The New Unmarried Woman
Together Without The Title
Judy Cole: 50, cohabiting for 15 years
Occupation: Writer and editor
Location: Gastonia, North Carolina
Judy Cole has no intention of marrying her partner, Monty Monaghan, even though they are more committed to each other than some married people she knows. She considers him to be her family; his relatives, her in-laws. "I'll stay with him as long as we love each other and are good for each other," she says.
Cole learned that love doesn't necessarily last forever back when she was about 18 and her parents' union "imploded." Throughout a suburban New York childhood she describes as idyllic, she'd thought her advertising copywriter father and painter mother had a perfect marriage. "When the marriage ended, it was like a bomb dropping," she says.
In college Cole majored in English, worked a variety of jobs after graduation and eventually developed a career as an editor and writer. She describes her love life during her 20s and 30s as one of "serial monogamy." One serious relationship, with a man who'd also lived through a devastating parental divorce when he was a teenager, seemed to be heading toward the altar. "We had a lot in common," she remembers. "I wanted to marry him, have kids, do the picket-fence-and-family thing. But he was always looking for something else."
Most of her serious liaisons involved cohabiting for a time. "If you love someone, you want to be with him," she explains simply. That didn't mean the next step was tying the knot, though. "I didn't see living together as necessarily leading to marriage," says Cole.
Cole met Monaghan, a musician and native of Ireland, in 1993, when she was 35 and still thinking about the possibility of having children. "He didn't want to make parenthood a part of his life, and I knew that if I stayed with him, that would have to be my choice, too," she says. On the plus side, being childless meant the two felt freer to live together without marrying -- a state Cole thinks of primarily as a way to provide stability for children.
Until recently Cole and Monaghan lived near New York City, where she was the couple's primary breadwinner. "My job has always been a big part of who I am," she explains. "I like being responsible."
The two kept separate bank accounts and found it easy to split up their expenses. "It's according to what each of us can afford," she says. "Neither of us has ever had a problem with that. We trust each other."
Several years ago the couple made the decision to move someplace warmer and found the big old house in Gastonia, North Carolina, that they now share with a menagerie of cats and dogs. Then Cole lost her job, and Monaghan went to work at a local radio station, making him the breadwinner. "Slowing down for a while has been good," admits Cole. "I finally have time to cook, but I'm a dreadful housekeeper."
Cole's only dissatisfaction with cohabiting is that it has put them in a social and legal netherworld. "If Monty became ill, I couldn't decide what would happen to him, and vice versa," she says. "We need to see a lawyer and figure out what we must do to be able to make these choices for each other." And she sometimes feels uneasy when she has to introduce him in social situations. Whereas he's comfortable calling her his girlfriend, she often refers to him as her husband since it's easier than having to explain. "What else do you say? There's just no good term."
She admits to moments of regret about not having had children. "Over the years it's been hard when old friends got married and had kids and that was all they talked about," she says. "It was as though they got on one bus and I got on another. But every era that passes in your life includes something you'll never do. It was sad, but not tragic."
Overall, she says, the choices she has made have given her a happy life. "This is the right relationship for me," she says. "I'm not opposed to marriage, but I don't need it. Monty and I are together because we want to be."
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, August 2008.