The Cost of Breaking Up

More young couples are staying together simply to afford rent, as the cost of living skyrockets across Canada

Katherine Singh
Canada high rent prices: A couple hugs in-front of a building
(Photos: Stocksy)

When Alex Jane* matched with her current partner David on Hinge in Spring 2019, she was drawn to a lot of things about him, among them: his active lifestyle (so different from the people she’d previously been dating, who tread a singular path between home and work), and his genuine interest in getting to know her. When she sat across from him on their first date, however, she wasn’t necessarily thinking about his real estate potential. But, about five months in to their relationship, Jane—a 30-year-old freelance content marketer—found herself standing in a small condo in Toronto’s east end for a viewing with her partner.

“He told me within the first month that a goal of his was to move in with a partner eventually,” Jane says of David. “Within four months [of us dating] he was asking: ‘What do you think about moving in?’ He kept bringing it up, saying ‘I’d like to move in with you.'”

She was hesitant—to put it lightly. “I was always like, that’s a little crazy,” she laughs. “We really don’t even know each other, we’ve only been dating [a few] months.” They hadn’t even said “I love you.” And, Jane says, she had a teeny tiny feeling that her new boo wasn’t suggesting co-habitatation because he was bonkers in love with her—at least not yet. David was living in a shared space that wasn’t in the best shape or well maintained by the landlord. “I think he knew that he’d have a really nice kitchen and he’d have the space he wanted,” Jane says about David’s M.O.

Regardless, she finally gave in. “I decided I’ll humour him, we’ll see this place, and we’ll see what it’s like,” she says. Long story short: It was really nice; with amenities, a gym and a “beautiful balcony that overlooked the city.” And better yet, at $2,000 a month, they could afford to rent it together. “I was like, ‘Oh damn, maybe I should do this,” Jane says. “Even though it’s only been six months, look at this great place I can have and all I have to do is live with someone.”

Rent and the cost of living are on the rise in Canada

While it may not be the height of romance, Jane’s comments about love and rental agreements aren’t all that surprising; increasingly, millennials are having to factor economics in to their relationship decisions—including whether or not they want to stay in or jump in to living arrangements. Because the cost of living for millennials? Yeah, it’s high AF.

According to May 2019 data by LowestRates—which factors housing, phone and internet, transportation, groceries, entertainment, fitness and insurance, an average millennial (anyone born between 1981 and 1996) in Toronto needs to make at least $49,545 a year—or $3,214.39 a month—to survive in the city. That’s an increase of $475/ month since 2018 and a massive $865 since 2017. At this rate, the cost of living is set to increase by *another* $400 in 2020.

Read this next: I’m 33, Single AF and Preparing My “Golden Girls” Home with My BFFs

And nowhere has this increase been more prevalent (or perhaps, more felt) than in the cost of housing. According to the December National Rent Report from Rentals.ca and Bullpen Research & Consulting the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Toronto is $2,314, making the 6ix the most expensive city in Canada to rent a one-bedroom. (Vancouver takes the cake for two-bedrooms, rising 2.5% from 2018 to $3,230/month.) The cost of housing is pretty bleak across the country; with provinces like PEI and smaller cities like Kelowna, B.C. seeing large rental increases.

“The cost of houses compared to the incomes people are making is way out of whack,” says Globe and Mail financial columnist Rob Carrick. Essentially—home prices are increasing, and wages aren’t keeping up. A June 2019 study by University of British Columbia School of Population and Public Health professor Paul Kershaw found that it would take a typical millennial 13 years to save the 20% needed to make a downpayment on a home; compared to the five years it would have taken our parents to do the same four decades ago. Across Canada, the average price of a home would need to fall $223,000 to achieve affordability (outlined by the study as 30% of pre-tax earnings spent on housing) by 2030— about half of the current value; or average full-time earnings would need to increase to $93,400/year—nearly double current levels. And because few of our millennial peers are able to afford to buy, and with a rental vacancy of only 1.5% in large cities like Toronto (and 0.3% in places like PEI), Carrick says landlords are able to crank up the prices in an oversaturated rental market.

“If I were to just stick to basic personal financials, that a house should be three times your income and that rent should be no more than about 30 to 40% of your income. I would have to say that it’s—flat out—not affordable for a lot of people [to live in these cities], Carrick says.

