What Have We Learned From Living Together?

Couples living together -- there are 11 million of them -- are now firmly part of American society. New research is shedding fascinating light on the risks -- and rewards -- of sharing a roof before exchanging vows.
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Live in Love

Leah*, a bank sales manager in Los Angeles, was 20 and deeply in love, but she and her 22-year-old boyfriend never even considered living together. "Our parents couldn't have taken it," she says. "So we got married." Today, 49, divorced and the mother of two children, 15 and 13, Leah is in love with a man she's been dating for two years, and choosing a different road. "Eventually we'll marry," she says. "He's ready now. But I want to live together first. Something a little less permanent than marriage will give my kids a chance to adjust to my being with a man for the first time in 10 years. And given my divorce, I'm a little afraid. Living together doesn't feel like as big a commitment."

What's most remarkable about Leah's story is the fact that it's not remarkable. Just a few decades ago, men and women who shared a home without being married were considered to be "living in sin," no matter how old they were. Today, some 10 million heterosexual American adults live with their boy- or girlfriends -- seven times as many as in 1970. Although cohabitation hasn't replaced marriage -- there are about 55 million married couples -- it has gone from scandalous to rare to utterly commonplace.

These days, the average trial cohabitation lasts about two years; after five years, 55 percent of couples marry. And at least half of all new marriages today begin as cohabitations. (By age 30, three-quarters of women have been married and about half have lived with their mates first.) Studies have shown, however, that couples who tie the knot after living together are more prone to divorce. While experts are divided on what cohabiting means for a couple's happiness -- and the future of marriage itself -- they all agree on one thing: The trend isn't going away.

*Name has been changed.

Continued on page 2:  The New Cynics


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