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Couples in 'Stayover Relationships' live together — but not really

Lejla Salihagic and Matt Bruggeman, both of Tampa, pose in front of Salihagic’s apartment with some of their stayover bags. They have been together for about seven months. The dog? That’s Haylee.

Juliette Lynch/tbt*

Lejla Salihagic and Matt Bruggeman, both of Tampa, pose in front of Salihagic’s apartment with some of their stayover bags. They have been together for about seven months. The dog? That’s Haylee.

It begins with the toothbrush in the bathroom.

"Oh, yeah," said Lejla Salihagic. "That started the second I was there."

But then you need clothes. You need a blow dryer. You need a hair brush, a work outfit, something to sleep in, a jacket, sneakers, your makeup, your favorite blanket, some movies and …

"I have to bring three bags over," said Salihagic, 25, who spends almost every night at her boyfriend's Temple Terrace home. "Then I get home and have to unpack it and repack it. It's hard to do laundry because you're living in two places and your stuff is all over the place."

It's what happens when a romance grows past dropping your date at the door. It's sleeping over at least three times a week, sharing meals, spending all your time together but paying rent at your own place.

Ask these folks if they're living together, and the answer is a resounding "no."

It's a Stayover Relationship.

People have shacked up for years, even if they didn't talk openly about it. But for the first time, someone has studied the practice — a 27-year-old University of Missouri researcher named Tyler Brooke Jamison.

In college, she noticed friends doing it all the time. Jamison was even in a Stayover Relationship with her now-husband.

She studied a small group of couples from age 18 to 28 living in Stayover Relationships. She asked about their habits, their reasoning, their hang-ups. Her study was published in a journal and then buzzed about so much, she's now expanding it to a larger group.

"I don't think it's terribly new," she said. "But I do think that some social changes have created a context in which staying over is more common."

Stayover Relationships are a part of "emerging adulthood," a term coined by Clark University research professor Jeffrey Jensen Arnett. It's childless, career-driven adults in their 20s. They've left childhood behind but haven't taken on full adult responsibilities. Their views on commitment are fluid and changing. They're getting married later, or not at all. They're living together.

They're staying over.

Jamison found they had common reasons.

• It was convenient. If they didn't like roommates or their place was dirty or chaotic, they could escape.

• It was comforting. They liked having a night in, eating dinner and watching a movie and going to bed.

• It was enlightening. They got to see quirks in their partner, that he doesn't like Mexican food, or doesn't pick up his socks, or snores.

• It was easier. They couldn't get out of leases, or they feared parents would frown on them living together.

• It was, in a way, insurance.

"If I'm not certain we're going to end up together, it would be really stressful for me if we broke up on Tuesday and I have to find an apartment on Wednesday," said Jamison. "If we're having a fight, I can send this person home or I can go home."

Salihagic didn't want to be apart from her boyfriend, Matthew Bruggeman, 27. But she didn't want to move in with him too quickly, either. She had been in a Stayover Relationship with an ex, and it wasn't right.

"You almost want to do it only for the convenience," she said. "And you feel like it's the next stop, but it's forced."

She was just friends with Bruggeman for 10 years, until the night at a football game they kissed.

"We realized we had those feelings," she said.

She started staying at his house after a couple months of dating. She works in advertising at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, and his house was closer to her office. Plus, his beloved pitbull mix, Haylee, was there. His place became the default.

It felt right this time. She got to experience his habits, realize he was a neat freak just like her. It confirmed her feelings for him.

"You get to see them in the morning," she said. "You get to see their cleanliness, how they take care of themselves, how they take care of their house, their pet."

But is a Stayover Relationship sustainable?

"It seems like it's practical and it makes sense, but it's a relationship that doesn't really get a chance to deepen or mature," said Rhonda Audia, a Tampa relationship counselor known as the Guru for Two. "You're kind of avoiding dealing with connection and sharing power and conflict. I could see how it's something that would work in the short term, but it's kind of shallow after a while."

Plus, it's just not that romantic. After seven months of lugging bags out of her Honda Accord, Salihagic is over it.

"I want a future with him. I want to live with him," she said. "I don't want to have to pack bags anymore. I want to feel like I have a home to come home to."

They've started looking for an apartment. Together.

Couples in 'Stayover Relationships' live together — but not really 08/11/11 [Last modified: Monday, August 15, 2011 11:47am]
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