Five Golden Rings

Now that I’m about to move in with Dan, my boyfriend who’s on safari for seven more days, and my folks aren’t exactly rushing out to get us a Crate and Barrel gift certificate, I’ve been making a mental list of all my friends who cohabitated with partners out of wedlock. I really hate the word “wedlock.” It sounds like the term for what happens in the summer when your door sweats and expands against its jamb and makes that horrible scraping noise.

I couldn’t come up with anyone who hasn’t lived together first. Seriously. Except for maybe Katherine Heigl and Josh Kelley, who aren’t really my friends. Katherine spoke about waiting on Oprah. I mean, she spoke about waiting to live with Josh until after marriage, not about what it’s like to serve Oprah. Which is a whole other blog of worms.

Katherine was also quoted in January ’08’s Vanity Fair as saying “I … didn’t want to live together before we were married. I still have enough Mormon in me—not a lot, but enough—that I wanted to keep that a little bit sacred.”

She’s endearingly lackadaisical on the subject, assured in a honeyed way, and I’m not sure why. Maybe because even though they weren’t shacking up before marriage, or spending concentrated chunks of quasi-Mormon time together, Josh still occasionally took her home — at least according to the song “Hey Katie.” Which contains the following non sequitur lyric:

Just maybe (maybe)
You’ll let me take you home tonight
I’ve gotta have you by my side
To wake up with the sunrise
Its hard to drive when you’re putting on your makeup
Cant stay in the lines

If she can’t drive and apply makeup is she staying or going? Or is Josh driving? Is this morning mascara or late-night lipstick? So many questions. And I wonder if it will be easier or harder to schedule a naked photo shoot once they’re living together:

I don’t understand the opposition to shacking up before door-jam, er, wedlock. Shacking up has a hard-working, summer camp feel to it — you get to mend and repair as a team! I guess “shack” is traditionally derogatory because it implies poor construction and instability. But Dan’s lived alone in Iowa for the past two years and already survived a tornado AND a flood. He needs another set of hands to rake and drain. And we’re the kind of people who care more about books than faulty siding. I mean, I once slept outside in a cabana chair in a thunderstorm on a beach in Rostock.

This is a nice day on the Baltic Coast.

This is a nice day on the Baltic Coast.

Also, I have plenty of gay and lesbian friends living with partners who haven’t been afforded the opportunity to marry before picking out salt and pepper shakers. When does their shack become a home?

Megan likes to send me statistics for my blog. Here are some she found on DivorceMagazine.com, which luckily is an online publication only, so there’s never the awkwardness of receiving an issue in the mail with a “Mr and Mrs.” label.

8.1% of coupled households consist of unmarried heterosexual partners, according to The State of Our Unions 2005, a report issued by the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University. The same study said that only 63% of American children grow up with both biological parents — the lowest figure in the Western world.

I understand wanting to keep something sacred in the relationship. It’s wonderful to experience firsts with your partner — like, first bike ride, first fancy dinner, first time you made your UPS delivery man pose with the glib stuffed penguin you share. But the domestic can be sacred, too. I can’t wait till the first time I clog the shower with my hair and can’t deny it because it’s red. Or the first time I “accidentally” turn off Warcraft and erase Dan’s high Orc-slaughter score. The more I watch laughy Kathy, the more….nervous I think she looks. Sacred and scared are almost spelled the same.

In New Zealand, a shack is called a bach. Can’t I just bach up with my boyfriend? That sounds symphonic.

I’m interested in hearing from my readers. Are you living with a partner or choosing to wait? Is this a generational or regional thing?

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26 responses to “Five Golden Rings

  1. I think it’s both generational and regional. My yankee parents would be cool with it, but my grandparents definitely would not.

  2. Cousin Michael

    It’s interesting that, in seeking advocacy from your readers regarding your decision to shack up, you would quote data from the National Marriage Project, which is a group dedicated to providing research highlighting the importance of marriage on social, economic, and cultural conditions as well as child wellbeing.

    When it comes to shacking up, some people feel it’s reasonable to test the waters and get to know whether or not they’re compatible with someone. However, in most cases observed by research, getting a feel for someone by shacking up doesn’t work. A critical element in marriage is two people making a commitment to each other to achieve a common vision of their lives together, and then working hard together to achieve that vision. Shacking up just doesn’t do that at all.

