'Young women view cohabitation as step before marriage, but men do it before they make a commitment'

Zenoyise Madikwa

Zenoyise Madikwa

Students in love will have to make many decisions in the new year. Some will end their relationships and concentrate on their studies, some will get married while others will decide to cohabit.

Lunga Mateza, a student counsellor and life-skills practitioner at Walter Sisulu University of Technology and Science in the Eastern Cape, says though the institution discourages cohabitation it is becoming common among students.

Mateza says studies showed that one in 20 student couples live together on campus.

"The practice seems to be developing as an accepted stage in courtship. Though cohabitation looks glamorous from afar, it can be emotionally draining. We have had cases of cohabiting students who have burnt each other's items because of jealousy. In one case, a student attempted suicide because her boyfriend came to the room late."

Mateza says many female students treat their relationships as marriage.

"They cook, clean and wash for their boyfriends. This impacts on their studies and has a very damaging psychological effect."

Psychologist Linda van der Merwe of Johannesburg says there are differences in the way men and women perceive cohabitation.

She says while women tend to view it as a step before marriage, men see living together as something they do before making a commitment. She says the common reasons that lead student lovers to decide to live together include wanting to test compatibility and to establish financial security.

She adds that cohabitation is a common pattern among students who desire marriage but whose financial situation temporarily precludes it, or who wish to prepare for what married life will be like.

Lungile Mathe, who cohabited with his wife Asanda at a student village at Port Elizabeth Technikon for three years, says it was a good decision.

"I do not think I would have married my Asanda if we did not live together. She showed me that she can take care of a man. She looked after me, and living with her taught me to be responsible.

"I would come to our room early because I knew she was waiting for me. I drank responsibly and she encouraged me to study hard. A year after graduating, I paid ilobolo."

Lindi Mogale, whose sister Thuli was a former student at Wits University, blames cohabitation for her sister's death. She says after dating for a year, Thuli and her boyfriend started living together.

"He was a scrub who sucked my sister dry. She bought the groceries and paid the rent with the money my parents sent her.

"He told her that he did not have money, but he came home drunk almost every day. He came with friends to her place and they ate like pigs."

Mogale says the turning point was when her sister caught her boyfriend in bed with another woman.

"When he saw her, he chased her away and told his girlfriend [Thuli] that he did not want her anymore."

Mogale's sister committed suicide by drinking poison.

"Today he is happily married while my sister is in the grave," Mogale says.

TIPS FOR ADULTS LIVING TOGETHER l Do not share assets - Do not buy anything together. That means houses, a car, furniture and especially bank accounts.

l Do not share liabilities - Never ever co-sign a loan for your partner. Whether you stay together or not, if the person defaults, you either pay up or lose your credit.

l Do share expenses - Decide before you move in together whether you will share the expenses fifty-fifty or proportionately based on salary. You may consider opening a joint account for expenses. This should only be for groceries.

l Plan for the worst - Consider the possibility that one of you could die. You'll need to choose beneficiaries for everything from insurance policies to retirement plans to health care. - www.moneyunder30.com