A stayover is a staycation at your significant other’s house. You sleep over three or four days in a row, sharing meals, showering, returning after work to watch Netflix, then hitting the sack together. After a few days of intensive “we” time, you separate and go to your own place for several days of respite. You probably don’t even text or talk much during this period. After a few days apart, loneliness stirs, and you miss your partner. So you begin the stayover cycle again.
This is your heart in college
Stayovers are a kind of commitment-neutral zone—it’s not cohabitating, and it’s not marrying—it’s playing house. When spending time with your partner gets tiring or irritating, you just go home. It probably sounds like the kind of relationship pattern that college students engage in. And, yes, it’s popular with 18-29 year olds, but it’s also surging in popularity with adults of every age. People long for physical and emotional closeness, but they also want to be able to go home when they’ve had enough. This seems especially true for divorced adults, or those who have had a long-term commitment end badly. Often, they miss the physical and emotional intimacy of marriage but are afraid something will go wrong in the relationship that they can’t repair. For these individuals, the stayover is a means of conflict- and commitment-avoidance that still nourishes their desire for intimacy.
For others, the option of maintaining their own space is an act of self-care. Living alone permits restorative solitude. There’s nothing that must be negotiated, no noise to tolerate, no one else’s mess to clean up, and no one insisting that time is being wasted or should be. It’s a delicious kind of freedom when you can build the kind of world you desire within your own four walls.
When independence is paramount
More adults are choosing to live alone than ever before. In 1950, there were 4 million single adults in the United States, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Today, more than 50 percent of adults are single, and 5 million adults between the ages of 18 and 34 live alone, according to Eric Klinenberg, a sociologist and author of the 2012 book Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone. Single young adults are delaying marriage and choosing a single lifestyle because it offers the flexibility to focus entirely on their career or to make personal choices that would be risky if another person were depending on their income. A stayover allows these adults to enjoy a measure of emotional and physical satisfaction without making the relationship a priority.
Decide, don’t slide
Sound good so far? Well, here’s the reality check: Stayovers are emotionally confusing. A stayover encourages vagueness about boundaries and the terms of the relationship (“Are we dating? Are we friends with benefits? Should I introduce you to my friends? Are you seeing anyone else?”). The really prickly problems occur when people slide from stayovers into cohabitating. Maybe your lease is up and you opt to move in temporarily with your partner so you can take your time finding a new home. Or you’ve moved so much of your stuff to your partner’s house anyway (toothbrush, hair products, pillow, subscriptions, clothing, dog toys), that dragging one more carton or two of your stuff seems completely logical. But couples that slide into cohabitating tend to have short-term relationships fraught with tension seeded by the insecurity of an undefined relationship. By contrast, couples that decide to live together have longer and healthier relationships. Entering into a conscious commitment to create a life together makes the difference. The simplest solution is to be honest with yourself and your partner about what you really want. Every relationship is a kind of contract. The human heart likes the fine print spoken out loud.