Consider this assessment of cohabitation from the radically-leftist New York Times.
AT 32, one of my clients (I’ll call her Jennifer) had a lavish wine-country wedding. By then, Jennifer and her boyfriend had lived together for more than four years. The event was attended by the couple’s friends, families and two dogs.
When Jennifer started therapy with me less than a year later, she was looking for a divorce lawyer. “I spent more time planning my wedding than I spent happily married,” she sobbed. Most disheartening to Jennifer was that she’d tried to do everything right. “My parents got married young so, of course, they got divorced. We lived together! How did this happen?”
Cohabitation in the United States has increased by more than 1,500 percent in the past half century. In 1960, about 450,000 unmarried couples lived together. Now the number is more than 7.5 million. 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. This shift has been attributed to the sexual revolution and the availability of birth control, and in our current economy, sharing the bills makes cohabiting appealing. But when you talk to people in their 20s, you also hear about something else: cohabitation as prophylaxis.
In a nationwide survey conducted in 2001 by the National Marriage Project, then at Rutgers and now at the University of Virginia, nearly half of 20-somethings agreed with the statement, “You would only marry someone if he or she agreed to live together with you first, so that you could find out whether you really get along.” About two-thirds said they believed that moving in together before marriage was a good way to avoid divorce.
That’s a nice idea – wanting protection against divorce. But I think these hopeful attitudes that young people have about cohabitation and the utility / harmlessness of premarital sex, is so much whistling past the graveyard. The fact is that cohabitation does not improve marital stability.
The New York Times author assesses the evidence about cohabitation:
Couples who cohabit before marriage (and especially before an engagement or an otherwise clear commitment) tend to be less satisfied with their marriages — and more likely to divorce — than couples who do not. These negative outcomes are called the cohabitation effect.
Researchers originally attributed the cohabitation effect to selection, or the idea that cohabitors were less conventional about marriage and thus more open to divorce. As cohabitation has become a norm, however, studies have shown that the effect is not entirely explained by individual characteristics like religion, education or politics. Research suggests that at least some of the risks may lie in cohabitation itself.
As Jennifer and I worked to answer her question, “How did this happen?” we talked about how she and her boyfriend went from dating to cohabiting. Her response was consistent with studies reporting that most couples say it “just happened.”
“We were sleeping over at each other’s places all the time,” she said. “We liked to be together, so it was cheaper and more convenient. It was a quick decision but if it didn’t work out there was a quick exit.”
She was talking about what researchers call “sliding, not deciding.” Moving from dating to sleeping over to sleeping over a lot to cohabitation can be a gradual slope, one not marked by rings or ceremonies or sometimes even a conversation. Couples bypass talking about why they want to live together and what it will mean.
Cohabitation is associated with higher risks of divorce because it works to undermine the need for quality communication during courting and the need for commitment that is based on discipline, instead of pleasure. People slide into something that looks like marriage because the sex pulls them in. But they’ve never taken the time to talk about what the relationship is really about, and whether they are intending to commit to the other person for life, and on what terms, and for what reason. Young people find these conversations difficult and scary for a reason – they are not capable of discussing relationships in terms of self-sacrifice, self-control, and self-denial.
The focus on early sex is caused by a focus on wanting to get to pleasure right away. They want relationships to be like a consumer good, where they get their needs met without having to talk about suitability for roles, and acceptance of responsibilities and obligations. In my experience, young people are terrified of the responsibilities, obligations and expectations of a real commitment. They want relationships to be free,easy and fun – where they just get to do whatever they feel like, moment by moment. And somehow, it’s all supposed to work out, without anyone talking seriously about roles and responsibilities and commitment.
But of course that doesn’t work as well as keeping your distance and getting to know each other first. It’s not just compatibility that is important, though – it’s that both people need to prepare for the roles and responsibilities they will have in a marriage, and demonstrate to each other that each is capable of performing those roles.
What’s the answer?
Research has shown that pre-marital chastity produces more stable and higher quality marriages. And that’s because chastity helps people to focus on conversations and obligations instead of the recreational sex which clouds the judgment and glosses over the seriousness of marriage. Premarital sex rushes the relationship to the point where it is harder to break it off because of the sunk costs of sex and the pain of the break-up. Courtship is the time to discuss the things that break up marriages, like finances and division of labor. It is the time to demonstrate self-control and fidelity. Courting doesn’t allow either person to get control of the relationship through sex, so that they can get their needs met without having to care about the other person. When sex is ruled off the table, the only way to have the relationship go on is by serving the other person and showing them that you have what it takes to do the marriage role you’re assigned. That’s hard work, but young people need to accept that and get on with preparing for and practicing their marriage responsibilities.
