"A Little Bit Married"

A friend of mine and his girlfriend are, for a variety of reasons, considering moving in together. In the (Christian) communities they were raised in, this is called "living in sin." Other communities call it "cohabitation."

While most Hollywood movies and sit-coms consider this a normal stage in a relationship's progression, for these two it's quite a big decision (which it probably is for most people, though definitely for those with a somewhat conservative or religious upbringing). Conservatives love to throw around the "fact" that cohabiting couples tend to divorce more.

My friend is the kind of person that, instead of taking his cues only from popular media, likes to read books and articles and get some quality data before he makes a big decision. So he's been compiling some data and put a couple of books that relate to the topic on hold from the library. The first one that's become available is A Little Bit Married: How to Know When it's Time to Walk Down the Aisle or Out the Door by Hanna Seligson.

She defines "A Little Bit Married" as the stage in the modern relationship when it is long-term (i.e. at least one year) but isn't necessarily headed toward marriage - has traits that used to be associated with marriage (i.e. living together) but without the commitment of marriage. He's just begun reading it, but told me that the assumptions inherent in the text are making it hard to take seriously. Notably:
"The common echo from women in the stage of 'waiting to seal the deal' was that being A Little Bit Married can feel like running an emotional marathon, except you aren't always sure whether there is a finish line."
This implies that all relationships are a "race" and marriage is the "finish line." The assumption being that a relationship that doesn't end in marriage is a failure - you have "lost" the race, so to speak.

Another example:
"The effects of not [getting married] aren't as monetarily quantifiable, [but] women do lose something valuable - time."
The implication being that the time spent in a relationship that doesn't end in marriage is wasted time.

I personally believe that an intimate relationship is valuable in and of itself; that a break-up isn't a failure - all relationships provide us with lessons about ourselves and other people, etc, etc.

So far the book's been uneven, he says - though it has been so far full of quotes like the ones above, it also debunks the myth that cohabitors are more likely to divorce. That only applies to "serial cohabitors," those who live with multiple partners over the years. Guess those folks have other issues that skew the statistics, eh?

What do you think about cohabitation?
Would you move in with your partner of ___ years?
Why or why not?
Is it "living in sin"?
Is it different for men than for women?
Do you want to get married before you turn _____?


  1. I always say, test drive that vehicle before buying it. Meaning if you are in long term relationship and you that it may even remotely turn into a marriage, you should live with the partner before tying that knot. That way there are no surprises after the honeymoon. You learn so much about a person while living with them. You may THINK you know a person well but when you come home to that person DAILY it's a good indication of what you will be getting into post-wedding living situations. In my case, I didn't like what I was getting so I got out. Quickly.

    I moved in with a partner after being with him for a little more than a year. In a perfect world, I would have liked to get a place together rather than simply moving in to a place he had been in for two years. A lot of the reason I moved in with him was financial, as I was in a pretty sticky situation and was recently unemployed. We both figured that since I was planning on moving in at one point might as well move that up a while. Looking back, this was probably NOT the best decision. Not to say I did not love him, but I would have much rather waited a few more months (or a year) before co-habitating. When you feel financially forced to do something it never ends well.

    Sin? I suppose if you are doing sinful things (which God knows I was and I loved every bit of it) then yes. But I have never cared too much about what is sinful or not so not sure that this question really applies to me.

    Coming from a gay standpoint, I think two guys living together is as big of a commitment as two women or a man and a woman. Every couple has to come home to the one they love. And if they begin to stop loving, that's a problem. However, I will never marry someone without at least living with them for a few years. You just never know...

    I'd like to get married before I'm 35.

  2. I believe the time implication is actually referring to the fact that her ovaries are mutating (genetically) at an alarming rate past the age of 25, making it more likely her baby will have a birth defect.

