This summer, my Facebook feed has been saturated with engagement pictures, countdowns to wedding dates, and dreamy wedding photography. In actual numbers, though, most of my friends in their 20s are delaying engagement and marriage.
The reason? In my personal experience, the common factor in relationships that drag on for years without a ring is the couple’s decision to live together.
Cohabitation—it’s a touchy topic, but I’ve actually talked to a lot of cohabiting couples about this. Surprisingly, my conversations with friends have turned out to be very fruitful when done from a place of love and friendship versus winning an argument.
I want the people close to me to be happy, and to have joyful and healthy relationships—but I know this is unlikely if they cohabit.
My practice is to pose several questions as food for thought:
Why the waiting?
This question is always the most interesting, and usually elicits the most information. Some say that they aren’t consciously waiting or delaying, but never thought about it too much; or they automatically assumed moving into together was “taking the next step.” Others remark about wanting to avoid the stress of the wedding day until the day they are more settled in their careers or want to have a family.
These responses are hooks for engagement. Is there a fear about stability or responsibility (which may be blown out of proportion)? If it is, as a friend in their life, this is the time to step up and offer your love and support to encourage the relationship towards a lasting commitment. Though you won’t ever be the one to make the final decision, encouraging more communication about marriage within their relationship, affirming qualities in your friend who may be tentative about making a good wife or mother, and even just being a sounding board for fears could help. If they don’t name a fear, maybe one of them just has a gut feeling that this relationship really isn’t quite right, and won’t stand the test of time. This is when the next point is helpful.
What about your future marriage?
Pew Research notes that, “that couples who live together before marriage are more likely to divorce than couples who do not.” Typically, it is not helpful to throw in statistics when having such an intimate conversation, but it is helpful to know that the numbers as well as your moral beliefs are on the same side. Try asking why they see living together as a next step towards marriage. And don’t be surprised with the responses, “we wanted to try it out to see if it was the real deal” or even “to save money.”
I am not married, so I can’t talk from personal experience, but I have always found it really moving when someone can add their own personal story into this mix. “We weren’t the richest we had ever been, but we were the happiest we have ever been because we were working towards something forever great,” or “I knew this was the real deal when I realized your father’s goodness—a goodness that would last throughout the rest of my life, through the thrill of our professional careers, through six kids, and my sickness and health.”
What about your fertility?
The second question usually pulls at the heartstrings of the women, but the third question is really directly focused on her. It is no secret that people are getting married later than ever before, to the point that women’s fertility is on the decline by the time they begin considering having children. Women have biological clocks, and men do not. A spiritual mentor of mine put it more bluntly than I will recount here, but his basic sentiment was that men in cohabiting relationships have everything they want and will have mostly everything they want spare the vow—a companion to come home to, cheaper rent, his own bank account, sex without kids, and the ability to leave whenever he wants. A woman, on the other hand, can miss her window to become a mother in a fast-paced society.
These questions won’t always go smoothly but they are still highly useful. And remember—lead with love, knowing that is not your choice as to how family or friends decide to live out their relationships. The best you can do is to offer food for thought that can sometimes guide them to a better decision. Who knows—they may even thank you for it on their special day!
Molly Judd is a staff member of Women Speak for Themselves based out of Washington D.C., and a proud graduate of Benedictine College.