When Jessica Mihaleas and her boyfriend Tim Krompinger graduated from the University of Connecticut, where they’d met and dated for a couple years, the pair decided to move to Mihaleas’s hometown of Stamford and begin a life together as young adults.
“He was going to get his own place, and I was going to stay with my parents,” said Mihaleas, who is 24. “But he ended up renting from a woman I knew very well, so I said to my parents, ‘Sorry, I’m gonna go too.”
With her younger siblings growing up and the family in need of more space, Mihaleas found that living at home was less than ideal. And the idea of both she and Krompinger shelling out monthly rent money to keep separate apartments just didn’t make sense to her, she said.
“I think it’s been good for our relationship,” Mihaleas said this week. “It makes you realize that you’re actually with the right person and you can tolerate each other in different circumstances, which is helpful to know.”
It’s been two years since the pair originally moved in together, and now they’re thinking about buying a house in the near future – and hopefully getting engaged and married in the coming years, Mihaleas said.
Moving in together either in lieu of or in preparation for getting engaged or married has evolved from a rarity to a cultural norm over the past few decades. In April, a paper published by the National Center for Health Statistics reported that “women were increasingly likely to cohabit with a partner as a first union rather than to marry directly,” with the percentage of women living with a man before marriage increasing from 34 percent in 1995 to 48 percent between 2006 and 2010.
“We do find that 40 percent of the women in these relationships do go on to get married within three years,” said Casey Copen, a demographer with NCHS, and author of the April report. “Out of 100, you’ve got 40 that are marrying, 27 that dissolve and another third that are intact after those three years.”
And while older data used to show that those who live together before marrying were more likely to divorce, Copen said recent research has debunked that theory.
With a growing section of the population putting house keys in front of engagement rings, Copen said “it’s not so much that people are doing it because they don’t want to get married.” Rather cohabitating has become sort of a standard step along the way.
While the decennial census reports of the 1970s and 1980s didn’t even capture the number of people living together with an unmarried partner, the U.S. Census Bureau reported last month that unmarried couples comprise 7.8 million households across the country.
And Connecticut is the poster child for premarital cohabitation. Nationally, 5.2 percent of households – or about one in 19 homes – belong to unmarried partners, and it’s the same exact breakdown in the state of Connecticut. Stamford’s ratio is also exactly 5.2 percent, accounting for 2,365 households in the city.
While cohabiting couples may be a small segment of the population, Copen said that’s because census data takes a snapshot of a moment in time. If one were to measure the amount of couples who have lived together at some point before – or instead of – tying the knot, it would capture a lot more people.
By the age of 20, 26 percent of women interviewed between 2006 and 2010 had cohabited with a partner, up from 23 percent in 202 and 19 percent in 1995, Copen found. And by the age of 25, the numbers were up to 55 percent between 2006 and 2010, up from 52 percent in 2002 and 46 percent in 1995. In addition, Copen found that 47 percent of women between the ages of 35 and 44 had cohabited before they reached 25 years old.
“The increase in cohabitation among younger women suggests a rising trend in premarital cohabitation in recent years,” Copen wrote in her paper.
In fact, these days it’s totally typical.
In the month since Mikayleigh Ryan and Justin Behn first met through a mobile dating app, the pair have become inseparable – so much so that they decided to move in together.
Ryan had been living in Stamford before grabbing a short-term lease at a beach cottage in Milford for the summer months. And now that the lease is coming to an end, she and Behn have been spending the last couple days sorting through items to donate to Good Will and merging two households into one in the third-floor walk-up Black Rock apartment Behn purchased last summer.
“Since my lease is coming up, it’s like, why would I go rent anywhere else? Literally, we’re wasting money on rent,” said Ryan, who is 27. “We’re like, ‘This is stupid.’ And if we were the kind of people who were like, ‘I need my space,’ that would be one thing, but we’re very compatible together, and we’ve been inseparable since we met.”
It’s a pretty big commitment to make only a month after meeting, but Behn, a 29-year-old Shelton native, said he’s prepared for the shift.
“Everything kind of has happened so quickly between the two of us, and I don’t think it always happens that fast, but if it works, it works. And I think it does in our case,” Behn said Tuesday afternoon as the pair leaned against the brick siding on the apartment, shoulders touching and a smile on both faces.
“I’m ready,” he said.
Behn noted that most of his friends who have recently tied the knot started out by living together first, naming a couple in Derby – which has the second-highest rate of premarital cohabitation in Southwestern Connecticut, with 6.3 percent of households – and others in Fairfield and New York City.
“I would never, ever get married without living together first,” said Behn.
“I think that would be crazy,” he laughed. “There are things you can find out about a person that you would never find out about them if you don’t actually live with them. So this is a good test for the next step.”