    But let’s check out some other relevant statistics. University of Washington researcher Dr. John Gottman, author of Why Marriages Fail, reports that “women in cohabiting unions are more than twice as likely to be the victims of domestic violence than married women.” Data from the National Institute of Mental Health shows that cohabiting women have rates of depression more than three times higher than married women and more than twice as high as other unmarried women.

    Wow, sounds exciting. Sign me up for that.

    The National Institute for Healthcare Research notes that couples who cohabited prior to marriage report significantly lower levels of marital happiness than other couples. And a recent research summary by Scott Stanley of the University of Denver says that couples who cohabited before marriage have significantly higher divorce rates than those who did not.

    I’m definitely in the anti-advocacy crowd when it comes to the idea of shacking up. And despite my opinion, there are plenty of people and websites out there willing to pat you on the head and tell you how smart you are for shacking up, and statistics can be debated all day. But as numbers are rather dry and boring, and as your blog seems geared more towards the profane and salacious, I’ll drop the research and sling more from the hip.

    In my mind, shacking up isn’t much more than unpaid prostitution.

    In fact, I’d say that prostitutes are more intelligent than women who shack up. At least they are getting paid for the work they perform.

    I’m assuming that the two of you (we’ll leave the penguin out of this relationship analysis, because research on three-some cohabitation is not available) are not engaged, because you refer to him as your boyfriend, and I have not seen references to a ring on your finger. Even the term shacking up is usually delivered to indicate an absence of marital commitment.

    If this assumption is correct, then you are essentially dropping your life in New York to follow a man who has made no formal expression of commitment to you. And because there is no deeply expressed commitment between the two of you, basically you can be dropped to the curb the moment you’re no longer entertaining with little or no inconvenience to the gentleman in question. What will happen when Warcraft is more important to him than you and whatever needs you feel the relationship demand? Visions of a Jane Austen predicament of lost virtue and sullied reputation come to mind, except probably without the tidy happy ending.

    Any wonder why your parents aren’t express-mailing you that Crate and Barrel gift certificate?

    Let’s not kid ourselves about shacking up being like your reference to camp either, where you get to mend and repair as a team. Marriage is where building, mending, and repairing as a team occurs. Camp is just temporary fun, where you get to go back to your normal life when your two weeks are up, leaving someone else to paint the walls and repair the damage before the next group of campers arrives. Except, in your version of camp, you run the risk of becoming subject to all those wonderful statistics above as well as eventually being an unwed mother, for which I won’t bother dropping statistics on the financial and emotion problems suffered by those children growing up in single parent homes.

    I reflect on all my high school and college friends who have shacked up, thinking they had the perfect relationship and knew all the answers. Not one of those relationships worked out, and most of them were disastrous. All of my friends finally found real meaning in meeting people who were willing to commit to them seriously through marriage.

    However, I don’t hold out much hope for you really changing your mind, even though you’re soliciting comments to just that effect. Having surveyed numerous entries on your blog, I believe they can be distilled into the following conclusions you have drawn about yourself.

    1. You believe you are superior to most everyone.
    2. Because you’re superior to most everyone, you are owed money and fame with little or no effort required on your part.
    3. Those who have achieved fame or success through hard work, perseverance, traditional values, or perhaps even a little luck should be ridiculed profanely and their accomplishments diminished.

    With these beliefs, you appear to have developed a fractional following of people who find you entertaining and provide reinforcement to your ideals every time you make a new blog post and your statistics counter goes up. Perhaps this is also reinforced by your real-life circle of friends who find you stories, adventures, and profanity diverting. However, this will probably change rapidly with the forthcoming cohabitation.

    You’ve spent the last 13 years pursuing higher education in poetry that, while probably self-centered and personally gratifying, has not provided you any real world skills or tools that would benefit you in a high paying or satisfying career. Furthermore, NYC is full of young, poor, entertaining, glib poetry majors who will quickly fill any void left by your departure to Iowa. Whatever employment contacts or good references you had in the city will be lost and without value in your new state as well. And have you ever seen Iowa in winter? You haven’t lived in that kind of cold, gray and gloom in your life.

