Back in the day, couples wouldn't dare move in with someone before putting a ring on it (cue the pearl clutch). But, now it's considered a common relationship step to move in with a long-term partner. In fact, social norms have totally changed and most people are fine admitting that they sleep together and some have rejected the idea of marriage altogether. Another factor that influences people's living preferences? Finances.
Since 2007, the amount of unmarried couples living together has increased a whopping 29%. For many folks, it just makes sense to live with the person you're spending most evenings with.
Which is why we were quite intrigued to hear that Lani Conway, managing editor of our sister site Zimbio, spends her time in a solo abode a few blocks away from long-term boyfriend, landscaper JM Duran. We just had to ask about the couple's relationship and their decision to buck cohabitation norms.
"We met kind of old-school analog-style sitting next to each other at a bar in Oakland," recalls Duran. "I had just moved back from New York, so I had gone to the bar to see a friend," adds Conway. "JM had come into the bar, sat down next to me, and struck up a conversation. The rest is history."
Conway and Duran are one of those couples that just seems right together. Both have a big personality, a creative spirit, and that relaxed understanding and ease that comes from genuine compatibility. But, both Duran and Conway cite personal space as a top priority for them right now, which has been one of the biggest factors halting moving in together.
"It’s not like I wouldn't want to live with him," shares Conway. "But sometimes I think people rush into moving in together. I love personal space. I think time apart creates a tighter bond between you and the person that you’re with. Some people can create personal spaces within a house, but I think for us it just so happens that it’s two different locations. I think it’s really healthy to keep everything fresh and to get a new perspective about your relationship if you’re able to step away.”
Each of them has a truly different space that they call their own. While Conway lives in a home with two roommates, Duran flies solo in a studio apartment with a garage that he uses for work. Within a larger house, many couples are able to create their own spheres to do their own thing whether it's a studio for creative projects or a "man cave" to get some alone time. For this pair, their separate spaces just happen to be a few blocks away.
"We spend pretty much every night together whether it’s mine or her place," notes Duran. "Having two spots like this, one that’s hers and one that’s mine, almost feels like a mini vacation. You know you have to carry bags back and forth, but you can leave things at each other’s home."
“We’ve always lived close to each other," adds Conway. "I definitely think it would suck more if the commute time to each of our houses was far. Right now if I’m like, ‘Oh I forgot something at my house,' I can go back and grab it. Or I’ll just spend the night at his house and go back to mine if I need to get ready for work. The closeness and him having his own space helps.”
A few benefits of this flexible location? Easily giving friends from out of town a spot to crash and not having to compromise possessions or lifestyle based on limited space. While living in tiny homes can work out for some, this pair recognizes their limitations.
"Living in a small space, things need to be multifunctional because you don’t have any room to do anything," says Duran. "My house is a bungalow clubhouse with a little bohemian kitchen, front stoop, and work zone. Being a landscaper and a skateboarder, people don’t really expect to find what is on the inside of my place. They probably expect a lot of dirty dishes and boy-style living."
When asked if she'd ever move into Duran's studio, Conway laughed out loud. “No, that’s too small. There’s one closet,” she says. “Where would all my stuff go?”
“As much as I don’t like having a lot of stuff — I’m constantly going through what I have and being really critical about the things I own — it’s just so small," Conway continues. "It’s a great spot for one person and for me to come over from time to time, but not for permanent living." She adds, "Like, what if we got in a fight? I’d storm into the bathroom. Where else would I go?” “I guess then I’d go in my garage and tinker with my tools,” says Duran. “There really is no where else to go.”
Over at Conway's place, she definitely has a bit more room to roam even though she has two roommates. “I live in a triplex. It’s a three-bedroom, two-bathroom top flat with a shared backyard just outside of the Temescal area. I have the master bedroom with my own bathroom, which is awesome."
However living with roommates isn't Conway's favorite situation. “Obviously having roommates is hard," she shares. "I’m not in college so I need my own space. But it is cool JM doesn’t have roommates and lives on his own, so it’s a nice escape to go over there."
While Conway and Duran enjoy their current back and forth situation, they recognize as a long-term couple that they don't want to do the sleepover game forever. However while many unmarried couples move in to save money, it's actually cheaper for them to live apart — which is another considerable reason they haven't merged spaces.
"I think the reason we don’t live together is we need to find a spot that fits all of our needs," says Conway. "Like he has a garage for his business with a whole bunch of tools and trucks that he needs to access every day. To find that, plus a nice clean spot.""That upholds a certain level and standard of living,” adds Duran. “Stop stealing my words," jokes Conway. She concludes, "It’s hard to find that kind of spot in our price range in this area."
It's no secret the Bay Area is an expensive place to live. Just in the past year, home prices in Oakland have seen a 11 percent increase in price while inflation across the country was just above two percent. The average rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $3,177, while in a city like Chicago, it's $2,372.
"We both are from here. Plus, to move away somewhere more north is not an option with my commute," says Conway. "We have thought about it and definitely would like to move in together. We’ll poke around on Craigslist or wherever," she says.
“I look two to three times per week,” inputs Duran. “I think it just really needs to be in our price point,” continues Conway. “To spend so much money on rent is just absolutely absurd. It’s just wasted money that’s not going anywhere. If the housing market was cheaper in this area, that would be awesome.”
“There’s just more people coming in to this area now and wanting to live here," says Duran. In fact, the population of Oakland has risen by 7,000 just from 2016 to 2017, and by 9,000 in nearby San Francisco. "There’s a lot of displacement happening," he continues. "It’s a direct correlation to the housing market that really started in San Francisco. It’s definitely hitting here just as hard."
Duran adds a parting note, "If you got a nice two-bedroom, one-bathroom out there with a driveway and a garage, let a blooming landscaping business guy know and I’ll take care of the whole property inside and out!"