Playing House: Why You Can’t Test Drive A Marriage Through Cohabitation

May 24, 2012  |  

I made many mistakes during my dating years: pining after emotionally unavailable men, hanging around men I didn’t like just because they liked me, ruling out potential dates for superficial reasons, the list goes on.

But now, several months on the other side of married life, I believe there is one great decision I made while dating – deciding not to live with my husband before we got married.

Though at times it seemed financially impractical, living together was never a consideration for us. We agreed that we wanted to date while we were dating and be married when we got married.

This put us in a different mindset from many cohabitating couples we know who have been dating for years. Of course, there is no universal timetable for relationships because every couple moves at its own pace. In addition, some couples don’t want to ever get married. Just as men aren’t interested in buying a cow when they’re getting the milk for free, women have decided they don’t want to marry a pig when all they want is the sausage. However, I’ve observed women who want to marry their boyfriends yesterday, but have settled for playing house while waiting not-so-patiently for him to pop the question.

As a result, I advise any woman who is interested in getting married in a timely fashion to think twice before cohabitating.

I’m not saying there aren’t people who move in together, get engaged soon after, get married and live happily ever after, but it seems a mutually good experience is not the common outcome for cohabitating couples.

There are countless examples of cohabitation gone bad, yet every woman seems to think she will be different only to end up nodding her head just the same in recognition of Gabrielle Union’s character in the popular movie, Think Like A Man. Homegirl was living with her boyfriend for nine years without any semblance of commitment. That would have been funny, if not so sadly common.

The New York Times recently reported: chances are pretty good that a woman desiring to get married will find moving in together just postpones marriage indefinitely, results in a less satisfied marriage and/or increases the likelihood of divorce. The Times found that cohabitating couples are more likely to have kids than get married.

So, why do people continue to support this failed relationship model?

The most ridiculous of arguments is that people are using “cohabitation as a way to ‘test drive’ a marriage.” For one, a marriage is not a car. And even if it were a car, the “test drive” would be dating not cohabitating. No car company would allow you to take their car home, drive it all over town for years, eating and spilling in it, getting into fender benders, and generally treating the car like it is yours to keep.  That is what kind of “test drive” you’re engaging in when you compare it to cohabitating.

Further, there is no way to test a marriage without actually being married.

Sure, it’s important to get to know the person you want to marry, but you can know enough about someone you’re dating without living with him. For instance, if he insists on moving in with you right away, you know he lacks patience. (Just kidding…sort of.) Thinking of my own marriage, there are things that make my husband and I different that we didn’t know until we got married, but those things aren’t dealbreakers and would not have been worth finding out beforehand.

The progression in our relationship and the clear distinction of our married life from our dating life is much more exciting and valuable than knowing beforehand if we fold towels the same.

Besides, when does a “test drive” morph into a “committed drive”? If you’re still claiming to be test-driving your marriage years after moving in together then you’re kidding yourself. Someone in that relationship is being led like a clueless horse with a carrot dangling in front of it, biding their time until they realize it’s being wasted.

If you want to be married, then you deserve to be with someone who wants to marry you. Why settle for someone who wants to drag you through a grueling, multi-year audition only to possibly decide that you’re not right for the part? You deserve someone who isn’t wanting to play pretend by living together because he would much rather have you for real in a marriage.


Alissa is a writer living in Columbus, OH. Follow her on Twitter @AlissaInPink or check out her blog: This Cannot Be My Life

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  • Idisagree

    Get off your high horse! Every individual and couple had different experiences and expectations. Your opinions are not fact. So don’tact like they are.

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  • Nev

    I like how everyone automatically assumes that the ultimate thing to do
    before you die is get married. Are we all so miserably desperate and
    insecure about our relationships that we must insist on dragging this
    decrepit mockery of an institution through the mud even now? Seriously it’s time to move on people.

  • the truth

    LOVE this article. I would never play house and pretend like I’m married WHEN I’M NOT MARRIED. Marriage is more sacred than that and needs to be respected a little more.

