Judge Judy shares grown-up guidelines for moving in together

src: shutterstock

src: shutterstock

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.

Man is handing a house key to a womanWhile 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!

287119554_d88909ba45_oAnd 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.”

Saying Goodbye to a Pet I Love (For a Man I Love)

IMG_2437As he got under the covers last night to snuggle up against me in bed, I couldn’t help wondering if he somehow sensed that our time together was limited. After six and half years together, through laughter and comfort he’s brought me during so many ups and downs in this period of my life, it breaks my heart to know that I soon won’t have him always by my side.

It’s funny how attached you can become to the furry kids in your life. I’ve had my cat Alexei the longest of all my pets. Mindy was the first cat of the family when I was 10. With the typical Siamese attitude, she turned into a major bitch when she had kittens. Overly possessive of me, she became emotionally and physically abusive of Sabrina, the little girl that we kept.

Forced to give Mindy to another home after two years together, I was left to care for the emotionally fragile Sabrina. She stayed mostly in a large cat condo in the garage that my dad built, too afraid to enter the house with the memory of her mother’s threats still casting a dark. So I spent a lot of time in the garage—or as much time as I could, being an adolescent, busy with school, friends and plenty of extra-curricular activities.


One day, I came home to find out that Sabrina was missing. Someone accidentally left the garage door open, and Sabrina had gotten out. We speculated numerous scenarios – she was sick and went looking for a place to die alone; she was curious to see what was outside, and a coyote or fisher cat got her; she got hit by a car; or the least likely of them all, she went wandering for a couple days until a nice person found her and brought Sabrina into their home and family.


Whatever the case was, I called for her outside every day for weeks. I cried guiltily, thinking if I was a better cat mom, she never would have gotten out, gotten sick or even had been subject to as much abuse as Mindy dished out when she was younger. But eventually, I made my peace with it.


I swore that if I ever had another cat again, it would be under my terms and conditions: Living in the house 24/7, sleeping with me if it so chose, and I would make sure I had the time and ability to give it all the love and attention it deserved.


Skip to my mid-20s: My boyfriend at the time saw how much attention I gave to his upstairs tenant’s cat. After we’d been together for a while, the tenant was moving out. So my boyfriend came up with the sweet plan of getting me a cat for my birthday. On top of that, we would get two cats, so they would have a constant buddy.


Our two beautiful cats were very different from one another – one outgoing, affectionate and a Mama’s boy; the other introverted, often sleeping under the bed, only coming out to cuddle at night for bedtime, to play with toys or to eat if she heard the sound of a tuna can opening. I was super content to sleep squeezed between my boy and my girl cats, with my boyfriend less than an arm’s reach away.


Our cats survived a few cross-country trips and moves. They survived house renovations and crazy parties. They survived a temperamental human “dad,” who often made life feel unstable. When I finally made the healthy decision t to leave, I was prepared to take my cats with me. I fed them, cleaned their little box, clipped their nails, brushed them, played with them and brought them to the vet. It was a no-brainer that I should take them with me.


Unfortunately, my boyfriend didn’t agree. Part of him kept them knowing I could never leave my cats, and thus I could never leave them. Part of him kept them because he would be alone in his big, old house, and at least he’d had feline companionship. I went back and forth for several months, shed many tears over the decision, but I couldn’t stay, and he wouldn’t let me leave with the cats.


After I moved, terribly missing my furry family, I made the decision that I could get another cat of the same breed if I accomplished a big creative goal working on my novel. Powered by longing, I found myself trucking through my goal in about a week, instead of a month. That’s when I met the people who had my silver and black-spotted boy.


Alexei curled around me like a scarf when I met him, licking my fingers. He gave kisses on the nose and forehead. Alexei came home with me, and we bonded tremendously from the very beginning.

