I was lingering after dinner the other night, with Inside Edition in the background (don’t judge—my parents always have it on leftover from watching the news the couple hours before), when I heard that something actually relevant to current circumstances in my own, real, non-celebrity life was about to be discussed. Surprisingly, words of wisdom were about to be imparted by that infamous courtroom reality star, and because it spoke specifically to the next stage of life I was entering, I was curious enough to listen. Yep, when Judge Judy shares grown-up guidelines for moving in together, I’m all ears.
Last month, Judge Judy released her book, What Would Judy Say? A Grown-Up Guide to Living Together With Benefits. In it, she pairs no-nonsense advice with humor about the highs and lows of moving in with someone before marriage. While some of what she shared were common sense tips that were emphasized by my live-in experiences from the past, there were a few that gave me pause.
While the judge recognized couples don’t find it romantic to set guidelines, she stressed the importance of setting down rules before moving in. Before you start joining together your lives and possessions even more, it’s important to consider important questions like this biggie: What happens if it doesn’t work out—who stays in the apartment?
“Write it all out, just so that there’s no wiggle room,” she advises on CBS This Morning. “There are courts for people marry and it doesn’t work out, but there are no courts for just living together.”
Judge Judy, who has been married three times, twice to husband Jerry, had three big rules for Inside Edition:
1. Keep your property separate
While Judge Judy believes you should split expenses in half, she has strong feelings about not having joint property. And she doesn’t mean to simply keep your bank accounts separate; she goes one step further: “No joint anything! No joint dog, no joint time share, no joint car.” A big part of me has to agree.
My college boyfriend, with whom I lived, and I took several of the same courses. To save money, often he would buy books and course readers for a class, and we would just share them. This was all fine and dandy for my bank account at the time, but when we broke up, I was left with only notes from some of my most beloved classes while our books got dusty in his parents’ basement, never to be looked at again.
Yet that’s nothing compared to the next serious boyfriend after him. When I moved out, I left our shared CDs and DVDs, which actually wasn’t that bad since I’d burned most of the CDs before I actually moved out. I left behind a powerful vacuum cleaner given to me that did so well with animal fur and dust. I also left the Tempur-Pedic California King-Sized mattress and bed that I’d purchased for us primarily because my body was in pain 24/7. The dog he later welcomed into the home after I left wound up chewing up the mattress. Grr!
And last, but most important of all—what cut me to the core—was that he wouldn’t let me take our two cats with me, despite the fact that he got them for me and despite the fact that it was I who fed them, cleaned up their mess, played with them, took them to the vet and loved them up more than he ever had and ever would. Thinking it was suitable punishment for me leaving him (and I think also thinking I could never leave the cats behind, thus I could never leave him), my ex refused to let me bring them home with me. Now they spend most of their time half-feral in the basement. My beloved boy has developed an autoimmune disease (like mama, like cat son) that causes his fur to fall off, unless he gets shots.
So yes, I get Judge Judy’s point.
2. Postpone having kids until you have a wedding ring.
“I’m old fashioned in that respect,” she said. And she will have no disagreement from me. Still not 100 percent that having kids is even in the cards for me, I have no problem waiting until I am absolutely sure that their father is someone who I truly want to be in our lives for the long haul, and I know will be.
3. Set a time limit for how long you’ll live together
This is such a huge one that I find so often overlooked. When so many of people my generation and younger go into living together as a trial run, the attitude seems to be when it stops being fun and starts being miserable more than 75 percent (give or take) of the time, that’s when you book it out the door. So people are living together six months… or six years.
For people who believe in marriage, after an extended period happily living together, the mind starts to roll over that quaint phrase my close friend Sarah gave me for some time in another relationship life, “He has to shit, or get off the pot.”
The problem is Judge Judy doesn’t advise how long a time limit you should set. And that totally depends on the individuals that make up the relationship and the circumstances in which they find themselves. I know one ex’s true colors didn’t truly start to come out in full force until about six months after living together, but with others, it may take a year or more, all depending how open, honest and intimate the relationship is in the first place.
So while I personally don’t have answers for that, I would probably say that for me, if I have been with someone for three years, and at least a full year or more of that time has been living together, I would seriously hope my partner knew by then if he wanted to marry me or not—and at my age, that’s being generous, ha.
I’ll give Judge Judy the last word, of course. “”I would say it’s wise—live together, give it an old college try, if it doesn’t work, move on,” she said. “And if it does, get married.”