  • Msriss

    I have to disagree and also add that a woman months into her relationship is not exactly in my eyes an expert on what will and will not make a marriage successful. I’ve seen 3 couples divorce after less than 2 years of marriage. Two of the couples did not live together prior to marriage while the 3rd lived together for almost 10 years before marriage. While my “hubby” and I have been happily unmarried for 8 years and living together for 6 of those years. Far too often people think “Oh I’m married so it’s going to work by default.” WRONG! All relationships whether they live together or live apart, are married or just living together will not be successful because of some foolish rule. They are successful due to hard work, willingess to sacrifice for one another, shared goals and beliefs, trust, honesty, communication, and the desire to WANT to be with that persion, not HAVE to be with that person.

  • RealTalk

    I can see why many women would agree to not live with their partner before marriage. However, marriage doesn’t guarantee everlasting happiness either. Married men and women cheat or just leave their spouses all the time regardless if they lived together before marriage or not. I personally know countless amount of couples who are unhappily married or married for reasons such as money, status, and just to say they have a husband/wife. To society, they like to seem politically correct by marriage, but when they get behind closed doors, they can barely stand each others presence. I said that to say you can’t go by statistics or anything else. Everyone has their own situation that works for them. However an individual decides to live his/her life is totally up to them.

  • KourageousKya

    I’m thankful to say that I have made many mistakes in relationships, but cohabitating ISN’T ONE!! I just can’t get with it! I don’t want to live with anyone before marriage. Many of my friends, co-workers, and family members have done this and they end up staying with the guy for 5-6 years without any “ring” commitment they become accustom to “playing house”. I stayed with my boyfriend for 3 days and it didnt’ feel right, so I packed my stuff in the middle of the night and LEFT! My mind doesn’t sit well with me “pretending” to be hubby and wifey! I need the real deal or NOTHING AT ALL!

  • Toya Sharee

    I have issues with this article, only because I don’t think the real problem is co-habitating as much as it is lack of communication about expectations.  I agree with who ever posted, “If he wants to marry you he will, and if he doesn’t he won’t.”  The problem occurs when women think that moving in will work magic that  somehow a serious conversation about expectations and marriage won’t.  Playing house doesn’t magically make a man wake up one day and think, “Golly gee, my girl washes my clothes and makes a mean omelette.  I think i’m gonna get her a ring.”  Especially if marriage isn’t something that’s in his mindset to begin with.  Let your expectations be known from gate, and if you find yourself over 5 years later paying bills and making waffles and no sign of marriage in sight, then you’ve officially settled.  Also I think co-habitating does offer a point of view before marriage that simply dating doesn’t and really forces you to question, “Can I do this for the rest of my life?”  Personally, I’d feel like I was marrying a total stranger without co-habitation.  Co-habitating allows you time to see if you can find a flow and rhythm that works well for the combining of two separate lives.  Now if marriage is a priority for you, it’s just important to voice repeatedly that shacking up is not enough for you and you want to make it official.  Different strokes for different folks; breaking up is inevitable if the relationship is unhealthy, co-habitating or not.

    • fly_on_the_wall

      I agree with you 100% – it`s a communication issue not a living together issue. I would definetly want to co-habitate before I get married. I don`t think the issue is living together as much as it is not having the marriage discussion first. Moving in with someone with the hope that that alone will be the catalyst to marriage without having even talked about it, hoping that by showing him you`re a domestic goddess is enough, is just plain dumb. 

  • Adrina

    And if people actually dated and stop getting caught up in the honeymoon phase, and pay attention to the signs your significant other display instead of seeing what you want, and going for change…you would know about their spirituality, habits, and finances…ask questions and observe their words against their actions…or test it out while dating

  • Adrina

    I completely agree with everything in this article…that “test drive” is bs. If you cohabitate, found out something urks you, move out and move on…how much in love were the two of you in any way? You can live with someone forever and say you’re testing it but the dynamics of a marriage is different…there’s always going to be something that you will find out, so if you’re living together to find out everything, then you’ll never get married. You’ll always be the girlfriend!