  3. This is such a good topic!
    So, growing up Christian, and then attending Christian college, I don't have a lot of experience with co-habitation, except in the past two years or so, and even then, only through friends or acquaintances. In my most recent relationship, I always said that we would never co-habitate, mostly because it would kill our parents (both of us have pastor fathers), and also because I always said I wasn't ready (meaning that if I felt like I was ready, maybe we would consider it, but probably we would just get married).

    Since becoming single...I've realized that I think co-habitating would probably be a really good idea, since any future relationship I am in probably won't have as leisurely of a timeline of getting to know each other, etc. before becoming a bit more serious... and I agree with a lot of @The Animaal's points on why co-habitation can be good/bad.

    But yes, there is still the instilled idea that it is "living in sin." However, (and maybe this is naive? I can never tell) I would like to think that if I was in that serious of a relationship, I/we would be able to come to my parents and explain our decision and have them respect it, since I personally am beyond the point of feeling like it's "living in sin," but as my elders, I still really respect my parents' point of view.

    As a woman (I guess I feel this way because of gender), I definitely resonated with the social norms that relationships that do not end in marriage, especially further into adulthood, and the more time spent in a relationship, are "wastes of time." But as a person who was in a relationship, who will be in relationships, I feel that any time spent with anyone is really valuable and important, and definitely not a waste. So it's a battle, to be honest. Because there definitely has been this feeling recently of "oh shoot, I have to start all over again now?" Which is dumb and devalues the relationship(s) I've had.

    I'd like to be married before I'm... 30.

  4. @The Animaal,

    Testing a new comment "reply" system... let's see if it works.

    The 'test drive' argument is one of the most ubiquitous in favor of cohabiting. Some people argue, though, that you learn enough about a person just by hanging out with them all the time (via dating) and you don't need to live with them to get that info.

    And then the argument is also that since you aren't married-level committed when you're cohabiting, things that bother you about someone that you learn about since you're living with them are "dealbreakers" as opposed to "stuff to work through." like, if you had been married to this person you were living with, would you have worked it out instead of walking out?

    i'm not saying that it's better to be so committed to someone that you have to try and work through all of their shit instead of just cutting and running when it's obvious you aren't compatible. but the argument has some merit, no?

    The book mentions a few "no-no"s - NEVER move in with someone just because it's "practical" or if it's a purely "financial" decision... this is troubling for me because it says, "don't move in just becuase your lease is up." and... my FRIEND's lease is up in August and that's part of why he's thinking of moving in...

    Do you think it would have worked out had you gotten to know each other a few more months or so before moving in? Or did moving it up just accelerate the process of figuring out that it wasn't meant to be? Like, how do you think the timing really affected everything in the long run?

    Like most straight males, there's a lot of privilege I have that I often forget about - like the fact that this entire conversation basically ignores non-heteros! Interestingly, the book mentioned that gay couples tend to have happier relationships when they cohabit and/or get married than straight ones do. that is largely because there's a correlation between traditional gender roles and marital unhappiness, and of course gays don't have as much pressure to conform to those.

    In terms of married by 35 - it's so interesting, like Steve mentioned, when kids aren't necessarily part of the picture, at least biologically - women have to worry about being fertile, you know? it's much harder to have kids at 35 than at 25. I never gave enough credence to how big a motivator that can be. But I doubt many women who want to give birth to children would put the number that high...

  5. @Snorberg,

    I gotta trust you on mutation or whatever, but I figure it's more about fertility?

    But you're right - after finishing the book, I understand a lot more where those quotes are coming from. I'll be updating this post hopefully by tomorrow with my thoughts after having finished reading it...

  6. @afishh,

    That's the thing for my ... FRIEND too - his parents wouldn't be too problematic, but hers would be pretty bummed. She is having a very difficult time even imagining breaking the "news" about cohabitation to her parents. I think the whole thing is about sex, since sex is implied in cohabitation - and the girl can't imagine discussing sex, or revealing that she's having it, with her parents... that's just not how they do, you know?

