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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Cohabitation reduces divorce rate, they say.

What? Did you hear me right? Everyone knows that cohabitation increases the divorce rate, right? Even those who believe in cohabitation know that objective studies show those who cohabit before marriage having a much higher divorce rate than those who wait until marriage to live together.

But the new figures reflect something that perhaps the old way of thinking didn't take into account: the number of people who live together but never marry. You can't divorce if you never marry. More and more couples who live together are never marrying.

Now that I've presented information based on statistics, I'd like to add a little anecdotal information. You can fill in the blanks with your own anecdotes of people you have known; I'm confident you have some. And my firm belief, based on the experiences of many, many people I've known, is this: most people who live together without marriage are hoping to work toward marriage. Specifically, most women who live with their boyfriends consider it a step toward marriage. The word is often not used out loud; but it's there, unspoken, in phrases like "taking our relationship to the next level."

But the new study shows that an increasing number of couples who take their relationship to that next level, with the perception that it is one more step toward marriage, never actually marry. And this new information does not change what we already knew: that those who live together out of wedlock still have a much higher divorce rate.

Why? Why do these couples working toward marriage eventually break up, stay uncommitted, or divorce?

The sad reality is that living together is a manipulative arrangement, in many if not most cases.

The woman who agrees to move in as a "step" in their relationship is avoiding to put into words the colder, harder truth of her thoughts: This will get him to marry me. This is not to say that such a woman is not choosing to be with her boyfriend out of feelings of love, but that such love gets twisted up in manipulation when she resorts to using her sexual availability as a carrot. Perhaps unconsciously, she thinks Now he'll see how well we can live together, and make marriage a smaller step. He won't be so afraid of taking it.

Maybe she's right. Sometimes it works; but at what cost? The marriage with a much higher chance of ending in divorce? A relationship in which one more chink of trust has been broken? When manipulation enters into a relationship, it is very difficult to undo the damage, whether the manipulation succeeds or not.

And as the study shows, more often than ever the manipulation does not work. That's because quite often the man is also manipulating. While the woman is trying to use cohabitation as a way of pushing marriage forward, the man is often using cohabitation as a way of gaining the privileges of marriage without the commitments. I'm not just talking about sex, either. There are a lot of privileges of marriage: having someone to share your burdens; sharing household expenses and tasks; the feeling of building a life together; and certainly not least, consistent companionship. But all that comes with a price: commitment. And commitment can be scary, especially if you are uncertain about yourself or your partner. So why not give it a "trial run" before setting it on paper and in stone?

Here's why. Because a relationship built on manipulation has two strikes against it from the start. Because you can't expect long term, committed behavior from your partner when you are refusing to offer a commitment yourself. And because putting your partner on trial to see if she is good enough is about the most offensive and anti-committed behavior you can offer to someone you purport to love.

Oh, honey, I love you so much. I can't stand to be apart from you, and I think I want to spend the rest of my life with you. You are my dream lover. But just one thing: I need to have you give me all the services of a spouse without any security, so that I can see if you live up to my dream. I need to give you an audition period, so that I can see if you're up to the role, or if someone else comes along that turns my head better than you do. I'm sure you understand, I can't give a casting date just yet. I don't know when I'll know, so I just need to ask you to keep yourself available to me and only me until I decide whether or not you are the one.

How is that love?