Mom&AlexeiHe has seen me through rough illnesses and medical treatments. He provides entertainment with his vivid expressiveness, both vocally and with body language. He has encouraged me to keep moving around, being an extremely active cat needing tremendous interaction. We’ve wrestled and played “toss and fetch the mouse,” pull the cat in a plastic bag or paper box, and jump on the twitching feather/piece of paper/finger under a sheet. He’s covered me with his purring body when my own body was trembling uncontrollably. He’s licked at my tears. He snuggles up next to me when I am cold, stiff and achy at night. He bugs watches me while I work, forcing the workaholic to take breaks. When I don’t, he resignedly plops down over my legs for a nap.

I’ve always known at some point that I would probably have to find him another home. In a family that travels frequently, paying for cat care when friends and exes no longer can watch him grows exorbitant and ridiculous, so I wind up staying home. But another reason has come along: I’m most likely moving out in a couple months.

The boyfriend is pet-hesitant at best, averse to the care and presumed mess and odor. As for my cat, we’ll be moving to a much smaller place, when Alexei is used to having a big house, garage and full basement to roam. He’s used to being able to sometimes go on supervised trips outside to sprint around and chew on grass with me by his side. Asking him to give up that freedom and the ability to cuddle at night when he’s very much a social kitty doesn’t seem quite fair for an almost middle age cat (he’s 7.)

He’s been in my life longer than any other cat, and I don’t know how I would deal with the loss. It hurts me just to think about it. But the other side of the coin is thinking about a home with another feline playmate, perhaps, lots of room to play, and for me, starting a new life with a man I love and more freedom to travel whenever desire and resources allow. We’ll see how things actually go, but I’m going to need pep talks to keep accentuating the positive.

Turning Over a New Leaf

Contrary to what some of you may have feared, I have not fallen off the face of the blogosphere. In the last few weeks, I have accepted a new job, weathered a break-up that still has its dramatic aftermath, gone on a week-long vacation, had two days of training in a whirlwind trip to NYC, and then started putting in ridiculous hours for my new job because I actually love it that much.

Putney, VT

It’s exhausting and stressful in the the way my spirit loves–as my rheumatologist said to me in my appointment today, “You look a thousand times better today than you did when I last saw you in August.” My father has been hinting that he’s seen a miraculous transformation in me over the last week. And the drive up to Vermont this past Saturday reminded me that this is the perfect season for me to be turning over a new leaf.

With trees beginning to change into fiery reds, burnt oranges and golden yellows and the air getting crisp, my favorite season has arrived. I can zip up my fleece hoodies, snuggle under the quilt at night, and my best buddy Alexei joins me far more frequently for cuddles.

Alexei, the bengal

Sometimes he cuddles up under the covers at bedtime, but what I enjoy even more is when I am at my desk working, and he provides some much needed tension-relief with some purrs, finger-kisses, and the warmth of his n-shaped body around mine as I type away at the keyboard. Ever since the day he came home with me four years ago, my cat has been a playmate, a caregiver, a stress-reliever, a buddy, and a source of great joy in my life. When the world seems to come crashing down around me, a nudge from this little guy has always encouraged me that things are going to get better…and they do.

Men may come and go, but Alexei doesn’t. He’s been there through the worst and the best of my health situations in the last four years. He’s known when to be rough and tumble to inspire me to be active, and he’s known when to be tender and gentle when I just need a body to center me and bring me comfort. He’s even been my litmus test for men. If I can tell he legitimately loves a man in my life and that the man legitimately loves Alexei, then the man is worth keeping around for a while.

My new leaf this autumn also includes being single again. I am not dating. I am too busy to meet and try out new people. I’ve completely kicked to the curb the “friends” who’ve only really wanted a booty call. I don’t need it, and I don’t want it. I want meaningful connections and relationships in my life right now, romantic and otherwise. I cherish those people who’ve been there for me through thick and thin, like the V-Man, even when I haven’t been the best friend to them at times.

the start of my office space

The V-Man was awesome to me last week as I was working to transform my front bedroom into an office. I had gradually allowed my main bedroom to become my sleeping space/recovery room/writing area/home office, and in turn, it had become a huge mess that left me completely disorganized and discombobulated in all areas of my life. I needed a fresh start in my work space big time. So I dragged V-Man around with me to get much needed organizers, some new things for my wardrobe (he has the patience of Job when it comes to clothes shopping with me and my impossible-to-find-anything-to-fit-me-right body), and later, my dad grabbed the new desk and built it for me.

