Day #93: Koop – “Koop Island Blues”
I was out with the gang the other night when the subject of marriage came up. After Phil and I got married last May, people must have asked me at least hundred times, “How’s the married life?” and I would always say, “Not much different than before we were married.” We had been living together for about three years by then, and dating a bit longer than that. The wedding was awesome, but when it was over, things felt the same, except now we have these rings on our fingers and we file our taxes jointly.
“People say the first year is the hardest,” McD remarked. I’ve heard that, too. In fact, a few days after the wedding, I was out with a former classmate who had gotten married a year earlier, and she said it, too. Just like that. “The first year is the hardest.” It’s funny to hear because that’s the same way people describe law school or something like that. But, it’s true. It’s been true for Phil and I, that’s for sure. If we make it to our first anniversary next month, I plan to have a t-shirt made that says something like “5-21-11: we survived the apocalypse/5-21-12: our first year of marriage” (as an homage to the shirts McD and Ned gave us for wedding gifts about surviving the first proposed Doomsday of last year). I don’t know what the shirt will say if we don’t make it that far.
The statistics say we’re doomed anyways. That couples like Phil and I who lived together before getting married are the most likely to divorce. And that’s especially damning, given statistics cited by clinical psychologist Meg Jay in her op-ed, “The Downside of Cohabitating Before Marriage,” which appeared in this weekend’s New York Times: “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.” So, according to researchers, odds are good that divorce rates will be just as high for our generation (proportionally speaking).
Meg Jay offers a probable suggestion as to why divorce is so common among couples that lived together before marriage. Or at least, why it might be in some of those cases. It’s the consequence of what is known as “sliding in,” and if that makes you think about “pulling out,” you’re on the right track, because both can be a false promise. See, it isn’t unusual for couples to live together. I can only think of maybe two sets of married friends who didn’t live together before marriage. But, it’s convenient. You get to split expenses. And, if you’re always at each others’ places, the second place becomes an unnecessary expense. And because it seems like a logical, practical move, there doesn’t seem to be much of a serious discussion to go along with it. Maybe it doesn’t feel like there’s a need to be (you know, as in “Woah! No one said anything about marriage, yet!”). And, of course, there’s always that comforting assurance that an easy escape is still there if things don’t work out. In my first year of having moved in with Phil, I kept reminding myself to keep my living inventory to a minimum, so that if things didn’t work out, moving out would be fairly quick and easy. I didn’t own any of the furniture. I didn’t have my names on the bills. I didn’t co-sign for the house. I was still independent.
But, you can only tell yourself that to a point, because as time goes on, the two of you start building this life together. Living together becomes more than just mere convenience and sharing rent. You’ve made investments together. In furniture. Pets. Plants. Cars. You share friends. You visit each others’ families for the holidays. Still think you can pull out?
By that point, you’re in deep. Breaking up becomes intensely complicated if things don’t go well. And the thought of being single, or worse, starting all over again make you cringe (although, it makes for some good blog material). That’s sliding in. That level of investment inevitably leads to an automatic response for people, where you say “well, we’ve lived together for so long, marriage seemed like the logical next step.” And for some in that situation, that lack of having really clawed into the nitty gritty together is going to carry over and with marriage, the last of easy exits are sealed up.
I’m sure that doesn’t cover it for everyone who are, will be, or did cohabitate before marriage. And keep in mind that not everyone is positively doomed just because you chose to live together first. We have friends who, I have no doubt, will be happily married to each other for the rest of their lives. Still, I guess the moral of the story is that if you plan on sharing a place with your significant other, start getting into the nitty gritty sooner, rather than later.