Why not go back to courting?
If you asked me, I would tell you that courting is protection against a painful break-up as well as protection against a bad marriage. And the aim of courting is to interview the other person so that you can see whether they understand the demands of the marriage and whether they can perform their duties to their spouse and children. In particular, men should investigate whether the woman has prepared (or is willing to prepare now) to perform her roles as wife and mother, and women should investigate whether the man has prepared to perform his roles as protector, provider and moral/spiritual leader (or is willing to prepare now). Courting is not designed to be fun, although it can be fun. It is not meant to make people feel happy, it is mean to prepare them for marriage. And this is because you cannot translate fun and happy into marriage, because marriage is about well-defined roles, self-sacrifice and commitment. Marriage is about following through for the other person, whether you get what you want or not. You’d be surprised how often people give up on courting and show that their real goal for a relationship is not lifelong self-sacrificial love at all, but just using other people for their own happiness while they keep their distance from the responsibilities, obligations and expectations of the marriage covenant.
And that’s why I encourage men to very gently and subtly guide the relationship in a way that will allow both the woman and the man to practice their expected marital duties, see how they feel about their duties and get better at being able to perform them. Men have the most to lose from the divorce courts, if things go south. That’s why it is the man’s the responsibility to detect and reject women who are only interested in fun and thrills.
This study is from the Institute for American Values. Despite their name, they are not conservatives. It was done by Norval Glenn and Elizabeth Marquardt.
If you download the 88 page PDF, the first few pages are an executive summary.
There are a couple of things that really struck me about this IAV study on hooking-up.
First, this one from p. 15:
A notable feature of hook ups is that they almost always occur when both participants are drinking or drunk.
A Rutgers University student observed, “You always hear people say, oh my gosh, I was so drunk, I hooked up with so and so…” Perhaps not surprisingly, many noted that being drunk helped to loosen one’s inhibitions and make it easier to hook up. A number of students noted that being drunk could later serve as your excuse for the hook up. A Yale University student said, “Some people like hook up because they’re drunk or use being drunk as an excuse to hook up.” A New York University student observed, “[Alcohol is] just part of an excuse, so that you can say, oh, well, I was drinking.”
A Rutgers University student commented, “If you’re drinking a lot it’s easier to hook up with someone… [and] drugs, it’s kind of like a bonding thing… and then if you hook up with them and you don’t want to speak to them again, you can always blame it on the drinking or the drugs.”
Other women observed that being drunk gives a woman license to act sexually interested in public in ways that would not be tolerated if she were sober. For instance, a University of Michigan student said, “Girls are actually allowed to be a lot more sexual when they are drunk…”
A University of Chicago junior observed, “One of my best friends… sometimes that’s her goal when we go out. Like she wants to get drunk so I guess she doesn’t have to feel guilty about [hooking up].”
Some reported that drinking had led them to do things they later regretted. A University of Virginia student said, “My last random hook up was last October and it was bad. I was drunk and I just regretted it very much.”
And this one from p. 30 on the effects of hooking-up on their future commitments:
A few women did see an unambiguous connection between present relationships and future marriage.
[…]Many women either saw little or no connection between present and future relationships, or their understanding of this connection was curiously flat. A student at New York University said, “[The present and the future are] connected because I will still have the same values and principles that I have now, but I just won’t be single anymore.”A number of women said that the present and the future are connected because whatever heartache or confusion they experience now gives them lessons for the future.
A University of Michigan student said, “Early relationships prepare you for marriage because it’s like, oh, what type of person do I want to be with? Oh, I’ve had these bad experiences. Or, I’ve learned from this relationship that I should do this and I shouldn’t do this.”
A sophomore at Howard University said that “I am kind of learning from a lot of the mistakes that I have made.” At a further extreme, some women saw their future marriage as the reason to experiment widely in the present. A Rutgers University student said,“I think hooking up with different people and seeing what you like and don’t like is a good idea. Because eventually you’re going to have to… marry someone and I’d just like to know that I experienced everything.”
Although it is admirable to take risks and learn from one’s mistakes, these women would probably find it difficult to explain how having your heart broken a few or even many times in your early years — or trying to separate sex from feeling, as in hooking up — is good preparation for a trusting and happy marriage later on.