Each day, I’m adding something new to make it feel more like a workable office space befitting an online editor (yoga mat and all)–who just happens to work out of her home.  Thanks to the V-Man and my own troubleshooting, I’m learning how to use my new tech toys. Mom is helping me get rid of the clutter in my own bedroom. Both parents and my brother have agreed to train as some of the members of my street team to help me do business listings that need to be done before my site can launch. Getting me back on my feet is a family project, and there’s no better team I can have.

Each day I’m starting to believe more and more in myself that I am fully capable of doing this job for which I was hired, and that my body can withstand and endure the temporary punishment I give it as we attempt to put out a launch date a full month earlier than expected. I am so excited to have this new focus in my life, to have this career that finally feels like a perfect fit for me and all the talents and skills I bring to the table. I’m actually looking forward to the challenges and to the learning curve–imagine that.

After launch, I can focus more on the other aspects of my life. I can focus even more on finding balance. Maybe I can even explore a relationship that feels like home. However, right now, for the first time in a long time, that isn’t my number one priority, and I think that is a healthy place for me to be. I am the number one priority, not a man or a romantic relationship. It feels really good.

Trusting My Instincts

When I first brought home my cat, a beautiful, silver bengal I named Alexei, he was six months old.  Like most cats, when he wasn’t sleeping or bathing, he loved to sit in windows and watch the world. Because we also had a porch at the back of the house whose stairs had been removed, I thought he would jump at the chance to be able to get outside while I would not have to worry about him getting loose.

So not too long after he began his visits out to the porch, he came to the sliding glass doors asking to be let inside. That’s when I noticed he had something in his mouth. As he attempted to cross the threshold, I realized he was holding a black bird in between his teeth. He was hoping to bring the bird in to show him off to his mom so I could tell him what a good boy he was. I quickly praised him while redirecting him back onto the porch, but not before a few black feathers fell to the kitchen floor. Poor bird.

To be quite honest, I was astonished that my little, inexperienced kitten had managed to capture a live bird while he was just playing around on the porch. I tried to envision the scenario: maybe the bird had broken a wing and somehow landed on the railing of the porch and Alexei quickly leaped up and grabbed him. Or maybe the bird was severely dim-witted and was just sitting somewhere on the porch with his back to the house, not realizing that a hunting cat was sneaking up right behind him.  At any case, I concluded it was sheer luck that my cat was able to catch him.

As Alexei grew into a full-size cat, he proved his skills as a mouser in the basement and garage. I learned when he had a certain shifty look in his eyes, I’d better examine his mouth for “gifts” he was looking to bring to his master (er, mistress?) However, when I did finally trust him to take him outside for walks, he proved to be incredibly hopeless as an outdoor hunter.

This was great with me because it meant less carnage of innocent animals. Yet I must admit a part of me felt embarrassed for him as he noisily galloped through leaves trying to “sneak” up on some birds in the woods behind our house. If, for some reason he got out and had to fend for himself in the wild, how would he possibly be able to survive out there? What good were those razor claws and lethal canines if he only practiced using them while “play fighting” with me?

Yesterday, I let him outside for a nice, leisurely walk around the yard.  He was on his best behavior, chewing on grass, staying right by my side, and not trying to go over to the neighbor’s house and claim their front porch. When we got to the side of the house with the driveway and the border of dense trees, suddenly he crouched down on his haunches and bounced on his hind legs before quickly slinking ahead. Prepared for a leaf or something equally embarrassing, imagine my surprise when Alexei came out from behind a large rock with an adult chipmunk in his mouth. He had managed to capture one of the fastest animals in our yard. As my ex, now just friend, The V-Man put it, “He is now a man.”