    You’re 31 years old, and nowhere on your recent blog posts regarding shacking up are there references to a plan, a career, tangible education, or goals. Really, it just appears as if this adventure is more fodder for future blog posts. And without a plan or a meaningful commitment from your Squeeze, and considering your relationship history as documented in your blog posts, you’ll probably find yourself in an unenviable situation as time progresses ever on.

    This probably isn’t the obsequious comment you usually receive, but you’ve nailed your daily life and thoughts to a wall and welcomed all to pass judgment. So this is mine for you to digest.

    My recommendation: grow up, stop knocking your parents, get some real skills, get some gainful employment, be self-reliant and successful based on your own hard work and efforts, pursue your poetry in your spare time, try to be more self-effacing, find someone willing to respect you and commit to you, and unpack those boxes right now.

    Your Cousin, Michael.

  3. Wow, Michael, I just read your very long comment. As a clinical practicing MSW (that’s Master in Social Work), I can only say I am very sorry you are having such difficulty in your struggle for recognition, credibility, and peace. It seems as though your ability to articulate your judgement of your cousin brings you the kind of satisfaction clearly lacking from what I understand is perhaps a rather empty life. Not having the kind of support needed from your parents to pursue YOUR dream of an artistic life has clearly left you bitter, empty, and covetous to the point of hostility. A shame because every person should be able to enjoy and express their talents in an open way by the people who are supposed to love and inspire them. Such is the case with MY son Michael, pursuing his dream of writing and directing documentaries on the poverties of our democracy, but I digress. What I find saddest about your post, other than the blatantly transparency of your own sadness, is that you really do not know your cousin. I met your cousin through mutual friends. I am 13 years your counsin’s senior. I have raised a family (a man), run a household, have two degrees…Your Cousin, Rebecca, has proven to be one of the best people I know. She, in fact, is wise beyond her years. She strives to live in integrity in her life, with herself and in her relationships. She’s the kind of person who can have empathy for a homeless person who has taken her bag, even when I cannot. She is the person who has the courage to pursue her life’s passion even through her fears, and in spite of those whose support is conditional, such as yours. She has the wisdom and foresight to know what it means to look back with regrets, and so she lives sensibly, but with spirit.

    To reduce Rebecca simply to a person who “shacks up,” is very short-sighted. And I wonder, perhaps it is you who wishes YOU shacked-up, Michael? Perhaps you now have learned things in your state of apparent marital-unbliss that you wished you had had the opportunity to know before hand.

    Rebecca doesn’t feel she is owed ANYTHING. Again, you are writing about that which you do not know. Becca works harder than anyone I’ve every known, particularly myself. I have it easy. I HAVE employment as you say. I work 10 hours per day, monday through Friday. Becca works 70 hours per week, responsibly, paying her bills, keeping her obligations to those to whom she is responsible, and still finds the time to be true to herself and her vision for the life she is creating. In fact, Becca should be very proud of herself. I say this because this is true for most of us who think that we have to find validation from family simply because they have the same blood in our veins. Like you, for example. You clearly want people to know that you are her cousin, as if that MEANS something special, or different than it means to know me and be validated by me.

    Well, here it is Michael: You AREN’T more special or important than me, simply because you are her cousin. Your short-sighted, petty opinions are not more valuable or insightful, your validation not necessary. I am a 43 year old mother, wife, and therapist. I assure you, your opinion is nothing, and soon YOU will be too. You work very hard to whittle away at other’s self esteem, self-worth because you have none of your own.
    Get a therapist, Michael. Create some dreams for yourself and then make them happen. Get a soul. And for the love of God, do not have children of your own.
    Michelle, MSW

  4. cousin love anna

    from a cousin who loves you, let me make a comment. i wouldn’t make the choices you have or are about to make, but i also have no ill will toward you for making them. in fact, sometimes i’m a little jealous an in awe of how brave you are. i call all my cousin’s “cousin love” because it encompasses that the unconditional love that family affords you. sure family can hurt you, make you mad, disappoint you, but in the end it doesn’t matter because you let go. and so i support you and your life. i may not always agree or even encourage what you or anyone else chooses to do, but as long as no bleeding is occurring then i’m OK with it. i don’t necessarily think this move-in deserves a “pat on the back,” but it makes you happy and that’s enough for me. it’s a huge grown-up step and so you get my support. and you always get my cousin love.

