I caught the bouquet at my friend’s wedding in June 2008. Call it maid-of-honor luck, but I didn’t really catch it; it literally fell into my hands in the most beautiful bouquet toss of all time. The bride tossed it high and fair in the air, and it arced so perfectly towards me that I only moved one foot forward to catch it squarely in my hands. I jumped up gleefully and held my prize in the air. Everyone cheered and the photographer snapped my picture.
|Grainy picture of the Bouquet Toss|
But one person watching the bouquet toss wasn’t so happy: the groom’s conservative grandmother. As I heard on the wedding video a few months later, in the moments leading up to and immediately following my grand performance in the bouquet toss, Grandma was shouting in panic right next to the videographer, “No, she can’t catch it! She’s married! She’s married!” Her panic made us all laugh uncontrollably because A. Why was she taking the bouquet toss so seriously? And B. She was wrong. I was not married. But I was cohabiting with Ian at the time, and the groom’s family had told Grandma a little fib about our marital status to avoid upsetting her because she’s a traditional-values kinda gal. I think the father-of-the groom confessed our living situation to her privately a few moments after the toss, letting her quietly stew in her renewed disappointment at “kids these days.”
Chalk one up for the Bouquet Toss’ prognasticative powers because Ian and I were indeed the next couple to get married. Of course, we had been practicing for awhile. After our college graduation in 2007 we lived together for three years before tying the knot. (Parenthetical confession: I should also include our senior year of college in the count because, as his roommates and mine - the bride - can attest, we were playing house then as well.)
Many couples treat the Move-In question with careful consideration and planning. I’ve cooed at the preview for the Valentine’s Day movie The Vow where Channing Tatum asks Rachel McAdams to move in with him by spelling it out in blueberries on her pancakes. Adorable. But there were no fruited move-in proposals for us. In fact, I don’t even remember making the decision to move in together. Without a peep of objection from either sets of parents, we signed a lease on a cute Hyde Park apartment in Chicago. After a shop-til-you-drop Saturday spent marvelling at the prices of whisks and wastepaper baskets at Ikea, we U-Hauled ourselves into our first apartment and realized quickly that we loved living in sin. We shopped for groceries together, split household chores, and learned the delicate diplomacy of sheet-sharing in our cozy queen bed. Ian enjoyed my cooking, and I settled comfortably into never having to take the trash out again. We fell easily into our cohabitation experiment.
And it was very much an experiment. During our cohabitation years, whenever anyone asked about our decision to live together before marriage, we gave the standard metaphorical rationale: that we were taking marriage for a test-drive. Even if you’re sure you want to buy the all-new Honda Civic, you still test-drive it around the lot, right? That’s how we felt about marriage: we were sure we wanted to be with each other, but living together before marriage just seemed like the practical thing to do. So we test-drove marriage for two years before Ian put a ring on it; three years before I put a ring on him. It did make the transition to married life very smooth, practically indistinguishable. In the months following our wedding, whenever folks asked that common courteous question, “How’s married life?” I felt boring answering, “The same.” I guess that’s better than responding “We just love filing a single tax return!”
But there’s one thing I regret about cohabitation: our money.
You see, before we got married we kept all of our money in completely separate accounts. We never considered opening joint accounts during those years because, if cohabitation was an experiment, then we didn’t want to join our assets in case we called it quits. Plus, I reasoned, some married couples keep their money separate anyway. Joint accounts aren't even a given in marriage anymore. So we spent our money separately, and we saved it separately. And it’s the latter that I now regret. Mutually blind to each other’s bank accounts, we did not plan or save as much as we could have had we pooled our assets while cohabiting. Of course, I say this with the benefit of hindsight. I'm sure some long-term living-in-sinners and those who suffer from marriage inequality do pool their money and start financial planning early in their relationships. But we didn't. Joint accounts just weren't something we ever considered before marriage. But now that we’re married and share access to all of our money, we do organize our finances much more efficiently.
Financial planning is inherently forward-looking. Yet, with my green visor over my eyes and my checkbook in my hand, I can’t help but look back on those three years of cohabitation with a bit of regret. Then I remember that, while we can get more money, we can never get more time. I am lucky to have already had so many loving years with my special someone.