The Hidden Costs of Being in a Relationship

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Photo: Frederic Cirou

This week, the Atlantic's Sexes enumerated the ways in which government benefits for married couples discriminate against single people. Single people pay more in income taxes, can’t reap the same rewards from Social Security or IRAs (and not just because singles are too fun to figure out that boring paperwork), and pay significantly more for housing and health care. Over a lifetime, it adds up to a single’s tax of more than a million dollars, calculated for a woman who made $80,000 a year.

It’s not fair, but it got us thinking about how expensive being a relationship can be too. The average wedding costs more than $25,000 — according to wedding magazines, anyway — and mere serial monogamy has its costs. Remember that New York Times article from last year about the perils of cohabitation? At first it seems like a budget no-brainer (half the rent!), but the exit costs are high. Say you break up. You’ve just thrown out half your furniture, you need a new place to live immediately (broker fees), and you’ll have to hire movers because it’s not like he’s feeling helpful. Go through three or four such breakups and you've spent the equivalent of a down payment on a bachelorette studio you'll never get kicked out of.

So as long as we're tallying up the cost of being single, let's see what being in a relationship will set you back.

Food: When singles bother to prepare their own food, they do so with the knowledge that one night of cooking and dishes could feasibly feed them for an entire week. Boyfriends suck at leaving enough for leftovers. 
Cost:
Buying lunch for the rest of your life; hiding your favorite snacks/liquors.

Friends you don’t like: People in relationships have to go halfsies on wedding gifts, baby shower gifts, hostess gifts, and restaurant dinners for people who aren’t really your friends. They’re your significant other’s friends. And really, they should be paying you for the pleasure of your company.
Cost:
Half of approximately three $100 wedding gifts a year for eight years; untold $20 bottles of wine; half your weekends.

Couples therapy: While no more expensive than regular therapy, you wouldn’t even need therapy at all if it weren’t for your beloved and his many limitations, right?
Cost:
$200/week for life.

New parents: One little-known fact about spouses is that they come with their own set of parents and siblings. These family members are not contractually obligated to applaud your professional achievements, let alone like you.
Cost:
Holidays spent in childhood home halved; filial anxiety doubled.

Grooming: It’s up for debate whether having sex regularly or trying to find a new partner requires more attentive grooming. But marriage (we imagine) involves keeping someone in love with you for the rest of your life, which sounds more labor intensive — not letting one's self go and all that. Single people can always find someone who's not bored of them yet/doesn't remember how they were.
Cost:
A half-dozen regrettable hair cuts or colors; "just to spice it up."

Sleep: Of all the expectations of long-term monogamy, is there any more daunting than sharing your bed with someone? The stakes are so high. What if she's a night owl? Or, worse, an early riser? Could you love a teeth-grinder?  There are so many variables that could compromise your precious sleep.
Cost:
Priceless, plus additional costs for the energy-inefficient temperature compromises (air-conditioner plus blankets? window open plus heat on?).

Children: Couples are not required to have children. But if you’re on the fence, you’re more likely to be convinced to have children if there’s someone in your life to poke holes in your condoms mix genetic materials with. After all, the only person who definitely won’t impregnate you is you.
Cost:
$1.7 million dollars to send a child off into the world, according to the calculation done by the New York Times last year; untold joy and fulfillment.