Jonathan Last in his book What to Expect When No One is Expecting points out some sobering statistics to those couples who think it is better to live together instead of getting married (or before getting married). Over the last half-century, nothing has grown in popularity more than couples living together outside of marriage. Last points out that “by the late 1980s, half of all couples getting married lived together first. By 2002, half of everyone had cohabited at some point. . . . Among people in the prime marrying years–those aged 25 to 44–over 60 percent had, at some point, shacked up with a girlfriend or boyfriend.”
In 1960, about 450,000 unmarried couples lived together. The latest figures put this number at 7.5 million couples (a 1,500 percent increase).
If you ask twenty-somethings why living together is preferable to marriage, you’ll hear that it gives the couple time to get to know one another and see how compatible they are together – thus, cutting down on bad marriages, hasty unions between people who fall in love but don’t really know one another, all which leads to more stable, long-term relationships.
And that sounds reasonable.
The only problem is, it isn’t true. As clinical psychologist Meg Jay pointed out in an opinion piece in The NY Times Sunday Review, the statistics demonstrate that “Couples who cohabit before marriage (and especially before an engagement or an otherwise clear commitment) tend to be less satisfied with their marriages – and more prone to divorce – than couples who do not.”
Jonathan Last points to some hard facts:
- Whereas there’s a 64 percent chance that a first marriage will last at least 10 years, 50 percent of couples living together break up after just one year.
- White women who move in with a boyfriend have a 27 percent chance of getting married after year one and a 59 percent chance if they make it to year three. A woman who lives with a man for five years has only a one-in-four chance of being married to her Romeo (and the odds for minorities are even longer).
Part of the answer for this is the different expectations (and motives) that men and women have for living together. For most women, living together is simply the intermediate step before marriage. For most men, living together is an opportunity to postpone commitment and a way to test the relationship (i.e., get the sexual and economic benefits of marriage without tying yourself down for life). Women commonly feel more loyal to their live-in partners than men. Since there has been no commitment, men don’t feel an equal sense of obligation to their girlfriends. And, over time, this becomes painfully apparent to the women involved. “Jennifer” (one of Meg Jay’s clients who lived together with her boyfriend, got married, and divorced less than a year later) said, “I felt like I was on this multiyear, never-ending audition to be his wife.”
Jay observes, “A life built on top of ‘maybe you’ll do’ simply may not feel as dedicated as a life built on top of the ‘we do’ of commitment or marriage.”
So, it turns out that living together (as exciting and even as glamorous as it sometimes may sound) is just another recipe for disappointment, sorrow, and regret. Love consists of a willingness to sacrifice for another, to give up yourself for the good of another and to deny yourself and take the risks involved in committing yourself and all you have and are to another, for your whole life. A man or woman unwilling to do this doesn’t understand love no matter how much they might enjoy sex. Saving on rent and utilities and getting to sleep in the same bed every night (at least until your partner finds someone more interesting) is not the same thing.
Cohabitation makes promises it can’t keep – because it’s simply another lie Satan spreads in his on-going effort to destroy God’s institution of marriage.
So, girls, when your Casanova suggests that you move in with him (or when he asks to move in with you), ask him two questions: “Where’s my ring?” and “When do you want to have the wedding?” If he can’t answer those questions, walk away.
And don’t look back.