    If you’re engaged and getting married in a week or two, then ok….but if you’re using the excuse to test something, that’s bs

  • Ms_Sunshine9898

    Co-sign on this article! I will never EVER live with a boyfriend before marriage. It’s ungodly and I’d like to have something to look forward to when I do get married!

  • Jimmy Swaggerd

    HAHA!!! She said “several MONTHS on the other side of married life”!!!  Speak on it once you’ve been in the married game for a few years!  Hilarious. Anyways, I agree, co-habitation makes you not take it seriously. Been there, kinda did the chick dirty, semi-felt bad about it, but it was what it was. Anyways… Marriage is super fun if you do it right and you both still like drinking and partying together (I said ‘together’, it’s significant).  No crabs and no DUI’s since I got married. Woo-hoo!! It’s safer… and YOU HAVE MORE MONEY!!!

  • Miamour

    I know a couple who met in Feb of a particular year, moved in together around June of that same year, had their first child Nov of that same year, (She got pregnant in the same month that she met him), and got married and are still happily married after 6 years of being together…If he wants to marry you he will, if not he wont.

    • RealTalk


  • Spiree

    Question for you all: 

    Does visiting a significant others and sleeping over their place for the weekend or a day or two is the same as cohabiting? 

    If yes, then I guess almost everyone is guilty of cohabiting. It doesn’t matter how long you both are living together or “shacking up” but once you sleep over now and then, it’s like you will be experiencing the same thing as when you both “shack up”.

    • Details

      Staying over someones house 3,4 times a week is not shacking up.  Living with someone means cleaning up after someone, sharing bills, compromising over which television show to watch, biting your tongue  when your mate eats all of your favorite snacks, spending 30 minutes with that person picking out a picture frame for the vaction pictures… and much much more than sex

  • NikkitaMichelle

    Shacking up is a curse to marriage.  Don’t do it.

    • sismj

      Totally agree with you there!

  • thedoggonetruth

    I once knew a couple that moved in together, with the intent on marrying.  After five years of living together and no marriage, but a child, they broke up and went their separate ways.  A year and a half later, he proposed to another woman, AND married her, without living with her  The woman he married is a dead ringer for the woman he lived with and didn’t marry. They could be twins!

    • L-Boogie

      LOL!  Keep the cookies and hope he brings the milk. 

  • Naaj21

    I agree wholeheartedly. I only know of one pair of friends it worked for, but they were engaged before they moved in together and married a year later. Cohabitating/Shacking up isnt for me.  Glad my boyfriend and I agree on this subject.

  • jackieOsassin

    so happy me and my bf decided to get married BEFORE the big move. of course there were some bumps in our road of matrimony, but overall we handled them like a married couple should: TOGETHER. with cohabitation, there always seems to be a lingering feel of “i can leave whenever i want; you don’t OWN me” with every heated argument. and if someone in the relationship says it, they’re right, and they can if they aren’t committed to making something work. with marriage beforehand, you already have a very good feeling about whether a person is willing to work for something you’ve both put so much time into.

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  • L-Boogie

    Stay single.  

  • MCR

    My husband wanted us to live together before we got married. Mainly because he’s in the Army and has been thru a horrible first marriage experience prior. I’ve known him 10 yrs. I was living in Florida. We did get married but this is the first actual time of us living together. I dont think you have to live together to ‘test drive’ marriage. Either you gonna get along or not. If you spend enough time together and pick up on their habits then getting married and then moving together shouldnt be a big transition.

  • Nitty

    Moma told me not to.

  • Jennyftb

    Dear Ladies,

    Refer to the male commentor’s, Jason Vorhees, statement, ” Why does living together HAVE to mean that you should/will eventually get married? People do know there is a large population in the world that dont believe in marriage….right?….”

    That says a lot.
    I think women who want to marry should never put the cart before the horse.

    • Netdandri

      I took notice of him saying that too. That would be the dude that you move in with because you “love him.” But he never had any intentions of marrying you in the first place. He only wanted to move in and get all of the marriage benefits.

