A few years ago, my friend James told me about a girl he picked up at a bar. After a few drinks, they went back to her apartment, where James met the girl’s roommates, her ex-fiance and his new girlfriend.
There’s a growing trend among young couples to move in together before marriage. They do so for love, obviously, but also for financial reasons; especially couples living in urban areas like San Francisco and New York where signing a lease means surrendering your hard-earned paycheck and your soul. Did you see that recent article about SF where certain neighborhood rents would require 5-6 minimum wage jobs? We did! Unfortunately, not every couple finds lasting domestic bliss, and many can’t afford to move out right away. So what happens when cohabitating lovers become cohabitating ex-lovers?
When couples break-up there are a lot of raw emotions floating around, and every perceived slight has the potential to explode into ugly, even litigious, warfare. Considering the highly combustible combination of heartbreak and shared real estate – not to mention other casualties of the post-relationship fallout like joint purchases and pets – it’s important to develop a plan for coping with both your feelings and your suddenly awkward living situation…
Even if it’s the last thing you want to do, talk to your ex and discuss the situation. What are the penalties for breaking your lease? Who is on the lease? Are you allowed to sublet? Is your landlord the understanding type or only plays by the rules? Once you understand the legal terms that temporarily bind you to the apartment and each other, you should determine if one of you will keep the apartment. If so, what safeguards should be in place to protect the credit and renter reputation of whoever’s on the lease.
If you are stuck living with your ex for more than say, a week, you need to set some ground rules and boundaries. Be respectful of each other’s personal space, property, friends, and feelings. You may think that bringing home a date is not a terrible idea. You would probably be wrong; don’t do it. If it’s at all possible, try to avoid sleeping in the same bed, and don’t hook up with your ex. Any confusion about how your relationship is currently defined can only lead to trouble.
(Next Time) Start A Rainy Day Fund
While it may seem unromantic or paranoid at the beginning of what seems like a promising relationship, it’s a very good idea to start a rainy day fund that you can fall back on if living together doesn’t work out. Financial independence and built-in safety nets will help reduce your stress and give you the freedom to make decisions that are best for you. For example, if you have a rainy day fund, you could rent a place on Airbnb for a few weeks while figuring out your next step. Or, even though not ideal, you could afford to pay double rent for one month if you found the perfect place before you could get out of that last month in your previous place. Without a fund, it restricts your options, but you can always ask to stay with a friend or family member. Spending time outside of the apartment can help the healing process and relieve any frustration that you may be experiencing.
Be The Bigger Person
Since every relationship is different, the general rule for your cohabitating predicament should be to treat your ex with compassion. While it may seem like common sense to not throw all of your ex’s stuff out of a third story window, it’s easy to be consumed by your feelings. Remember: be practical not petty, no matter how you feel about the break-up. One day soon your ex will walk out the door, and you may or may not see this person ever again. Focus on that point in the future, and how you want to feel between now and then.