Shacking up, not settling down

Horrors! Young couples are moving in together without plans for marriage

Published July 11, 2009 10:11AM (EDT)

For the past few weeks, various writers have been ringing wedding bells -- but of the alarm-raising and death knell variety. Sandra Tsing Loh decried the passionless marriage, Cristina Nehring tried to revivify romance, Caitlin Flanagan belittled expectations of conjugal "happiness" and Lisa Belkin has penned an article for the upcoming issue of the New York Times Magazine about why married women are feverishly gossiping about Jenny Sanford's decision to stand by her man. Anxiety, not love, is in the air when it comes to the current state of matrimony. Now, there's a new study to throw into the mix and it could either calm or fray your nerves, depending on your perspective.

The University of Denver's Center for Marital and Family Studies found that most cohabitating couples aren't living together as a way to "test the relationship before marriage." Nearly half of the 1, 294 respondents ages 18 to 34 said they were living together because they wanted to spend more time together, two-thirds said "it just sort of happened" and most see cohabitation as another phase of dating.

Some will inevitably respond to these findings by lamenting the loosening of morals and the death of tradition. I'm more inclined to see the positive: These couples are living together because they like each other and want to spend more time together. They may not be explicitly testing out the relationship for marriage, but they are allowing themselves time to be together, to learn about each other and to see how things work out between them.

If things do work out, maybe they'll think about marriage -- after all, the researchers note that 50 to 70 percent of couples who get hitched these days first live together. The fact that most romantic roommates don't shack up as a means of having a "trial marriage" doesn't mean they won't eventually tie the knot. More important, some will remain together, happily, without the desire or ability, in the case of gay and lesbian couples, to make that particular legal commitment.

Of course, none of this will satisfy traditionalists like Flanagan who are more concerned that every person have a marital cross to bear for all of eternity, rather than that people find personally fulfilling partnerships in whatever form they come.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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