He's Broke and Ready to Shack Up, but I'm Not

Ask Demetria: Pass on playing house until you're sure the relationship -- and you -- can handle it.

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(The Root) --

My boyfriend of two years lost his job six months ago and is now losing his apartment. He's asked to stay with me because he doesn't want to move back home with his mother. I feel bad for him, but I don't really want to live with him. What do I do? --F.J.

He's jobless and broke. And since so many men tend to define their worth by their ability to provide and he's got no finances to contribute, he's likely broken, too. Moving in might be a come-up for him, but it's likely to be living hell for you. He doesn't have enough money to maintain a home of his own, which means he'll be living off you. Bills, groceries, rent or mortgage? All you, you, you and you.

If you two were living together as an unmarried couple -- more or less playing husband and wife -- there'd be no question that you should cover him. You want to play wife, then you do wifely duty, which would be to pick up his slack and make the best of it. But you haven't moved in together for a reason, and deciding to do so hastily and for his financial reasons would be a bad move.

He won't be destitute and living on the streets if you don't say yes. He'll be at home with Mom. Tell him you're not up for this challenge and don't think it's in the best interest of your relationship. Suggest other ways you can help without reaching into your pocketbook to fund this transition. Does he need help job-searching, restructuring his résumé, practicing his interview skills? That's your girlfriend duty to pitch in. Financially covering or supporting his basic needs while he's unemployed is not.

Even under the best of circumstances, living with someone is a huge undertaking. It sounds fun in theory, and it is in the early stages (all access!) -- and it certainly can be convenient (cheaper rent!) -- but there's a lot more to cohabitation than that. You're literally sharing your life and intermingling your finances. That is a major commitment, like a marriage but without its benefits.

People often ask me what I think about cohabitating before marriage, and my answer is often, "Well, it depends." There's no definitive stance the way there is for what to do if your spouse assaults you (leave, no question) or if you catch him or her in the physical act of cheating (leave, no question). For a while my answer was: "Don't do it! Reconsider! Read some literature!"

Of those who had ever cohabitated before marriage, the probability that they'd still be together after 10 years is 60 percent for women. Meanwhile, those who did not cohabitate have a 66 percent chance of still being married after a decade. Whether moving in together is right depends on the couple's specific situation.

If you choose to cohabitate as a test run for marriage, I get it. Truthfully, you don't know anyone until you live with that person. It's a fact to which anyone who's ever shared a dorm room or apartment with even their same-sex best friend can testify. And for that reason, I totally get why a couple would want to share the same space and feel each other out and know if they can commit to forever-ever. In this case, even if cohabitation -- and by proxy the relationship -- doesn't work out, it's better to know that your conflicts can't be overcome prior to being locked into marriage.

But cohabitating without an end goal just isn't a wise move. I've counseled too many women who moved in with their partners, thinking that it meant the relationship was going "somewhere," and it was really just a convenient and temporary setup for their significant other. They took on all the responsibilities of a wife and received none of the privileges. They were devastated when things didn't work out as they'd hoped.

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