Dear Economist

Moving in together

My boyfriend and I have been seeing each other for a while, and last month he moved in with me. It seems sensible for us to put his flat on the market, but he’s suggesting that we wait a while in case things don’t work out. What would you advise?

— V.H., Leeds

Dear V.H.,

Modern living has made it so much more difficult to judge where you stand.

Mothers used to teach their daughters not to believe suitors’ promises that they would still love them in the morning. Then, commitment was made in the form of a marriage proposal. But when courts in the US stopped allowing women to sue for breach of promise, it became traditional to back up those promises with diamonds, a girl’s best friend.

Times have moved on and it is much more difficult for both men and women to gauge their partners’ seriousness. But if you apply a spot of screening theory to your domestic situation you will discover exactly where you are. (Screening is the art of finding out hidden information by forcing people to act, rather than simply murmur sweet nothings.)

If your boyfriend is enjoying the perks of living with you but lacks real commitment to your relationship, then he enjoys a high option value from owning a flat to which he can return. This is true even if he loves you but doubts the constancy of that love.

If, on the other hand, he is convinced that you will grow old together, the option value of a spare bachelor pad is minimal. The only reason for him to hold on to the flat is because he thinks it’s a good financial investment. Pundits can argue about the merits of this, but clearly the potential rewards are trivial compared with the loss of his soulmate.

To screen for your boyfriend’s type, you must demand that he sells his flat at once – claim that the Financial Times has been predicting a fall in prices, if you wish.

The art of successful screening is to impose a demand that one type of person is unwilling to meet. You don’t want to be sharing a house with that type of person, so put your foot down.

First published at ft.com.

6th of September, 2003Dear Economist • Comments off