Shacking up

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December 17, 2013 by nooffensebut

Katharine Hepburn once mused that couples “should live next door and just visit now and then.”

Of course, she maintained a long-term, noncohabiting, nonmarital romance with fellow actor Spencer Tracy, so she might be onto something.

But this column isn’t about proving Miss Hepburn right. It’s about unmarried couples who do live together. Shack up. Live in sin. (Feel free to add your own term.)

In 2010, 7.5 million unmarried, opposite-sex couples reported living together, a 13 percent increase from 2009, according to the U.S. Census.

In informally surveying my peers, I found that many people have a strong opinion about premarital cohabitation.

My dear friend David pulls no punches: “I think people who object to it are beyond (moronic) and setting themselves and their children up for utter marital disaster,” he wrote in an e-mail.

Statistics actually counter that assessment, but only slightly. The most recent (2009) findings from the National Center for Health Statistics indicate 40 percent of couples who lived together before marriage divorced within 10 years, compared to a 34 percent 10-year divorce rate among couples who did not live together before marriage.

Keeping separate addresses before saying “I do,” then, might give you better odds of a long-term marriage, but not by much.

“I don’t think you can really know someone unless you live with them first,” James posted in response to my Facebook query. “You will see all of the good and bad and from that determine if she is the right one for you.”

“I’m not in favor of (cohabitation),” countered Jarret. “Way too messy if you break up. My fiancé (soon to be husband) and I have been together for over five years. Sure, we may have some really annoying co-hab habits to get over when I finally move in, but I defy anyone to say that I don’t truly know him.”

I should mention that all the people who responded to my questions are between the ages of 20 and 35, and represent a mix of marital status, sexual orientations and religious backgrounds. None have been married for more than seven years. All had strong opinions of whether living together before marriage was a good idea.

Now, hopefully people are putting at least a modicum of practical thought into the decision to marry (or live together), but the romantic in me — the woman who gets teary at the end of “Roman Holiday” — also hopes that the scale tips, if only slightly, in favor of emotion over statistics. Elvis knew what he was talking about when he said “fools fall in love.” It’s a leap, not only of faith, but often of sheer idiocy.

And while my mother has said I see the world in black and white (she’s utterly wrong, by the way), when it comes to shacking up, I can see many shades of gray.

Because, on one hand, yes, ironing out as much of the nitty gritty as possible before tying yourself down is probably a decent idea. But on the other hand, my friend Kelli has a good point when she says: “You marry someone for their character. Not because they always remember to put the toilet seat down.”

 

Originally published Oct. 8, 2010 in the Chattanooga Times Free Press

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