Factor in the ever-growing gig economy—which leaves millennials with increased job insecurity—and blooming tuition prices, which ultimately lead to higher student debt, and “we’re in a pickle,” says millennial money expert Jessica Moorhouse.

Jane knows this well. After living in Taiwan for two years with a long-term partner, she came back to Toronto in November 2018 single, with not much money in her chequing account and no game plan. Working as an English copywriter for a firm in Taiwan, Jane had seen her contract through to the end and returned home wanting to try something new; planning to move in with her mom (making her one of the 1.9 million adults aged 25 to 64 to do so, according to recent data from Statistics Canada) and two younger siblings for a few months while she built up her freelance work and looked for an apartment on her own. But the city was a lot different than when she left. “Everything’s much more expensive,” she says. Especially compared to Taiwan, where she previously paid $600 month for a one-bedroom on a $30,000 salary in Taipei, Taiwan’s most expensive city. “I came back and I was like, ‘Wow, [my savings] could have lasted me three months in Taiwan…it’ll last me two weeks in Toronto,” she recalls.

And it’s affecting how we behave in our romantic relationships

Seven months into her relationship, Nicole Evans* was similarly on the precipice of big life changes. Graduating from diaspora and transnational studies from the University of Toronto in the Spring of 2011, she was about to be booted out of the sorority house she’d called home for three years. She was faced with finishing exams and figuring out where to live in Toronto. It was a lot to deal with. “I just didn’t have enough energy to finish school on a high note, find a new job and find a new house that was affordable and safe, all within a few weeks,” she says. “I had too many things in the air, and housing was obviously a super urgent need.” And with only a campus job to support her for the interim, Evans wasn’t sure what she was going to do; she just knew one thing for sure: “I didn’t want to move back to [her hometown of] Hamilton.”

Read this next: The Millennial’s Guide to First-Time Property Buying

Luckily, her boyfriend at the time had his own place in the city, and offered to let her move in while she got her bearings. While it was a super sweet gesture, Evans, who is now 31 and working as an audio producer, says that moving in together just wasn’t where they were at in their relationship—and deciding to sign on the proverbial dotted line of living together purely due to circumstance wasn’t a super sexy way to approach what many consider a big relationship milestone. “Our choice was [absolutely] reactionary,” Evans says of their decision. “It took a lot of what I imagine would be romantic out of deciding to solidify our relationship status.

“He’s a good guy, and I was confident that things would be cool if we moved in, but I wouldn’t at all have considered it at that stage if I didn’t have to.”

And she’s definitely not alone. Nicole McCance—a relationship expert and registered psychologist—isn’t surprised by Evans’s decision. “I feel that a lot of relatively younger people are just moving in way too quickly,” she says. Among many of her own clients, McCance—who moved in with her own husband six months into dating and is now the proud mom of twins—says she’s consulted with lots of individuals who’ve debated either staying in a fizzling relationship or jumping in to living with a new partner specifically because of the high cost of rent and living; and the motivators among clients for taking the leap are often the same: rent and commuting. “I get the practicality,” McCance concedes. “With rent, it’s a case of: ‘Why are we both paying for two separate places when we could be fine with one?’ and with commuting, it’s the idea that ‘We live in such a busy city that it takes me forever to get to you, so why don’t we just live together because it’s easier?'”

Which is a much different way of thinking about the “typical” (and seriously outdated) trajectory of a romantic relationship (you know, that whole “first comes love, then comes marriage” schtick). “The decision [to move in together] is made now more from our heads than our hearts,” says  McCance. “I think back in the day moving in meant that you were probably already married and it was after a long time of dating and you’re just really excited to start a life together and potentially start a family. The goal was a bit more romantic and a bigger deal,” she says. But now, we’re moving in because it makes sense—or actually, we’re maybe moving in because we have no choice.” Someone needs to put *that* in the song.

But jumping the gun when it comes to moving in together can have bigger repercussions than just a broken heart. Dating is already challenging enough; but, according to McCance, basing the trajectory and flow of your relationship purely on housing and finances can put even more stress on the relationship, you and your partner. For Alex Jane and David, the discussion around moving in together became a source of tension in their budding relationship. “It was the only thing we really fought about,” she says. “Any time the subject was brought up, it was like, ‘Oh this is not going to be a great subject; someone’s going to say something [and upset the other]. And I think that put a lot of pressure on things because he was so adamant.”