  5. Choosing to move in with a partner is a very personal thing to do. Everyone will have a reason why you shouldn’t. But as I have always said, opinions are like buttholes, everyone has one, and most of them smell like shit. Follow your heart in the situation. You could listen to me or you can listen to Oprah, or Judge Judy for all I care. But you know what is right for you, and from the sounds of it, you are pretty excited about this little midwestern adventure. So follow your heart and clean out that drain. And fuck anyone who stands between you and happiness!
    Love you more than my shoes!

  6. We shacked up before we got married, and it wasn’t the end of the world, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Mostly, because of the different perspective that you bring when you are married, moving in after marriage is less drama and more excitement.

    Also, shacking up has the possibility to devalue marriage once you get it (we didn’t have this problem, but we recognized that we could have) because little changes except a last name on the wedding day.

    Just my 2cp.
    Sean

  7. Michael:

    Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. Mk. 4.24

    That you would choose this public forum to judge, denigrate, and cast aspersion on Becca can only be described as shameful.

    Becca is without exception one of the finest people I have had the great honor to be acquainted with. She has shown herself to be empathetic, caring, and generous to all. She is spectacularly talented in a pursuit of her ART; something I can only assume by your caustic tone you enjoy little of in your life. Stella Adler once said “Life beats down and crushes the soul and art reminds you that you have one.”

    Michael my hope for you is that you pursue a dream also, one that brings you joy; the kind of joy that Becca experiences and shares with us on a daily basis. Let go of the anger you show, for if unchecked it will ultimately consume you and poison your memory for the ones you love.

    I wish you no malice for attacking my friend and your cousin; only understanding and compassion as I know Becca would show for you.

    Patrick J. Lappin III

  8. Michael, the fact that you chose to rip into your cousin in such a malicious fashion on her public forum instead of in a private email greatly troubles me. She would never say such hateful things in her own posts- she was merely expressing her emotions about being unsupported by her parents and working through trying to understand that. If you think so low of her and her blog, why do you read it? For our sakes, please unsubscribe. Leave her art to her “fractional following” who quite enjoy Rebecca’s talent. I hope NOT to meet you when I attend her wedding and her book signing one day.

  9. I can’t say much about statistics but I do have a great deal of experience in the living together before marriage department. I am proud to say that I am happily married after 5 years of “shacking up” with my boyfriend. And may I also point out that our decision to move in together was absolutely foolish compared to the choice Becca is making. After only knowing each other for 3 months, we packed our bags and moved to New York to share an apartment. Our parents were not thrilled about our plan but we were adults and capable of making our own decisions (turns out that it was one of the best decisions we have ever made and soon after we moved in together our parents spent time with us and became supportive of our relationship).

    I’m not blind to the fact that living together doesn’t always work. But my parents never lived together before they were married and after 3 kids and almost 20 years of marriage their relationship crumbled and they divorced. My husband’s parents didn’t live together before they were married either and their marriage is still going strong after 40 years. There is no magic formula. Sometimes things work out and sometimes things don’t. If we didn’t take chances for love, we would miss the greatest joy life has to offer. I am grateful for the time I spent living together with my husband before we were married. Those five years of love, commitment, and friendship are the foundation on which our marriage is built.

    PS. I am not a prostitute and neither is my husband (just in case any of you were wondering)

  10. Part of putting your work on display is that it makes it/you vulnerable–exposed-to all criticism and praise. I think if Cousin Michael is the worst criticism you ever receive in your career as a writer, you should consider yourself lucky. I agree that you should keep your blog going, as it is an expression of your talent and your commitment to your work. It is candid and fresh and courageous. Anyone who cannot or will not support your work and your life choices does not deserve the privilege of sharing it – the highs and lows of it – with you. We love you, and what’s more confusing is that your cousin Michael loves you too…he obviously just can’t express it in a productive way. If he understood anything about love, he would understand that name calling and scrutiny are not they ways we show love and concern, but that they are simply harmful, spiteful ways in which we express our own insecurity and frustration with a situation. If he truly knew you, he would know your sensitive, compassionate nature, and your kind-spiritedness-he would know that this is not a decision that you are entering into without having considered it from all sides. The truth is Becca, that even if your life, our lives, do not fit the conventional standards of “real world skills or tools that would benefit you in a high paying or satisfying career,” you have enjoyed your life and you have had loving and supportive friends with which to share it. I mean, my life has not warranted me high paying status or ultimate satisfaction, and by all accounts it is a very conventional and “respectable” living.