    I think that's a good point, though - what is dating like post-college? Jamaal, maybe you can talk about that a bit too. When you're in college, you live 2 minutes from each other; you aren't REALLY paying rent, you don't need to live together to see each other all the time. That's a big problem for my FRIEND and his girlfriend - they live across town from each other, which is a 15 minute drive or 1 hour bike ride each way. that makes it difficult to see each other except for weekends, which is a big change from college.

    As for "living in sin" and talking to parents about it, MY FRIEND is able to talk to his parents about sex or whatever now. HE was more conservative than his parents during his Christian phase. They are great about it, just want him to be safe and make sure he's making good decisions and have thought things through and stuff, but wouldn't ever judge. And I bet my FRIEND'S gf's parents are the same way, but because of the way that they raised her and their conservatism and stuff, i think it would just make it so difficult to have that discussion.

    Like, I wonder - have you talked to your parents about sex? Do they know if you are sexually active? How difficult would that conversation be?

    I'm learning that a lot of the "wasted time" feelings are really about fertility and might actually be evolutionary, you know? Maybe women are hard-wired to want to settle down with a committed partner while they are still fertile? So they can have kids and raise them with a partner, you know? Makes evolutionary sense, at least logically. Though I've heard that coupling isn't actually necessarily the best way to raise children and has risen to prominence not because of evolution but because of... society or whatever i don't know...

  7. This is a really interesting discussion and I like the points that have been brought up so far! Personally, I think it's really important to think about what you would hope to get out of living together versus what you want out of marriage. What would be the purpose? Is it a test run? Does that, as you said, Elliot, make it easier to cut and run if things get hard? Is it harder to "date" a person if you are already living with them, or would you still put as much energy into going out together?

    Also, it sounds like your FRIEND's gf may not be ready to face her parents. If she is, it could be a great opportunity to assert adulthood and independence, but if not, the question may be moot. Or, could modifications be made? I mean, could they rent a 2 bedroom apartment? It would still be cheaper than living separately but might give the couple some personal space (depending on self-discipline) and be a small appeasement to the parents. I do think financial motivation could be a red flag, but just because it would be cheaper doesn't inherently make cohabitating a bad idea. It just seems that money is such a problematic topic for couples anyway that it would be ill-advised to make a relationship decision based on it.

    On a less relevant note, I think it's interesting what you said about sex being implied in cohabitation. It's always seemed funny to me that people can't imagine living with someone without having sex, as though sharing a bed or house is what makes sex mandated for couples. As someone who has been in a lot of shared beds and not had sex, I just don't get it.

    Anyway, my advice for your FRIENDS is just to be really intentional about their decision (which it sounds like they are). Just as "why not?" is not an adequate answer for why to get married, it's probably not sufficient for why to move in together either. But if there are some other really good reasons, then I say societal judgement be damned - do what's good for you and your relationship!

    P.s. I love that your FRIEND is getting books from the library to research this topic. The nerd inside me is thrilled :)

  8. @Tracy,

    All great points! Thanks so much for your response. That first question is probably the most important one - why move in together? What's the point? The thing is, I don't know if there's a "right" answer - but examining it so they're on the same page at least is probably a really good idea.

    I personally don't see the point of renting a 2 bedroom - it would possibly appease the parents, but I don't see it being cost-effective as one bedroom would likely go unused the majority of the time. I get the feeling that my friend and his gf are good enough communicators that they could communicate their need for alone time and not necessarily need separate bedrooms to do it.

    Sex is definitely implied in cohabitation - think about the euphemism "slept together." But it's not necessarily happening, as you've said.

    I think living together and sex are generally connected because couples are usually already having sex before they consider moving in together. The same kind of people that are against (or super hesitant about) moving in together are generally a lot of the same people that are against (or hestiant about) pre-marital sex.

    Anyway, like you imagined, my friend and his gf "slept together" for over a year, I think, before they actually had "sex." They are having sex now, so the assumption, in this case, is accurate...

    I really appreciate your comments! I mean, because I can relate them to my friend.