McCance says she finds it worrisome when one partner is pushing for cohabitation. “I have seen some clients say, ‘OK, well I guess I will move in if  he wants to. I don’t want to, it’s early, but I want to show that I like him, so I’ll move in;’  as opposed to building a real solid foundation and a solid relationship where it naturally just flows there.”

And, in addition to pressure for the relationship to succeed, moving in with someone for convenience can lead to a higher chance of settling within said relationship, McCance says, because you’re relying on your partner for living arrangements. Which is something Evans definitely felt—and feared when weighing whether or not to ask her partner about moving in. “Because he lived on his own, the fact that he was able to help me out kind of became the elephant in the room, though I was determined not to ask [to move in],” Evans says. “I was nervous that the relationship would move from ‘I want you’ to ‘I need you’ if I asked.” For Evans, the decision to jump past “Go” in their relationship ultimately worked out—in the short term, that is. After living together for three months, she found her own place and moved out. Ultimately, they broke up. It wasn’t living-situation related…he cheated on her (jerk).

Read this next: Why You Should Talk About Breaking Up Before Buying Property with A Partner

For Adam Rudd*, the knowledge of the rental situation in his adopted city of Toronto caused him to pull the plug on a four-year relationship probably sooner than he typically would have. Having shared an apartment with his partner for about a year and a half when things started to go south, Rudd struggled with ending the relationship, weighing the inevitable heartbreak alongside the cost and stress of finding a new place to live; knowing that—despite his relatively good salary as a small operations lead for a Toronto-based software company—he wouldn’t be able to afford the $1,600 rent on his current place alone. In the time just before their break-up, Rudd and his then partner were doing a brief stint of long-distance; feeling like the relationship was showing signs of ending, Rudd reached out to a friend in mid-July to ask about finding a place together. He and his partner broke up a few weeks later and in mid-August, Rudd and his new roomie signed a lease for an October move-in.

“Because it’s so competitive to get an apartment, it almost made it easier in terms of the decision making process [to end the relationship],” Rudd says, “because it was a case of: If this ends I need to find a new apartment. I need to get a move on and contact a real estate agent and find a roommate and just get moved; It’s kind of just like everything’s in a pressure cooker.'”

While Rudd was able to find ultimately find a roommate and affordable apartment within a month (an anomaly, he acknowledges), not everyone is so lucky. The inverse of the jump-in due to real estate is that others can decide or feel obligated to stay in a relationship that’s past its due date due to the high cost of living on their own. This is something McCance is aware of and makes sure to talk to her clients about when they’re deciding to move in with a partner. “Because once you sign a lease or actually live together, then maybe you can’t afford to actually move out…and then you’re stuck,” she says. “If you feel like you’re in a situation that you really can’t get out of, that’s going to impact your general wellbeing.”

For women especially, unaffordable rent can be dangerous

You can’t talk about finances without addressing the fact that pay inequity is still a huge issue, with Canada ranked as having the eighth highest gender pay gap in a list of 43 countries. A study by Statistics Canada found that in 2018, women earned $0.87 for every dollar made by men. This disparity, which begins the moment young women enter the workforce, is even greater for Indigenous, racialized and newcomer women, who earn $0.65, $0.67 and $0.71, respectively, to every dollar made by men. And not only is it just straight-up shitty, but this disparity puts women at a financial disadvantage, leaving them to be more dependant on their partner and their partner’s income—which can make their decision to move out, or even their ability to, more difficult.

