How to Be Unmarried
-Amanda Coggin, Divine Caroline
The day I told my father I planned to move in with my boyfriend, I became a free cow in his mind. Dad pulled into the Ft. Myer’s airport with music pumping and the top down to pick me up for a visit. I waited exactly fifteen minutes before I broke my news.
“Well, that’s nice dear,” he said, as he jostled the gearshift, “But I believe a couple should be thinking about marriage before they move in together. Otherwise, there is no incentive to marry.” I shifted uncomfortably in my seat, wondering if he or society had moved on from the fifties at all, but I also wondered why at the age of thirty-one I still needed a blessing from daddy.
My father voted Republican, but I protested wars. I paid cash at thrift stores while he asked for cashmere at Christmas and has a closet inspired by The Preppy Handbook. When I traveled alone through Asia, he wrapped me a gift of pepper spray. As he shifted into fourth gear down Highway 41, I remembered that somewhere between Asia and now I thought I had become an adult. Still, his response had triggered an unrelenting desire for me to whine, “You let Laura and Anne move in with their boyfriends.”
The Free Cow Keeps Her Milk
Returning home, I opted out of five nights a week with my toothbrush in my pocket. My boyfriend and I stopped buying separate groceries, refused to pay two rents, and purchased one comfortable bed. For us, cohabitation worked emotionally, logistically, and economically. Living with my boyfriend for three years gave me an opportunity to decide whether cohabitation should even be a test run for marriage. I decided that cohabitation is just fine for its own sake.
Supporting my choice is The Alternatives to Marriage Project (AtMP), an advocacy group based in Brooklyn, which spells out the alternatives to marriage. They discriminate against no one and list arrangements for living that are as varied as the colors in my father’s madras pants. I looked up on their Web site to see what was possible, since my idea of walking down the aisle at this point is only about finding the honey at Whole Foods.
Single and Living It
With a quarter of American adults living alone, according to AtMP, single living has become the most common household in our country. Twenty-seven million American homes consist of a single person compared to twenty-five million households with a married couple and a child. And while single living might be the most common alternative, living with a loved one is also on the rise.
The CDC reports that over 50 percent of American women between the ages of thirty and thirty-nine have lived unmarried with a different-sex partner at some point in their lives, while the Census Bureau reports that cohabitating couples have increased tenfold since 1960. On AtMP, cohabitation includes same-sex/LGBT couples, those who wish to remain marriage-free by choice, and others who opt for a grassroots marriage boycott until same-sex marriage is acknowledged by law. Some couples choose to have commitment ceremonies or cohabitate and reap domestic partner benefits depending on their employer or state.
It’s nice to know that something has shifted since the fifties, so those of us with partners can choose our own labels without the need to be married. I like the way David Popenoe, co-director of National Marriage Project, put it when he testified at the House Ways and Means Committee in 2001. “Although marriage remains an important feature of adulthood, it no longer looms like Mount Everest in the landscape of the adult life course. It is more like a hill that people climb, up and down, once or twice, or bypass altogether.” And while Mount Everest is the mother of all climbs, I think I’ll just let dad know that I’m having fun taking a hike or two first.
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