    While it is true that “NYC is full of young, poor, entertaining, glib poetry majors” they WILL NOT “quickly fill any void left by your departure to Iowa.” If your cousin really knew you, he would know that NYC will feel the deep pang of loss and regret when you depart. Your contacts will follow you and your life will be waiting for you, should you decided to come back. The truth is, that is because of people like Michael that poets and artists are not more respected and celebrated in our society. Furthermore, as far as cold is concerned, I’m sure Iowa’s winter pales in comparison to the cold in your cousin’s heart, a “gray and gloom” he is obviously just trying to survive at your expense.

    It is beyond me to assume anything about people. In my opinion, it is an asinine way to live life. Assumptions are useless, and as we can all see from Michael’s posting, hurtful and verbose. I know you have a plan, Becca–a meaningful commitment that needn’t be justified to anyone. Regardless of where this decision leads you (and for what’s it’s worth, I believe it is the right decision), you are making choices for which you will ultimately be responsible, so what any of us thinks is obsolete. I am proud that you have the courage to follow your dreams-even if it is a dream of making pancakes and writing poetry. To me, it is just as meaningful and important as any stifling “gainful employment” you might find in any city. You are “self-reliant and successful based on your own hard work and efforts,” and you have found “someone willing to respect you and commit to you.” No one knows what will happen–not the experts, not me, not you or Dan, not the penguin and certainly not the great and powerful cousin Michael, but what I do know, what all the experts must agree on, is that if you don’t follow where your heart is leading you, you most certainly will never know for sure. To me, that would be the greatest regret of all.

  11. apologies in advance for the length:

    In the law, we have something called the Parade of Horribles. It works like this: a lawyer, trying to convince a jury to see things his way, strings together a list of the really bad things that will happen if the jury fails to do so.

    “Financial and emotional problems!” “Cold, gray and gloom!” “Lost virtue and sullied reputation!”

    It’s a cheap, amateur move, mostly used by those with inferior powers of rhetoric. It’s easy for someone with “real skills” provided by a “tangible education” and “high paying job” to systematically dismantle an argument based on a Parade of Horribles, especially one reliant on the lie that marriage is a utopia of “common vision,” “real meaning,” and emotional health, or at least one in which you’re less likely to get beaten by your mate (horray!).

    So I’m going to skip past the story that ends with Becca alone in a cornfield in darkest Iowa with her 3 illegitimate children, all of them doomed to a lifetime of poverty and emotional issues. A story that would never, ever, happen to a good married woman.

    I think we all know just how seriously so many married people take the commitments they make to each other during elaborate ceremonies that are very often just another attempt to fit their lives into precut shapes (so long as those shapes are bigger and better than the neighbors’, of course).

    And that’s what I want to talk about…living life on your own terms, rather than on someone else’s. After Cousin Michael finishes his Parade of Horribles, it becomes clear that this is what troubles him. To break it down:

    1. He defines success exclusively in terms of “high paying jobs,” “references,” and “contacts.”
    2. He’s hostile toward poetry, education for its own sake, and the poor.
    3. He calls Becca selfish, superior, dependent, easily replaced, and lacking in real skills. (Have you actually met Becca, Michael?)
    4. He repeatedly refers to Becca’s life as an “adventure.”
    5. Near the end, he gets increasingly irrational, basically cursing her new life in Iowa (even the weather will suck!) and her relationship with Dan.

    See, it’s not about living together, and it’s clearly not about Becca’s well-being, which is probably not served by being viciously trashed by a relative in a public forum.

    It’s about living differently. It’s about valuing art and adventure and innovation and fulfillment. And it’s about how often it’s the people closest to us who work the hardest to force us into shapes we can’t make. If you try to live your life outside the norm, those who do not have the courage to do that will take it out of your ass.

