We’ve been getting an overwhelming amount of mail regarding the Love Does Not Have to be Blind series. Following is just one of them.
Q: Dear Dr. Ranjan, thanks for writing the articles on love and relationships. I disagree on one point-not living together before marriage. In my early 20s I lived with a man that I loved very much. He turned out to be someone very different from who I thought he was. We broke up after 2 years when I decided to move on. If I hadn’t lived with him, I would have never learned so much about him. Don’t you think it’s better to know as much about a person as possible before you marry?
A: Thank you for asking a question on this complicated issue. I have been asked this question many times and have given it a lot of thought.
I agree with the idea of knowing a person very well before making a long term commitment including marriage. However, I do not believe you need to live with someone to know his/her core character. You may learn more about his/her habits and skills in greater detail by living together. Moreover, it takes years to get to know someone very well. Since you cannot do this with everyone you seriously date, this is not a feasible approach. Instead, you should learn to trust your instincts and to recognize warning signs during early phases of dating, ie: during the “limeration phase” (please refer to my article “Love Does Not Have to be Blind: Part II"). Trust me, those signs are always there: we just choose to ignore them during limeration. I truly believe this is the most difficult part of relationships we all need to work on.
It also seems to me that living together while dating is trickier for women. Since it is customary for men to propose; by deciding to live with a man while dating, the woman gives a very wrong message to the man. You are essentially saying to the man: I offer myself fully to you even though you have not made a full commitment to me. Therefore, it is not a partnership between two equals. You create a situation where you may be mistreated by the man (of course it will depend upon the man’s character too). He’s more likely to take you for granted. Secondly, by moving in with a man, you may be unintentionally decreasing his incentive (of course again, this depends on his character) to “work on the relationship”, because now he’s “got it all”. You essentially become his wife without having any commitment with him. Thirdly, in a live-in situation, the man is more likely to engage in activities which risk a break up since consequences (for example: alimony, children, etc.) are not nearly as harsh as they would be if the couple were married.
Let me tell you a few other reasons why you should not live together while dating. By living with a boyfriend or girlfriend, you diminish your chances of meeting other potential matches and of expanding your social horizon. So, if living together doesn’t work out, you have lost your valuable time when you could have met that special someone. Lastly, in my view, nothing is left to anticipation if you have already lived with someone before marriage. I believe the excitement of living together and learning each other’s quirks should be reserved for the time after marriage.
I completely understand there are exceptions to general situations. But you should never live your life with the odds against you. In my professional work, it has been quite clear that relationships do not progress or are not fulfilling, especially in the western cultures, if certain events do not occur in the right sequence.
The purpose of this article is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical or psychiatric issue. Dr. Rakesh Ranjan is a practicing psychiatrist and a researcher. He is a recipient of several research awards and has authored several peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters on psychiatric illnesses and their treatments. He is a national speaker for several organizations and serves on the medical advisory board for NAMI for Greater Cleveland. If you or a loved one is experiencing any symptoms that would lead you to believe that there could be a mental imbalance, please email your questions to Dr. Ranjan at email@example.com. Each Wednesday, Dr. Ranjan will address some of these questions in this column. All contact info will be kept confidential.