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About The ‘New York Times’ Cohabitation Article

Did any of you read this story yet?

“The Downside To Cohabitation”

I urge any of you interested in the topic to do so, especially those who are thinking about living with your significant other sometime in the near future. The article, written by clinical psychologist Meg Jay, specifically targets young couples still in their 20s and it offers up some interesting facts Jay has picked up from her own research and years spent practicing psychology.

Jay writes:

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.

Most of us are aware of the cohabitation effect, even if we don’t know what to call it. When an article from an authority as credible as The New York Times comes out basically saying the same things we’ve always known, it only serves to support every reason we ever had for not wanting to live with our partner before marriage. We see the numbers and read the horror stories about the cohabitation effect from such a young age, we go into our 20s convinced we will never make the same mistake ourselves.

Then we get into our 20s, and if we’re fortunate, we get to live in our places with no adult supervision. We start getting into relationships and start having co-ed sleepovers with our significant other; on school nights, no less! The sleepovers become more frequent, the commutes to each other’s places get more tiring, while the love for each other grows. We thought early in the relationship the whole sleepover thing would get old, but it hasn’t. What’s getting old is acting like we need to put space between ourselves, and sleep in our own beds in our own living quarters. What’s getting old is subscribing to all the ideas we’ve ever heard and read about the cohabitation effect, and letting it get in the way of living with each other.

So what do we decide?

Give the middle finger to the numbers, the anecdotes, and move in together anyway. In the days, weeks, or months (however long we choose to make the move) we break the news to everyone and we hear more doubters than believers. No one congratulates us on this journey we’re preparing to embark on, instead they raise eyebrows, say it’s “interesting” to our face, and “crazy” behind our back. We know it’s crazy, but we’re crazy about each other, so onward we go. Unloading box after box of our stuff into each other’s space.

During the time we live together, we learn all types of things we never knew about each other. They’re not surface level things either, like how one of us is really bad about leaving all the lights on. The things we learn about each other are deeper, embedded into each other’s biology. We learn each other’s rhythms and everyday ways. Everything we ever did by ourselves is now revealed to this person with whom we live, and whether or not it was information we shared voluntarily or it’s something we learned by walking in on the other, eventually, there are no secrets in the space we share. Everything is open, everything has been revealed.

Early on, living together is more fun than we imagine it to be, and the convenience, wow! All those other couples we heard not working out because they lived together were obviously doing it wrong, because what we have going on is perfect, better than we ever thought it would be. And it remains that way for a long time, for years, sometimes, all the way into marriage. This living together thing has been great, and in spite of the difficult times we’ve had, we’ve made it work.

Until we decide not to make it work anymore, and for reasons no one will ever understand but us, we decide, living together is no longer what it used to be. Now we have ended up exactly like every other couple we heard about. Now we’re contributing to the truths found in the cohabitation effect. We were supposed to be different, tried to be different, and we ended up being like all the rest.

Now we’re single again, and living alone or amongst roommates we don’t call lovers. But the cycle of couples living together continues to spin. Even that article in The New York Times says the following:

The unfavorable connection between cohabitation and divorce does seem to be lessening, however, according to a report released last month by the Department of Health and Human Services. More good news is that a 2010 survey by the Pew Research Center found that nearly two-thirds of Americans saw cohabitation as a step toward marriage.

Someone who is thinking about moving in with their significant other is going to ask us for our input because we’ve done it before. They’re also going to read the New York Times article and ask us our thoughts about it. Those of us who have lived with a partner before will share exactly what our experience was like and what we think of the article. We will either think our friend who is about to move in with their significant other is either interesting or crazy, but may I suggest we keep such thoughts to ourselves?

The one thing I learned when I lived with my ex-girlfriend for a year is that the reasons we broke up had nothing to do with living with another. I believe even if we lived apart, we would have suffered the same fate. People love to cite those numbers about the cohabitation effect, but what to make of the non-cohabitation effect? In other words, if living together is taking the express route to break up land, is not living together the scenic route? I only ask because people who don’t live together break up every day, probably more often than couples who do live together.

Living together is such a deeply personal journey, there’s really no bit of advice I can give or suggest to anyone that would help them. Those two people who are about to live together will live under their own rules and do things their own way, a New York Times article be damned.

The only thing I can say to a couple about to live together is Godspeed, and in spite of how things ended between my ex after her and I lived together, I would do it all over again. Only the next time, I wouldn’t listen to what anyone else had to say about the time they did it nor would I take anything I read about the hazards as gospel.