Happily Ever After

The Case for Marriage Before Moving In

Single? Serious about someone? Thinking about moving in for a trial run?

Because I am the concerned step mom of two beautiful young women (ages 19 and 22), both in serious relationships with men, I've been doing a lot of thinking (and talking) about dating, mating and marriage. While attitudes have shifted regarding cohabitation, I have a secret to share: Marriage is better. But don't take my word for it.

The evidence is in

Most of the world's religions make a strong case for holy matrimony, but I don't need to preach a sermon here. Outside of right and wrong, let's consider some proven principles, the most important being the level of commitment required to make a marriage work. Although reason might suggest that couples who live together could more effectively assess their compatibility and thus have a better chance at a successful marriage, statistics defy such logic. In fact, numerous studies have found that those who live together before marriage have less satisfying marriages and a considerably higher chance of eventually breaking up-the only exception being the case of the cohabiting couple with marriage plans in place for the near future. (Read detailed reports from the National Marriage Project and Next Generation Program.)*

For the record, I have "lived in sin." That's what the older generation used to say when we shacked up with our boyfriends or lovers. The question was always, "When is he going to make an 'honest' woman out of you?" Those were also the days when we were strongly encouraged to "save ourselves" for marriage, meaning preserving our virginity. Years after my dad died and my mom re-entered the dating world, I can still hear her saying, "I've been saving myself so long I forgot what I was saving for!" Obviously not a virgin, we laughed uproariously at her joke; yet in her humorous way, she set an example.

My live-in lover eventually put a ring on my finger and a marriage certificate in my safe deposit box. We kept our vows until he departed this world, which bears out the above-mentioned findings. In regard to duration, our marriage was successful. But if I have one regret, it is that I lived with him prior to our wedding day. Why? Because I was so much happier as a wife. The difference is difficult to explain except to say that my role in the relationship was more clearly defined by marriage. I felt an immediate sense of greater commitment which gave me the confidence to be a better partner and better person. I would even venture to say that our love grew stronger the very moment we said, "I do." I'm remarried now, and I still believe that marriage is the way to go. It just feels right.

The modern moral compass
Based on reports from America's youth, today's singles scene is best described as a culture of "sex without strings and relationship without rings"-a sad state of affairs, in my estimation. As much as we would all like to believe that it is okay to sleep with whomever we like whenever we like, I think one of the biggest points that is often overlooked is the emotional fallout of casual sex. We talk openly about the physical consequences (unwanted pregnancies and STDs). We have methods of protection against those risks. But what's going to save us from our broken hearts?
Call me old-fashioned, but quite frankly, I am appalled by the popular concept of "friends with benefits." Who benefits, ladies? Maybe you think it is all in fun, but if you are dishing out sexual favors in the name of friendship, this man is not your friend. Men can more easily separate the physical act from the emotional bonding that goes with the territory for us. As a woman, no matter how liberal-minded, cool and hip you think you are, once a relationship includes physical intimacy, your heart is on the line.
Move in and multiply the risk of unhappiness, disillusionment and relationship failure. Think about it. A man living with a woman not only has sex on demand; he has a housekeeper, cook and laundry service. Oh, you are a modern couple and plan to share everything equally? Might happen, but more than likely, you will be so busy trying to prove yourself marriage-worthy, you "won't mind" pulling more than your share of the weight. That's when he gets comfortable. ("Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?"-another popular "momism" that still stands). Meanwhile, you have no security in the relationship whatsoever. If one of you chooses to walk out, guess who is usually the biggest loser? Popular culture would have you believe otherwise; and the media feeds into the casual attitude of commitment-free living. All I can say is, don't believe everything you see in the movies.

Homework: Wives and husbands, join me in spreading the word that marriage is the greatest. Be an example to the younger generation. Don't just tell them not to move in together. Tell them why it's best that they don't and be prepared to back up your argument. If you are unmarried, experience the real joy of a loving relationship. Make the commitment before you move in.

*The mission of the National Marriage Project is to provide research and analysis on the state of marriage in America and to educate the public on the social, economic and cultural conditions affecting marital success and child wellbeing. The Next Generation Program is an initiative of research and public education designed to investigate and report on the attitudes and behavior of young adults toward dating, cohabitation, marriage and parenthood. Read current publications at http://rutgers.edu or call (732) 445-7992 for more information.

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