    • KourageousKya

      But the sad part about this is that there will be WOMEN out there that want marriage and the GUY doesn’t!! That’s the population that he is talking about that doesn’t BELIEVE in marriage.

  • Nope

    Here’s some advice for women that can be applied to this
    article and most others on here, hell, most situations for them in general:
    stop living inside of your own mind. IMO, a lot of times it’s as if most women
    (yes, most) are living out a movie inside of their heads. The only problem is
    they didn’t share the damn script with anyone else (i.e. their man or the man
    that’s poking them). Then they want to get all mad and disappointed when the
    dude doesn’t know his lines or “messes up” the scene. Take note, your wants and
    wishes aren’t everyone else’s reality.

    • GirlSixx

      I wish I could hit the like button a million times more…

  • Piecana021

    Here’s a question: Do you have to live with your best friend to know that he/she is a good friend, or even a good friend for you?

    • jackieOsassin

      that’s friendship. i wouldn’t want to marry my friend. no matter how amazingly awesome she is. 

      and if i were, i wouldn’t want to live with her first. knowing her, she’d NEVER pop the question.

    • Miamour

      No you dont, but you can move in with her and find out she’s not the type of person you want to live with. Also, your friend could be the best friend you ever had but it doesnt mean she will be on same page as  you when it comes to finances, spirituality, and other things it takes a couple to agree on for a marriage to work.

      • Candacey Doris

         Isn’t that the truth!

  • DoinMe

    @140ec7d45ac96553f4dabb68c0797fb0:disqus “Of course dating in the 21st century has taken on a whole new meaning…”

    Can you say Craigslist Killer? That movie made a believer out of me. That poor girl was “this” close to marrying a serial murderer and would not have known had they not lived together during their engagement.

    • GirlSixx



  • jason vorhees

    Why does living together HAVE to mean that you should/will eventually get married?  People do know there is a large population in the world that dont believe in marriage….right?….

    • Miamour

      Right. People kill me with that. I do believe in marriage but its not my only goal in life. Its a blessing to be single as it is to be married. Somebody is always going to have something to say about your relationship and when certain things are suppose to happen it, but at the end of the day a relationship is between two people. You have to do whats best for you. If your happy with living with a man without a ring so be it, if not move on. You can move in with someone after getting married and still end up divorced. Marriage doesnt always mean til death do us part.

  • DoinMe

    I disagree. You really don’t know a person until you live with them, and I don’t care if you have been dating for 10, 20 years.  Living with someone is a serious adjustment and transition. Some couples can survive it, but others can’t. To each its own, but I would want to know the good, the bad, and the downright ugly of my potential mate before jumping the broom.

    • sismj

      Then you better be playing 200 questions with him BEFORE you jump that broom! Living together is NOT the way to learn about a potential mate. Dating for a Christian woman should only be with the intention of marriage – not just to have someone to ‘hang out with’. Women get tied up in their emotions too much and the ‘clingon’ stage suddenly erupts once the barrier of being abstinent has been compromised. If he’s the right one then HE would suggest not living together before marriage (just a little hint for ya). Trust me – take it from someone who has definitely traveled that road before. Do yourself a favor and shake that family tree of his and learn who are his mentors; that will indeed tell you what you’re dealing with.  

  • GirlSixx

    Co-habitation WILL ONLY WORK in my opinon if couple is already engaged to be married and they have moved in together to save and plan for their wedding.  Of course dating in the 21st century has taken on a whole new meaning but some things I am still old fashioned on a one of them is NOT putting the cart (babies/living 2together) before the horse (marriage).  I don’t judge anyone who decides to do otherwise but as for me, I would rather be prepping to head down that aisle or already tied the knot before living together, because although you can get a glimpse of what marriage life will be by living together YOU don’t really get the full gamut of it because when married you just can’t throw the decues and bounce if there is an argument you two made a legal binding commitment to one another to work it out and not for nothign god forbid something happens to either one of you — in marriage you can legally ensure that your spouse and children will be protected and taken care of and last but not least  — Men TODAY are NOT TRYIN to marry WOMEN whom they are already living with and getting all of the husband privileges already upfront for nothing… Why should he??!!!

