'The thing that’s not immediately clear when you sign that lease is that now, to most intents and purposes, you’re married.'

'The thing that’s not immediately clear when you sign that lease is that now, to most intents and purposes, you’re married.' Photo: Getty Images

Have you recently lived in Sydney or Melbourne? Are you a national mining magnate or media baron? If your answers are “yes” and “no”, respectively, then at one time or another you’ve probably dealt with the giddy hell that is attempting to negotiate the rental market in our largest metropolises. Both are notoriously tight and painfully expensive – Sydney rents are among the most expensive in the world, with Melbourne not far behind, and things aren’t exactly cheap in our other major centres.

However, while the economic cost of renting is obvious, its effect on relationships may not be. Does the tight national rental market have implications for our romantic lives?

See if this sounds familiar to you.

A couple have been seeing each other for a bit. It’s early days, but this is definitely no mere fling: the L word’s been used, social circles have merged, local baristas know the combined Saturday morning coffee order. But the lease is up, or the building’s being sold, or the housemates are running off to some cool warehouse space. And hey, this couple are always staying at each other’s places anyway, not to mention sick of worrying if the rest of the house can hear them shagging. It’d be both cheaper and easier just to join forces, surely?

Once upon a time, when Australia was young and bold and you could take your best gal out for dinner, a movie and a Hansom cab ride and still have change from thruppence, couples didn’t live together until they were married. And that meant that people had generally given it a fair bit of thought toward the question “do I want to spend my life with this person?” That, or they just really, really wanted to finally have sex.

Thankfully the sex question is rather more straightforward now, but the blurring of the line between “housemate” and “life-partner” means that decisions that would once take years now take weeks. Chances are you’d be surprised if you heard that a friend was marrying the person they’d been seeing since January, but it doesn’t seem like that big a deal when they shack up. After all, living together means you get the biggest benefit of housesharing – shared expenses – along with the largest benefit of living alone, which is the freedom to wander around nude.

I have friends about to embark on this journey. I have other friends currently in this situation, and others messily extricating themselves from it. I’ve been in this exact same circumstance myself.

But here’s the thing about living with your main squeeze: once you’re in the same house, you now have two options for the forseable future:

Option one: large-scale breakup, or

Option two: this, until you’re dead.

The thing that’s not immediately clear when you sign that lease is that now, to most intents and purposes, you’re married (and that’s legally true too, depending on where you are and how long you’re living together – but that’s a whole different issues). A break up that upends your domestic situation is an order of magnitude more wrenching than a break up with someone you’re just stepping out with, since in the latter case at least you have your own little sanctuary into which you can retreat.

Once you’ve culled your combined furniture and stuck the lesser fridge and mattress on Gumtree, merged your DVD libraries and ditched the excess cutlery, if things don’t work out at the very least you’re going to have some spirited and ultimately expensive discussions about who’s contributing to the replacement of what.

And if things don’t not work out, eventually you’re almost certainly going to have other discussions regarding stuff like future weddings and potential children and shared bank accounts and other things that you don’t necessarily consider when you initially say “hey, if we’re saving $80 a week on rent, we could totally afford to go to Thailand at the end of the year!”

Every couple necessarily has those conversations about the future, of course, and every relationship ends until you’re in the one that doesn’t – and I for one would argue that it’s preferable to go to the grave with memories of ill-starred but enthusiastic loves than thinking, “Boy, sure am glad I didn’t risk my crockery by ever sharing my life with someone”.

However, the early-move-in raises the stakes, and in the early flush of a new love it’s wiser to let things take their course for a bit rather than let economics force your hand. It’s a large-scale commitment disguised as an easy and practical solution.

On the other hand… you’re paying how much every week?

And you know, Thailand really is lovely…