Read this next: My Boyfriend and I Couldn’t Afford Rent on Our Own…So We Asked My Parents to Move In

Kathy Palmer* met her university boyfriend in a first-year science lab at the University of Guelph in September 2001. The couple moved in together after their second year and went on to have a seven-year relationship; during which Palmer’s partner became emotionally and verbally abusive. “We used to have horrible screaming matches and there were a few times where he looked straight at me and hit the wall just behind me,” she recalls. During her undergrad, Palmer served at a restaurant in town, which provided OK money, but wasn’t nearly enough to help cover the over $1,ooo month rent for the two-bedroom apartment her boyfriend insisted they rent. He had a lot of savings and scholarship money, she says; helping to pay for her half of their bills while tallying up what she “owed” him. And it didn’t get any better after graduation. Still living in Guelph, Palmer was having a difficult time getting in to her desired grad school program, driving 50 minutes each way from Guelph to Mississauga for a $13/hour job at a veterinary clinic and trying not to end up back living with her parents in the prairies. “Money had a huge factor in my staying while I was completing my [undergrad] degree, and afterward,” she says.

The final straw came when Palmer spent time apart from her now-ex, studying abroad in the Caribbean. “I was an ocean away and had left my cats and dog with him,” she recalls, “and he told me that if he thought I was cheating on him he would videotape himself skinning my cats alive and send me the video.” Hysterical, she called her parents back home, who agreed to get her pets and take care of them while she was away. She came back between semesters and moved her stuff out of their shared apartment. “I think if I’d stayed it would have devolved into physical abuse,” Palmer says. Her parents paid her ex almost $10,000 for the money she “owed” him.

Sorry, but it’s probably not going to get any better

While Palmer was thankfully able to get out of her relationship, the fact remains that millennials probably won’t be getting out of this rental hole anytime soon. According to a national forecast by Rentals.ca, rentals prices are expected to continue their upward trajectory in 2020, with the biggest price hikes slotted for Mississauga, Ont. (8%), Toronto (7%), Montreal (5%) and Ottawa (4%). Lucky folks in Alberta are set to see a 1% decline in rent prices (thrilling!). In the Greater Vancouver area home prices are set to reach a record high in 2020, and in Ontario, the Ford government recently encouraged residents to look to “co-ownership” as a means to solving the provincial housing crisis (essentially, living with your BFFs Golden Girls style). So, pretty much they’re telling Canadians to get roommates.

And while the high cost of living does affect people across all age demos, this isn’t just a case of  youth saying “OK, Boomer” and shrugging off the financial woes of generations before us—millennials are being hit harder—and for a more prolonged period of time—with these financial barriers. “When you’re talking about the long term of how tough things were in the housing market, boomers will always come back and will say, ‘In the 1980s, mortgage rates were 20% and even higher than that,'” Carrick says. “And it was brutal. It was a real struggle [for boomers] to hold onto their houses and pay those mortgage rates. And I recognize that. But it was a very short term phenomenon and rates did start to come down very quickly,” he says.

“That’s one of my biggest irritations is when a baby boomer says, ‘well I earned $2 an hour and I was able to buy this,'” says Moorhouse. “Because it’s not the same situation; we’re not playing with the same numbers, so it’s not apples to apples.”

Read this next: I Live with My Partner, But We Don’e Sleep In The Same Bed

And it’s not great for individuals looking to take a bit more time in their relationships before taking the next step; or looking to step out on their own. While Rudd was able to find a roommate and sign a new lease within a month, had he not been able to within that time he would have been couch-surfing with friends in the interim; a stressful situation he says he wouldn’t wish on anyone. “The financial implications of moving are stressful enough, especially if you’re covering first and last months [rent] and you’re trying to get released early from your previous rental agreement. And then I can’t even imagine if you felt like you were completely blindsided by a breakup,” Rudd says. “That would be a whole other layer of stress.”

While Jane and David have ultimately decided to hold off on moving in together (Jane signed a lease in November for her own place—taking the time and space to focus on herself), she has another way of looking at the whole rental situation. “I was talking to my friend the other day and I said: ‘This is going to sound very existentialist, but we’re all going to die; so we may as well not worry so much,’” she says. “Any relationship can end for a variety of reasons, and whether it ends in just breaking up because we don’t get along or breaking up because you realize you want different things or whatever it may be—we’re all gonna die in the end. So we may as well [go for it], I guess.”

*Names have been changed for privacy

Filed under:

Sign Up for Our Newsletter

FLARE - Newsletter Signup

Subscribe to FLARE Need to Know for smart, sassy, no-filter takes on everything you're interested in—including style, culture & current events, plus special offers—sent straight to your inbox each day. Sign up here.