This blog is about dating, so you may wonder, why am I writing about the hunting skills of my cat? As I was thinking about Alexei’s amazing instincts and how he’s built up his skills in less dramatic fashion, I started thinking about my own progression into the world of a real, adult relationship.

Work with me here. In my first real relationship, my boyfriend and I talked endlessly about everything. He knew about my family dramas, my fears about going to college on the other side of the country, he’d heard every song I’d written, and I’d entrusted him with every story and poem I’d written when I went off to college. I trusted him that completely, I didn’t even give it a second thought. I didn’t know better not to put up walls to protect myself. He would never hurt me.

However, temptations for a different life led me down a different path into different relationships. My next boyfriend of four years, with whom I lived and talked about marriage, and I were close. Yet I was shy about my things. He wanted all of me, all of my time, all of my energy, and I felt hampered from having a social life outside of him, I felt hampered creatively, and he even began invading my personal space by reading journal entries or emails I’d send. I started to close myself off to him. I loved him, but I didn’t trust him completely with all of me.

My relationships went downhill from there. The ability to communicate deteriorated. I, the writer, the communication major, could not express myself verbally in relationships. I feared conflict. I feared hurting someone. I feared rejection. I feared being alone. What’s worse than not being able to fully trust others, I stopped trusting myself. I let things bubble up until I couldn’t take them anymore. I broke up with flabbergasted, unsuspecting guys via letters and emails. I hid behind my written words.

I didn’t trust my own abilities to be able to carry a sustained, loving relationship. I ran after the wrong men, unavailable men–emotionally or physically. I started wondering if I could even recognize a good one if it was standing right in front of me, waiting to be pounced on.

Then, Mr. Etiquette came along. Immediately, words poured out of my mouth. I shared fears, faults, insecurities. I shared strengths, hopes, dreams, my zest for life, my humor, my soul. I didn’t stop to think–wait, should I share this? I didn’t email him or text him when I worried about his own fear moving forward. I talked to him face-to-face with complete honesty, but also acceptance. He said he was amazed by my maturity and insight. He was as open, honest, and receptive communicating with me as I was with him. I feel like I’ve finally met someone who speaks my language again.

It’s not as if I’ve been reading books on how to communicate. I already knew how. It’s not as if I’ve been mentored on how to open up to others; my therapist had been trying unsuccessfully for over a year and half to get me to be as honest and open with the men in my life about how I felt and what I wanted and needed as I was with her and all of my family and friends. I knew how to do it, I just felt like they wouldn’t accept what I was sharing.

Over the years of my life, I’ve accrued so much experience about what works and doesn’t work in relationships, not only by looking at my own relationships, but learning from the struggles of my parents’ early marriage, at my friends’ marriages and relationships, and yes, even analyzing the romances in movies and fiction books. Even when I struggled to implement what I knew into my own ill-fated relationships, or when it took me too long to just pull the cord, deep inside I knew I couldn’t be as hopeless and helpless as I appeared.

Finally, instinct gave me the awareness to stop and realize a worthy partner has suddenly stepped into my line of sight. It is almost as if everything I do, every word I say, every move I make is the right one. Nothing  is pre-calculated, overanalyzed and thus tainted. I go with my gut, with my heart, and I trust myself that what I am giving and receiving is what I deserve. He confirms I deserve all those things I dream of having, but even more importantly, I once again believe it for myself.

Alexei finally learned to trust his instincts and came up with a prize. He was so proud and ecstatic, he didn’t protest at all when I washed him down afterward. Today, he snuggled with me all afternoon despite the humidity that makes him want to wander restlessly. He is content in a way I haven’t seen in a long time.

Maybe there is more to be learned from this odd, little cat of mine. I know I deserve the prize of contentment too.