And on p. 42, we learn what women think marriage is and isn’t for:
For instance, in the on-campus interviews one student complained, “[With] marriage…you have to debate everything… Why do you need a piece of paper to bond a person to you? …But I know if I don’t get married I’ll probably feel like… [a] lonely old woman… If anything, I’d get married [because of] that.”
This student went on to say that she would be satisfied to live with a man, but added that, if the man was committed to her, he would offer to marry her, and that this was the kind of commitment that she wanted. A student at the University of Washington said,“I don’t want to get married right after I graduate from college. I just think that would stunt my growth in every way that there is. I would like to be in a very steady, committed relationship with a guy.”
And on p. 44, we learn that they like co-habitation, which increases the risk of divorce by about 50% (but they don’t know that):
In the national survey, 58 percent of the respondents agreed that “It is a good idea to live with someone before deciding to marry him.” This belief often coexists with a strong desire to marry, because it was embraced by 49 percent of the respondents who strongly agreed that marriage was a very important goal for them.
[…]Women we interviewed on campus reflected a similar range of attitudes about cohabitation. Some women thought that cohabitation was a good way to test whether one could spend a lifetime with a potential partner. In such cases, women often cited fears of divorce as the reason for trying cohabitation first. A senior at the University of Washington said, “I kind of don’t really see marriages work ever, so I want to make sure that everything’s all right before [we get married]. I don’t see how people can get married without living together because I know like I have a best friend and I live with her and we want to kill each other, like, every few months.”
Other women felt that, in an age of divorce, cohabitation was a preferable alternative to marriage. A student at New York University said, “You see so [many] people getting divorces… I just don’t see the necessity [of marriage].” She went on to say, “I think that I don’t have to be married to [the] person that I’m with…. You know like… Goldie Hawn [and Kurt Russell]? They’re not married.”
But let’s get back to the drinking and the hook-up sex…
Once a woman abandons femininity for feminism, then sex is all that she can use to get noticed by a man. Men are like hiring managers, and courting is like a job interview for the job of marriage and mothering. If a woman tries to get the job by having sex with the interviewer, he isn’t going to hire her for the marriage job, since sex has almost nothing to do with the marriage job. Men have to think about things like fidelity and mothering ability when they are choosing a wife. The problem is that thanks to feminism, women have stopped trying to show their ability to be wives and mothers to men, preferring to instead act like bad boys – no emotions, toughness, hardness, binge-drinking, promiscuity. Men may be happy to have sex with women like that, but they do not commit to them for life. They’re just looked upon as feral animals, to be pumped and dumped by every man who isn’t a Christian. And Christian men are disqualified for relationships with young feminists, because we have morals.
Moreover, if a man is constantly being offered sex from feminist women during his 20s and 30s, he basically loses all the time that he could be training for his roles as protector, provider and moral/spiritual leader. He will never take on those roles if he is handed sex before marriage for free. That is the root cause of the “man-up” complaint that women make. Why don’t men grow up? Because they don’t have to. They don’t have to do a thing to audition for husband roles, in order to get sex. They just have to be “hot” and feign liberal political views. Many (most?) teenage women are giving the bad boys oral sex on the first date now. Women aren’t looking for husbands until much later, when their effort to achieve self-esteem through slutty behavior stalls out, and they realize that the whole feminist project was futile and unsustainable.
In a previous post, I explained how feminist leaders wanted to get women to drink like men, have sex like men, and to abolish courtship and marriage. Under the influence of cultural definitions of what makes a good man and a good relationship, women began to choose men to have sex with without any consideration of morality, religion, marriage, etc. This results in a cycle of binge-drinking, one-night-stands, cheating, co-habitating, breaking-up, stalking, aborting, etc., until the woman’s ability to trust and love anyone – including herself – is completely destroyed. And yet these college women somehow believe this is is “fun” and “adventurous”, that it makes them feel “sexy”, and that the experience of being selfish and seeing the worst kind of men acting in the worst possible ways, point blank, somehow prepares them for marriage and motherhood. They are told this, and they are so unable to break out of their need to “fit in” with their peers and culture that by the time they realized they’ve been had, it’s too late to fix it. And yet, they themselves made those decisions. They are responsible, whether they intended the consequences or not. No one was stopping them from investigating what was likely to happen, if they decided to play the fool sexually.