    • Ms_Sunshine9898

      Yeah but what happens then if they’ve been enagaged for 7 plus years like I’ve seen with some of my friends? Then what? You stuck back at ground 1 waiting for a marriage to begin because now you’re “engaged”. . . 

      • Nev

        I like how everyone automatically assumes that the ultimate thing to do before you die is get married. Are we all so miserably desperate and insecure about our relationships that we must insist on dragging this decrepit mockery of an institution through the mud even now?

  • Hmmm

    This is measured, based in statistics, and thoughtful, but the Nazis will be out soon with “everyone is not a monolith” declarations. We know already boo. Good article.

  • Anonymous

    I actually do agree with this post, but it is somewhat hypocritical for me to do so. I did live with my then boyfriend/now husband before marriage. But he had already proposed and our wedding date was 11 months later. We chose to move in because I was relocating to his city and didn’t want to go through the moving drama for a 10 month turn-around. And we would’ve been married sooner, but his fam lived abroad. But I think mine was an odd exception; but the exception also proves the rule: cohabitation, especially over long periods generally doesn’t lead to happily married.

    • Kkholidae

       I think in your case it is different because you already had the ring.  This article is more so for people who aren’t engaged but are hoping that if they live with their mate that they will eventually get married.  

      • Sismj

        Even with the ring I was in the same boat as Anonymous (as far as trying to ‘economize’ – I am now divorced and better for it), but the cohabitating before marriage is deathly wrong to the potential of DISCOVERING that man and developing a good home life the way God intended you to. What’s the point of marrying when you’re already getting the milk! Let’s get real about this; doing it OUR way as opposed to God’s way NEVER works; I don’t care how happy you pretend to be to the outside world. He has absolutely nothing to lose if he decides to go to ‘greener pastures’ and leaves you high and dry does he? You have no recourse! I’m in total agreement with Alissa – she speaks with great wisdom.

    • Guest1234

      Agreed.  I, too lived with my husband before marrying.  And I wouldn’t recommend another woman do the same.  In my case, I knew my then-bf very well, and was certain we were going to get married.  He’d always been very express about wanting to marry me.  But boy, did it take FOREVER to get that ring.  He proposed nearly a full year after I wanted him to.  The reason is simply inertia.  Guys do get comfortable.  He was living like a married man, so the need to propose became less urgent.  His needs were largely met.  And he seriously dawdled when it came to getting a ring. For a good man it’s not a question of unwillingness to commit.  It’s just difficult for some guys to motivate to break the inertia of day-to-day life to stop, get a ring, propose, plan a wedding, etc… when your daily life largely won’t change after the honeymoon.

      It turned out not to be a huge problem b/c I was young, and in no particular hurry.  But if you’d like to get married soon, shacking up is definitely not the way to go.  The other thing is that there was NO WAY I was having kids unless I was married, so once his biological clock started ticking, he got more motivated to get married.  I’d say it is unwise to cohabitate before marriage, if you want to marry soon.  But kids before marriage is…. fuggettaboutit.

  • Foxy

    I been married and my ex-husband and I did not live together before marriage. I wish we did because the way  he managed his finances and his cleaning habits disgusted me. I would have never married him and would have save me a lot of time, pain and disappointment.

    I am currently in a relationship and we are living together and it’s going well. We been living together for 4 months and plan to get married soon.  We love and respect each other and we don’t want to live together without being married forever. 

    I do disagree that a couple should live together for years and have kids. But if you truely love and person and you both want to get married one day then I don’t see anything wrong with living together.  Every relationship is different so it’s different strokes for different folks.

    Good article for the women that is waiting on the ring for years while still living with a man but it doesn’t apply to every women because I am happy living with my man, learning more abut him everyday and saving money for our wedding and future.

    • Treacle123

       You are living with a guy for 4 years and you are not married. 4 years and still no ring …okay?

