The other night, I was having dinner with a friend, and over dessert she mentioned how unusual it is that I’ve never lived with a significant other. I’d never really thought about it before, but she’s right—I can only think of one or two friends who haven’t shacked up with a boyfriend or girlfriend. But even though I’ve never lived with anyone, I have had two relationships that reached the four-year mark. There’s no denying that relationships have changed now that the average man gets married at age 27.1 and the average woman gets hitched at 25.3. In 1970, less than half a million married couples lived together—today, more than five million do. Which means that almost every 20- or 30-something has been through one, if not more than one, phase of being quasi-married. Journalist Hannah Seligson has written a new book about this phenomenon called A Little Bit Married: How To Know When It’s Time To Walk Down The Aisle Or Out The Door. Since she’s interviewed hundreds of people in serious long-term relationships, we thought we’d get her to answer a few questions from readers. Check out her answers after the jump.
Q: My boyfriend and I have been together for 3 ½ years. I’m ready for marriage, he isn’t. Last year, when we talked about it, he said he wanted to wait because we needed to work on our communication. Fast forward to last month, when I mentioned marriage again. He said he’s still not ready. I asked him why—if he’s afraid of commitment, if he’s unsure about me, and pretty much every other question under the sun. And he kept saying, “I’m just not ready.” He won’t give a reason, he just says it’s not something that’s on his mind right now. Even though he says he knows he wants to marry me and we always talk about our lives in the future. I don’t understand what’s wrong. We are both self sufficient with good jobs. I know he has career goals set for himself, but he says the goals don’t necessarily have to be met before we can get married. I feel like I’m in a hard place right now because I love him, but I’m ready to move forward in life, and he’s not. I want kids, and I don’t want to wait until I’m 40 have them. It’s like everything I want, I can’t have because he isn’t ready for those things, and I’m going along with it because he is who I want to be with. Am I being strung along, or just impatient? —Stuck In A Holding Pattern
A: First and foremost, Mr. Ambivalent owes it to you and your relationship to give you more than a glib one-liner. What does he expect you to do? How are you two, as a couple, going to work through this gray zone? Does your boyfriend expect you to just wait around until he is ready to get married? What about your desire to have children before a certain age? Is the bargain that you just swallow your wishes and needs? What are his thoughts about how two people in a relationship should manage different marriage timetables? More specifically, what about the communication does he want to improve? Is he just going to wake up one day and decide it has? Or is there something more specific he can point to? Maybe a couples counselor would be a good intermediary to help pose some of these questions. At the very least, ask him, because that’s the only way you’ll get any clarity on whether you are being strung along or just being impatient.
Q: I recently moved in with my boyfriend, after years of living with roommates. I feel like I’m always getting frustrated and on his case about “roommates things”—the dishes, him leaving his stuff around, not paying a bill on time. That said, our relationship is very strong. How do I separate my boyfriend the roommate and my boyfriend the boyfriend out and not let the two bleed together? —In A Domestic Bind
A: Here are some ideas: Make a cleaning schedule. Put your bills on auto-pay. Save money for a housekeeper once a month. In short, you’ll need to find simple ways to avoid these “domestic disturbances” from getting in the way of more amorous feelings. Talk to your boyfriend about your desire to have this separation. Tell him about how housework turns women on. And crucial point here—the onus isn’t solely on you to separate your boyfriend the roommate from your boyfriend the boyfriend; it’s equally on him to think about how household chores get divvied up. How does he feel about the division of household labor? Does he think you are pulling more of the weight? Talking point: “I want to stop nagging you do to things around the house. Don’t you? Let’s figure it out.”
Q: I’ve been with my boyfriend for six years. We live together, but I’m not sure I want to get married. Not to him or anyone else. But my married friends always give me a hard time about it. Like there’s something wrong with me or our relationship that we’ve never walked down the aisle. This is kind of ironic because the biggest offenders are people who’ve been married multiple times. What can I say to shut them the hell up? —Thankfully Always The Bridesmaid
A: Some thoughts on silencing these marriage mongers:
- We are waiting until we have kids to get married.
- We are married—just not all the way.
- We are waiting till marriage loses its patriarchal baggage.
- We are trying to keep our emotional and financial relationships separate.