Times are changing. More and more people are choosing to get off the beaten path that leads to death do us part. If current rates hold steady, 25% of people currently age 25-34 will never marry. Fortunately, for those of us who want to have relationships without the pressure and legal obligations of a ring, shacking up without permission from the government has become more common and socially acceptable.
The number of unmarried couples living together has doubled since the mid-1990s. One survey found almost half of adults have cohabited and some point. The average length of cohabitation has also increased from 13 months in 1995 to 22 months now. There are multiple factors at play to explain this significant increase.
Our country holds on to the Puritan values of our ancestors with inexplicable desperation. Marriage between a man and woman who make lots of babies has been heralded as the only moral way to have a family for centuries. Until very recently, any variation to this strict formula was not only socially unacceptable, it was also illegal. However, attitudes about relationship structure are changing.
In a recent survey, only 30% of men and women thought it was wrong for a couple to live together before marriage. In fact, 60% of women and 67% of men thought cohabiting would benefit couples and reduce their risk of divorce (CDC). There is a positive feedback loop at play. More couples will be willing to cohabitate if there is minimal social risk.
While social acceptance sets the stage to allow the rise of cohabitation, other factors are at play. People without a college education are twice as likely to cohabitate. Increased tuition rates along with the rising number of college-educated baristas have made a degree less enticing. Fewer people are getting degrees so the rate of cohabitation goes up.
Also, there is a new attitude about marriage on the rise. People want to have their lives in order before tying the knot. This means having a successful job, savings, maybe even a house. Cohabiting is a convenient waiting room until a certain amount of stability is achieved. Many people still see cohabitation as a stop on the way to marriage.
While studies report most couples do not list finances as the reason they decide to move in, there are economic advantages. However, splitting the costs of bills and groceries is not as clear cut as it seems. Again, we must return to demographics to fully understand the benefits of cohabitation. Cohabiters without a college education are more likely to have children. The additional resources needed to mitigate much of the benefit of the extra income.
Numbers only get us so far. Sure, it’s nice to split the electric bill, but the real benefits go beyond a few extra dollars at the end of the month. You move in with someone because you like spending time with them, waking up in their arms, and seeing them naked more often than not. You’re taking a risk when you sign a lease and move all your stuff into the same space. Sharing a living space with someone requires communication skills and a willingness to compromise. Your expectations should be reasonable and clearly defined.
When non-monogamy is part of the equation, this is even more important. My partner and I each have our own bedrooms. The reasoning is twofold. There is the obvious benefit of neither of us having to sleep on the couch when the other has company. Also, it allows us to each have our own space. We discussed this before we even started looking for places.
Compromise can be tricky because you must negotiate solutions that are equally beneficial to both parties. For example, in a previous living situation, my roommate asked that I not have sex past 9:00 PM because I lived on the floor above her, and she went to bed early. She had a legitimate sleeping disorder so I tried to be accommodating. Long story short, our sleep schedules amongst other personality traits were not compatible. I moved out.
Most problems arise because of unmet expectations. She expected me to adjust to her sleep schedule. I expected to be able to have sex whenever I wanted. One person expects the dishes to be immediately rinsed and put in the dishwasher, the other could care less but expects the toilet paper roll to be immediately replaced when it’s empty. In the past, I’ve been in various situations where not expressing my expectations led to problems that could have been avoided had I been more vocal or willing to compromise.
The solution is simple. If something bothers me, I will talk about it with a willingness to compromise. There is too much fun to be had to get all hung up over trivial matters. I feel lucky to live in a day and age where I can have this experience with someone without needing a legally binding contract that lasts until one of us dies.
While cohabitation is still primarily used as a trial run for marriage, as wedding rates continue to slowly but steadily decline, in the future it could become a replacement. It’s also a solution for polyamorous folks who can still only legally marry one person at a time. While it’s not as controversial as other variations to traditional marriage, the increased social acceptance of cohabitation demonstrates a step in the direction of sex positivity for a country that has been struggling with sexual repression for centuries.