      • she said 4 months……not 4 years….

    • Adrina

      So there was no way to find out how he managed his money when the two if you were dating? The conversation of money didn’t come up asking if he had 401k, or something….did he not buy something crazy instead of taking care of business, did he have any debts…I mean no conversation or observation while dating or engaged.And cleaning habits? You didn’t go to his house…but if you dated him for a short time like you dating this guy and talking marriage, you wouldn’t know any if this, if you didn’t live with him…no disrespect.

  • Guest360

    I’m not against cohabitation but you’ve got to set a time limit. If you are indeed trying to see if this is the person you want to marry and can deal with the rest of your life, then you need to set that time limit. It doesn’t take 10 years to know whether or not your boyfriend/girlfriend is a sloppy pig and it clashes with your OCD nature of cleanliness. A year tops. If after that year a commitment isn’t being made, you both need to get back living separately. You don’t have to break up but what’s the point of living together indefinitely if you aren’t getting married or making a longterm commitment of one another?

  • Veratta Pegram-Floyd

    Even before I read the post, I already knew I was going to agree with the content based solely on the title alone (which is rare for a Madame Noire post). I’m not dissing anyone else and how they choose to model their relationships, but I know that I have not and will continue not to co-habitate with someone prior to marriage.

    Quite frankly, I also don’t feel bad for people who end up in this situation with a bunch of kids, resentment, and no ring. People have to set and then model their standards. It is up to you to get what you need and want out of a relationship.

  • CA Pullen

    I strongly agreed.  I hear that same argument.  Living together is the only way to get to know a person or just to “test or try it out”  to see if it works.  The majority of the cases when they finally decide to marry, the marriage does not last in most cases.  The couple has already done everything in the book. The woman expect the man to change or try to change the man, he is not going to change.  He was the person the way he was prior to your “shacking up” , what makes you think he is going to change after he finally decide to say I do?  Please, YOU CANNOT CHANGE A PERSON, it is up to them.  I am against shacking up.  I don’t understand these women why would you continue to live with a man for  5, 10, 15, or even 20 and waiting on a marriage proposal and get married? These people should have seen the red flags.  The women who shack with these men are obiviously content with their living situation. This is woman’s fault.  As for me, if a man claims that he really loves me, he should respect my decision of not shacking up.

    • GirlSixx

      “Please, YOU CANNOT CHANGE A PERSON, it is up to them.”

      Preach!!!! even moreso when it comes to dealing with a MAN.

    • TRUTH

      CA pullen, it really depends but first let me say that the problem in most relationships, is the lack of communication and standards that are set. For example, if you are planning to live together, you should:
      1.) Have a job making enough money to at least support your end of the bargain, preferably though each person should be earning at least 2X the total amount of rent.
      2.) You should have known your partner for at least 1 year prior to moving together.
      3.) Set future plans/goals together such as marriage, and what’s expected, BEFORE signing any lease.
      4.) 2 years max, if no ring or next step is taking by then, its time to move forward without that partner.
      5.) You MUST be in a serious, serious relationship before even thinking about moving in together.
      As for me, I want to know my partner in and out before spending thousands of dollars on a ring and asking her to spend the rest of her life with me. By living together you’ll see how your partner handles budgeting, maintenance, and personal lifestyle, but you’ll really find out if you and your partner are really compatiable. Some say “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free”, but “Only a fool would buy a cow without seeing what its fully capable of producing”.

  • Agreed. Most people I know who lived together did it for years, had a baby then broke up before the little one could walk. They get comfortable and complacent; forgetting about birth control because they “trust each other.” Also, I have noticed many of my friends who were living together before they were married are already divorced. How does someone divorce in their early/mid twenties? So strange. It’s better to just wait for a healthy relationship as opposed to “playing house.”

  • Jus’ Sayin’

    respectfully disagree, i know of divorces that didn’t occur -and all the negative aftermath – because the couple moved in and knew it wouldnt work – i favor cohabitation -with a 1 year time limit – after that we either marry or move out and onto a different relationship