    Why? Michael’s own numbered points show that he attacks because he feels attacked. His choices and values are under fire in Becca’s blog, and in how she lives her life. I actually understand that. Sometimes, in the process of defining our own path, we step all over someone else’s. To justify my life means condemning yours. Judgment is really a defensive, not an offensive, maneuver. It’s about what he wants, what he lacks, and, most of all, what he’s terrified of.

    It is hard to do what Anna does: admit to being a bit in awe of someone else’s choices. But Anna seems to have the capacity to understand that there are other paths, paths different than the one she has chosen, paths that she might still go down one day.

    Becca, when I heard about your plans, my heart jumped a little for you. You are one of the most kind, open, loving people I know. But more than that, you are determined to live your life…otherwise. And you seem to have found someone who wants to do that, too, and who wants to do it with you. There’s no downside to that.

    I’m sad that you’re leaving. I’ll worry about you finding a job that fulfills you. I’ll worry about how you’ll write poetry. And I will worry about your heart just as I would if you were getting married. (Take care of that heart, Dan). I wish for you and Dan the same thing I wish for every couple embarking on a new life together: be happy and fulfilled, love and care for one another.

    See, Michael, that’s how you express concern for someone you care about. You don’t do it with statistics that hold no water, or with half-assed, sexist arguments only designed to make you seem clever, and to justify the little lies that are the clockwork of your existence.

    And you don’t do it by comparing Becca to a prostitute. That was a low, classless, mean thing to do, and you should be ashamed of yourself.

  12. Sara and I moved in together one week before graduating from UNC. I had already basically been living in her apartment with her through virtually all of junior and senior years anyway — the only reason I still had my dorm room on campus was for my mother’s peace of mind.

    We started living together because we weren’t quite ready to get married yet (perhaps she was, but I wasn’t — and that’s mostly due to my parents’ upbringing, making me think that I was too young, at 21, to know what I was doing.) We lived together for two years, through three apartments, before getting married.

    This month, Sara and I celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. Back in December, we celebrated 15 years of being together. You’ve met Matthew (age 7) and Miriam (almost age 4), who don’t seem any worse for wear that their parents lived together before either was a twinkle in my eye.

    If I had listened to/left it up to my parents, who knows where we’d be at today, but probably not as far along as we are. My parents thought we were to young to: move in together; get engaged; get married; have a kid; etc. etc. etc.

    My parents nowadays are the happiest and most content in-laws and grandparents I know, and are happy to admit how wrong they were each step of the way. I don’t think our living together devalued our marriage in any way, as Sean mentioned — if anything, it made our marriage stronger, because we worked through a lot of the rough stuff before the piece of paper ever made an appearance. And we didn’t even HAVE the last-name change.

    None of this is to say that you should be moving in or not moving in with Dan — Sara and I did what we felt was right for us, and it worked. As Anna mentioned, she might not agree with the moving in, but can certainly support your decision if it’s right for you. Same with me from the other end.

    And what I will definitely say is that, while it’s magnanimous of you to request comments from others, no one has the right to tell you whether your decision is correct or not, and only you can figure it out. Your cousin Michael’s response is just shameful.

    A final note: I prefer the term “living in sin” to anything else, because then it has some REAL stigma attached to it, rather than just a shack. Now it sounds like you’re in a shack with some PORN.

    Best of luck, Becca!

  13. Dan OldSchool

    Hey Rebecca, I just learned something new about you–your cousin is a bit of a dick!

    It would almost be too easy to write a long rant about what a fucking idiot he is, or speculate about why he came to be such a self-righteous prick–things that might feel good and that he certainly deserves on some level–but I don’t know that that those things will help you make sense of your decision and recognize it for the positive and meaningful milestone it represents in your relationship.

    I certainly hope you take to heart the wisdom of your friend Lorraine above, who nailed the warped values of your small-minded cousin. All you can really do is brush that spiteful, Jurassic dirt off your shoulder for the misguided pittance it is. Should you really ever seriously entertain relationship advice from someone who views you as a commodity to be “bought” in marriage, rather than “rented” by LIVING IN SIN (OMG!!) or prostitution. (?)

    Prostitution? Really, Mikey? Really?

    Don’t even get me started on his painful ignorance of the statistical causation fallacy and contemporary climatology.

