Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Relationship Stages

The audience was surprisingly unanimous in its belief that buying real estate together is something that should wait until a very late stage in a relationship. I figured that there would be some more diversity in the opinions, but maybe there is no great argument to do it otherwise.

I withheld my opinion yesterday, but this actually fits in pretty well with my new theory of relationship stages. The theory is that there are different steps in a relationship, and the steps should be chronologically ordered based on how big a commitment they are, and how hard they are to un-do.

Start with living together, for example. It is surely a big step and a significant commitment, and represents a major stage in any relationship. But, there is no legal relationship (except for maybe a lease, and at least not right away) and if things don’t work out, it is pretty easy to undo. This is followed shortly afterwards by the “combining of stuff”. Joint bank accounts, etc. Some of this sort of comes about with living together, I guess, but it is a further step.

The next two stages are marriage and home ownership. Honestly, I think marriage is the less significant commitment, although I won’t argue with people who feel otherwise. It certainly has a much larger emotional symbolism, but in terms of its “un-doableness” it should come before home ownership.

I suppose this might sound a little antiseptic and cold, but I think that the comments from yesterday sort of hit on this. For one thing, buying a house together likely means a joint mortgage, which exposes one person to the risk of the other one becoming a credit risk. And many more questions…What if you break up but can’t sell the house? What if you can’t agree on what to do with the house? What if one of you wants to keep it and you can’t agree on how to buy out the other? What if BOTH of you want to keep it? Buying a house together is, in my opinion, a larger commitment because it is so much harder to get out of it if things go wrong.

My summation of this would be: whether you are married or not, owning a house together means that you have to get “divorced”. Hence, I feel like getting married is the step that should come first, and the ownership of the house should be a part of the already existing marriage institution. (Just to confuse things more…I think that the commitment to marry, in this context, is as important as the actual marriage, so I sort of agree with Ella that the engagement is really the important step in this…)

Finally, of course, comes having children. That is clearly the biggest commitment and one which ensures that your relationship can never really be completely dissolved. You can’t sell your kids and settle the relationship (well, I guess you can, but that is a whole other series of issues.) I guess you can argue that having kids doesn’t have to come after buying a house, since they are very different kinds of commitments, but I put it last because it is clearly a larger commitment.

Now that I have thoroughly confused you, I have to add the “Dependent Addendum” which says that the pre-existence of children changes all of this. If you are bringing a child into the relationship, then moving in together becomes a MUCH bigger deal. It is one thing for me to move in with my boyfriend, it is completely another for my little sister to move in with my boyfriend.

I am going to get a little judgmental here, and I apologize for that, but I feel like people are too quick to intimately involve boyfriends and girlfriends in their childrens’ lives. Especially little children (if your kids are like 17, it’s a totally different story). Even when I was like 10, I always got weirded out by kids who talked about “Mom’s boyfriend moving in.”

I am certainly not one to preach morals, so I don’t want this to come off as snooty of me. But I know that I always hated the idea of my mother bringing boyfriends around and of random guys staying over. I felt like it made her trashy and cheap…I always liked when she had people that made her happy, but that doesn’t mean I wanna see them walking out of her bedroom at 7:00 am.

Anyway, I am not sure that last couple of paragraphs came out the way I wanted it too (I hate people telling me what is “good” parenting and “bad” parenting.) But it is what it is.

As this applies to me, I have been very sensitive about having The Boy spend nights when Munchkin is around, and about spending nights at his place as well. Her presence also dramatically alters the aforementioned relationship timeline. If it were just me, I would probably be ready to move in with The Boy now, but it ain’t just me. I would like to wait until we are married before he moves in with us, and I won’t even entertain the idea before we are engaged.

So, I guess that is kind of a lot, fell free to tell me I am an idiot…


e.b. said...

Like I said earlier these are frequent topics of conversations in my parts. And actually have been for a while, as they preceded the move in decision.

I think marriage and home ownership are of equal value. They both require legal recourse to dissolve, as they are both a partnership that is recongnized by law. That is quite sterile and pessimistic - but the point is the same you enter into both of them with the intent that you do not want either to dissolve. You make the most reasoned rationale decision at the time.

allbilly said...

you're an idiot.

Ella said...

With Munchkin in the picture it's a completely different ball game. I think you have been very responsible in your relationship with The Boy. Choosing not to buy a place together is probably the right thing to do, especially if things were to go south it would not only affect you, but Munchkin as well.

Ella said...

ps: I had to google Hannah Montana. I think my roommate aspires to be Martha Stewart. Our place looks like a page right out of a Pottery Barn catalogue. Personally I am more into the minimalist and 20th C. modern look. Thankfully Tim's place is all 20th C. modern.

Ally said...

Under your steps, I think "combining of stuff" like a joint bank account (or even some possessions) should be placed in the same stage as home ownership. It would be quite foolish to share a checking account with a boyfriend, for example.

Under your rationale, I'm curious as to why you think that the commitment to marry someone (which isn't legally recognized and can be undone with a few words) is as important as being married (which is legally recognized and much more difficult to undo) in this context.

And yes, this is sort of cold and antiseptic. I think I understand why you feel this way, but if I felt the way you do, I'm not sure I'd bother with marriage.

Kudos on looking out for Munchkin's best interest.

Aaron said...

I'm a bit concerned that you think home ownership is more of a commitment than marriage. Exactly how many homes do you intend on owning in your lifetime? More than one? Okay, exactly how many marriages do you intend of having in your lifetime? More than one?

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I wonder how many marriages fail because someone puts more effort into something other than their marriage? I bet it's a lot. :(

I also fail to see how not having any legal ties to an individual makes it easier to split property. Especially property that is only due to become profitable as time moves on. If you're married, a divorce can at least be settled in court in the pretense of some "fairness". If you're not married and have to split a wealth of property, it's whomever can hire the best lawyer.

Allen Madding said...

Ally must be reading my mind. Joint accounts, joint ownership of anything (houses, cars, fishing boats, etc) should ownly be after marriage (not engagement, or promise ring exchange, etc).

I don't, however, think that you're an idiot :)