First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Deanna pushing a baby carriage.
Most of us grew up singing this little ditty in the schoolyard when our friends expressed their “love” for someone of the opposite sex. The expectation set forth as children was to “grow up, get married and live happily ever after,” end of story. This dream triggers many little girls to play house, sometimes carrying out the fantasy with a pretend wedding.
I recently overheard a woman in conversation with a friend, state “I’ve been dating him for 2 1/2 years and I’m tired of waiting. If there is no ring on this finger in the next 3-months, I’m out the door.” Society has long dictated that after a certain period of dating, the expectation is either the couple moves in together as a precursor to marriage, or they become engaged. Once a ring is given, they commence planning of an elaborate, and often times expensive, party to celebrate their upcoming nuptials. Many couples dive deep into debt for the societal idea of a dream wedding.
Marriage is the legal binding of two individuals, one that can only be broken by annulment, divorce or death. The costs not only financially but emotionally and mentally of divorce can cripple an individual. However, there is a new way of thinking emerging. Marriage is not the next logical step in a relationship.
Divorce rates are high and rising. Most couples head to “the alter” with the good intentions of “until death do us part” professing their undying love. In our throwaway society, it’s an unfortunate fact that many marriages end in divorce. Type in divorce statistics in any search engine and you will come up with a myriad of facts. According to Jennifer Baker of the Forest Institute of Professional Phycology, “50% of first marriages, 67% of second marriages and 74% of third marriages end in divorce.” (qtd. divorcerate.org Baker).These statistics show with each subsequent marriage the chances of divorce raise substantially.
Most of the news today is peppered with the sordid details of celebrity marriages and divorces. Do a Google search for divorce lawyers and you will see proof of this growing epidemic, one that has a cure.
Without marriage, there can be no divorce. The remedy for divorce is found in a quietly growing minority of couples in long-term, loving, and monogamous relationships that choose the marriage free route. Though not a “licensed” union, this growing number of couples, whether heterosexual or homosexual, is no less committed than their married counterparts. A common statement one hears from these couples is, “I don’t need a government-regulated piece of paper to prove my love.” These couples simply feel no need to make it legal in the eyes of the law.
An internet search for couples that are committed but not married will give terms such as “happily unmarried, marriage free and serial monogamy.” There is even a website dedicated to alternatives to marriage called unmarried.org. Though many of these couples do elect to live together, there is growing number who choose not share a residence but spend 4-5 nights together each week at one home or the other—getting the best of both worlds.
There are advantages of maintaining separate residences. If they are individuals who need their time alone, they have the ability to retreat to their own home. The man never has to see the woman with a “green mask” on her face, nor does the woman have to be a part of “boys video game night.” The times they do share together are special, for they choose to come together by choice.
What about getting to know your significant other complete with bad habits and all? Does love mean that you need to be a witness to your significant others peculiar behaviors on a day-to-day basis? By not living together, the mundane items are not a part of your life. There is no assigning or arguing about who does what chores. Money, which is separate, is not an issue for argument, so there will not be the hidden purchases from a spouse that can cause issues in many relationships. If a couple has different sleep cycles (one is a night owl and one is an early bird), concessions are only made on the days together.
An obvious disadvantage to separate residences is monetary cost and upkeep of two separate homes. Rent or mortgage, utilities, duplication of household necessities, and groceries are but a few. Admittedly, combining finances doubles the purchasing power and lower a debt burden. For the lower income couple, living together may be the best economic choice and their primary reason for living together or getting married. However, for those who can financially sustain two separate residences, the equity in two separate investments is more conducive to an individual’s financial portfolio.
Though one portion of the wedding vow, deals with monogamy (forsaking all others, keeping only unto her for as long as you both shall live), infidelity is becoming one of the biggest reasons cited for divorce. According to an article in Family Planning Perspectives, 70% of responders in a survey indicated they had only one partner in the preceding 12-months. Klitsch goes on the state “the vast majority of American women and men aged 18-59 are relatively monogamous” referring to a national survey on sexual activity (Klitsch, 37).
Are the remaining 30% those responsible for infidelity in divorce? A study in 1997 indicated an estimate of roughly 30 to 60% of all married individuals (in the United States) will engage in infidelity at some point during their marriage (Buss & Shackelford 31). Monogamy is a commitment option whether a couple chooses to marry, cohabitate, or remain happily unmarried.
One of the disadvantages of not getting married is the inability to cover your significant other (if living together) on your medical insurance. With guidelines changing, some employers allow domestic partner benefits if the couple is a gay/lesbian, but some offer nothing for male-female couples. However, the couple must reside in a country where domestic partnership is recognized. Each state, and employers within those states, have different human resources policies. Another hindrance is in the likelihood of a medical emergency the “I’m the significant other” does not hold the same weight as “I’m the spouse.” With pre-planning, a medical-legal document can be drawn up called an Advanced Directive allowing your wishes to be put in place before an emergency arises. Some of the other drawbacks that I’ve heard; not being able to refer to the other person as “my husband” or “my wife,” or not having the same last name. Though many women who do marry are opting to retain their maiden names for professional reasons. The big disadvantage from a few of my female friends, when asked, was the ring and the dream of a wedding.
Many individuals would debate the question of children, with the stance that parents should be married. Marriage with its high divorce rates is no guarantee that a child will grow to adulthood with both parents living in the same household. A large majority of children who live in single-parent households are the silent victims of divorce. If you look at the statistics from The Census Bureau (Grall 1-12) the percent of single-parent households in the United States is 28.8%. Of those, 45% are mothers who are separated or divorced. Of fathers who are the custodial parents, 57% are separated or divorced.
My concluding thoughts turn to my own relationships. I have had both, the long-term marriage and the long-term committed relationship.
I participated in the “living together before getting married” and the marriage lasted for more than 20-years. The marriage license I had was not a protection of the side effects of a mid-life crisis, nor did it guarantee that I would grow old with that person. Neither did the marriage license of Wisconsin guarantee that I would receive half of everything that I contributed to that marriage. It did not. While the child from that marriage was relatively grown at 17, he was still impacted by divorce.
The long-term relationship I am part of is built on love and respect. At this time in our lives, we have the financial ability and have chosen maintain our own residences and investments. Spending time in either one 4-5 days per week. I have found the long-term committed relationship to be the best of both worlds. We communicate more freely and several times per day with great respect. Because the day-to-day routine is not part of our relationship, there is no loss of romance, respect, appreciation, or a decrease in the sexual intimacy. We have had many discussions about marriage and have simply determined that getting married would not make us any closer than we are now. However, we are contemplating moving in together. For us, first comes love, and then comes happily unmarried.
I know many couples that have been married for 35 plus years, beating the odds, and I applaud their success, however, these couples married in a society that held marriage in a higher regard than what it is today. In that society, marriage was necessary for most women and was necessary for the procreation of children, a society that has faded to a distant memory. Additionally, the attitude was one of fixing something that was broken, rather than tossing it out and getting a new one. In the here and the now of today’s society and its escalating divorce rates, marriage is not the next logical step in a relationship.