Thursday, May 10, 2012

Cohabitation vs. marriage

Dear Ella,

My granddaughter Megan, a bright and beautiful 25-year-old, has been dating Carey for the past year. They have recently finished school and have started new careers.

They are ready to move on to Phase 2 of their relationship: cohabitation. Now that they both have an income, they can move out of their parents’ homes and afford to rent something modest.

When I asked Megan why she wanted to live with Carey instead of getting married, she looked at me like I had two heads.

“It’s a test, Bubbie, to see if we are compatible for marriage. Everyone lives together first.” She was so excited about this new venture I didn’t have the heart to burst her bubble.

I’m not old-fashioned, but I don’t believe that living together before marriage is a good test to see if a couple is compatible. It somehow blurs the lines of commitment. There are far better ways to tell if the person you are with is the right one.

I don’t want Megan to make a mistake that will cost her years of her life. Am I wrong?

Bummed-out Bubbie

Dear Bummed-out Bubbie,

Many people, like Megan, feel that living together is the first step to take before committing to marriage. You get to see how grumpy your partner is in the morning, how messy they leave the bathroom sink, and how they handle day-to-day finances and regular household chores. But does that prepare them for a lasting marriage?

Statistics show that the majority of young adults in their 20s will live with a romantic partner at least once, and more than half of all marriages will be preceded by cohabitation.

It usually starts quite innocently. You date, you spend more time at each other’s homes, and then you move to regular sleepovers. The next natural and most convenient step is to move in together. But there are pros and cons to cohabitation before marriage. Living together does allow you to “try it on” before making the final purchase. Does it suit you? Is it a good fit? Does it bring out the best in you?

Is it trendy or something that will never grow old?

Living together as a test can also backfire. Often couples will get comfortable in a cohabitation lifestyle, and you’re right when you say this can blur the lines of commitment for some. When two people vow to stand under a chupah before God, family and friends, there’s something very solid about that as a commitment versus simply saying, “Let’s move in together.”

There’s a more lax attitude that comes with living together. It allows you to think you can leave easily, but once you’ve melded your finances, bought furniture, enjoy the same friends and invested so much time in each other, you may feel it’s easier to just get married than to start all over.

It’s hard to get young people to listen. Growing up means making decisions, even if some of them end up being mistakes. Your job as her bubbie is to be there for her no matter what. You can certainly help by offering articles, books and statistics, but in the end, Megan will do what she feels is best.

Either way, there are no guarantees.

Readers may submit their questions to Ella at The CJN, e-mail: But Ella is not a professional counsellor. She brings to the questions posed by readers her unique brand of earthy wisdom. Her advice is not a replacement for medical, legal or any other advice. For serious problems, consult a professional.

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