, if your online friend moves in with you, you'd be creating a landlord-tenant relationship. I don't know the details of Florida law, but in general once a tenancy is created, a tenant has all sorts of protections. If he pays you the first month's rent and then suddenly stops paying, it may take you up to three months to evict him, during which time you'd be paying court costs and legal fees. Unless you're in the business of owning rental properties, you shouldn't become a landlord these days unless it's an absolute last resort.

In a personal sense, the situation could still be a disaster even if he pays the rent each month. What if, after you finally meet in person, it turns out that you really don't think of him as a romantic partner, but he thinks of you that way? It would be extremely uncomfortable, to say the least, to have to share a house with someone under those circumstances. You'd be spending all your time trying to avoid him, and you probably wouldn't feel comfortable bringing some new boyfriend over. There's even the possibility of a sexual assault. I just don't see any good coming of this.

If the guy really does have a sincere desire to move to Florida, and the money to do it, let him find his own place, or let someone else take him on as a roommate. That way, you can still see each other if you want, but without the legal complications, the financial risk, and the interpersonal and sexual tensions.

Good luck, Jennifer, and let me know how it turns out.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Married, But Living Separately?

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please submit your questions to

DEAR JIM: I'm 64 and have been a widow for ten years. About nine months ago, I met a wonderful man, "Carl", at a lunch club for widows and widowers. Carl is 66 and lost his wife three years ago. We fell in love almost immediately, and we're already talking marriage. The only thing that concerns me is that Carl doesn't want us to live together after we're married. We're both homeowners---in fact, we live only a mile from each other---and either one of our homes is big enough for two people to share. But Carl is perfectly happy with continuing the kind of relationship we have now after we're married: seeing each other for lunch and dinner almost every day, staying overnight together two or three times a week at one place or the other, going away on weekend trips every so often, etc. In some ways it sounds appealing; I've been living alone for so long I'm not sure how easy it would be to share a home again. But it also sounds a little crazy, like it wouldn't be a "real" marriage. And isn't it a waste of money to have two houses when one will do? What do you think? ("Karen" in South Florida)

DEAR KAREN: Financially speaking, it probably is a waste of money to have two houses when one will suffice. You would have twice the taxes, twice the insurance, twice the maintenance and utilities, and---if you don't own your homes outright---twice the mortgage payments.

But you would also have twice the space. And space, literally or figuratively, is what Carl seems to want. Like you, he's evidently comfortable with the daily routine he's developed since being on his own. It sounds as if he's successfully adapted that routine to allow for a significant amount of time with you, and it also sounds as if there is no other woman in his life or any other troubling reason for his not wanting to live with you full-time.

My personal feeling is that what Carl wants is unusual but not "crazy." In fact, it may be perfectly rational. He may fear that sharing a house full-time would destroy the romance you have now, or cause one or both of you to grow irritated with the other person's habits. He may like the idea of staying up late several nights a week to read or watch TV without keeping you up, or lingering over the morning paper without having to make conversation.

In my book, I discuss what I call "unconventional" marriages. In essence, I say that if a particular arrangement works for the two people involved, and there are no child-rearing issues to complicate things, it doesn't matter how strange it may appear to the rest of the world. In fact, the rest of the world may be jealous of a married couple who respect each other's need for alone-time, and see each other only when they really want to.

Of course, if you're truly uncomfortable with Carl's idea, you shouldn't get married to him. But if your main concern is how the arrangement would look to others, I wouldn't let that influence your decision. As for the money, it sounds like the two of you are doing pretty well right now, so your standard of living shouldn't be compromised if you were to get married.

Good luck, Karen, and please let me know what happens.