    But this seems to have become something more interesting and meaningful for the people who actually care about you and your happiness, and want to share our thoughts and experiences about finding and learning to make a life together with our own soulmates. So rather than argue with a crumbling brick wall that clings to the worst in our sad history of intolerance, xenophobia, and sexism–a thankfully (but slowly) dying worldview–I’d like to offer up for everyone else a nice, simple counterexample that I think has turned out just dandy:

    Rebecca was there with us 9 nine years ago, deep in the North Georgia mountains on a camping trip, when my wife and I had our first “romantic” connection–sweet, tentative, and innocent. Rebecca was there as one of our best friends in grad school (where, together, we all learned our “meaningless,” “unsatisfying,” “low-paying,” and “juvenile” craft of teaching your children how to express themselves through language…..(what a douchebag, this guy!) :). Anyway, that’s where my wife and I became closer and first shared our laughs and loves, feeling out each other’s quirks and passions and secretly picturing ourselves in each other’s lives.

    And Rebecca was there when, after a couple of years of bouncing between two apartments every night, slowly ceding personal space and time away/alone, and paying double utilities/rents, I asked my wife to move in with me to a new house we would share. I’m sure Rebecca heard volumes about all of my wife’s uncertainties, doubts, and bona fide worries at the prospect, and I’m sure she walked with her through the graveyard of some of our older relatives’ expectations–probably held her hand tightly the whole way.

    But I sure as shit wasn’t going to let a bunch of crotchety old farts stand in the way of what I knew in my heart–that the truest and most profound commitment you can make to another human being is properly done with full knowledge and clear-eyed understanding of what you’re getting into. It’s not something I wanted to do as a leap of faith, or with a hopeful naivete that everything “would just work itself out somehow.” I can tell you with absolute certainty that my wife didn’t know me–all of me, the “real me”–half as well then as she did after a year and a half of living together.

    I suppose it would have been a tremendous validation of our affections and of her faith in our potential if she would have married me then, before she got to read the “fine print.” But it means ten times more to me that she was still willing and elated to do so after she had comprehended the full scope of her “contractual obligation” and realized just what a decadent, hedonistic slob I can be (Love you, honey! 🙂 The love we shared 7 years ago feels like a pale imitation of the deep, comforting, almost visceral connection we share now, after these years of living side-by-side.

    Rebecca, by taking this huge step you’ve clearly placed your trust in your relationship with Dan. Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking this isn’t an enormous commitment and an extremely profound milestone in your lives and relationship. This ain’t checkers, and it ain’t some goddamn test-drive, Mikey! It’s a thoughtful person’s approach to making a lasting commitment to someone they love deeply.

    From what I can glean, you and Dan 2.0 appear to be frighteningly suited for each other–right down to the Snunshinelous sense of humor (and this coming from someone who witnessed the legendary Bo years first-hand! 🙂

    So I’ll be there in two weeks to help Rebecca and Dan unpack the Civic and move into their new place–as luck would have it, my wife and I ended up in Iowa City a few years back, bought a house, have great jobs, pay our taxes, vote in elections, and love each other and our life together (just like real people do!) I don’t beat her, she isn’t depressed, and we aren’t divorced. Sorry to burst your bubble, Mikey.

    We’ll be here for Rebecca as they learn their new lives together and adjust to this new shared reality. We’ll even be a good MARRIED couple influence on them, I promise! But I’m glad to count myself among the ranks of Rebecca’s friends who appreciate this moment for the wonderful, meaningful, hopeful gesture that it is, and I couldn’t be happier for her. Congratulations!

    As for the weather in Iowa, it was a breezy 74 today with beautiful sunshine. We took our 2-yr-old daughter to a dairy farm owned by the grandfather of another married couple we know (who were together for 6 years before they got married). Our daughter got to see cows getting milked for the first time and pet some lambs. Oh, it was the height of sinful, selfish behavior, I tell you! We’re all just a bunch of self-centered, amoral gypsys, cruising from orgy to orgy, looking for the Next Big Drug to take the edge off! Seriously, Mikey–you need to get out more. It’s a big world out there.

    And the winters really aren’t that bad, either…….

  14. I’ll start where my Dan (Dan 1.0) ended—with the weather in Iowa. Yes, it’s cold here, pretty much from late October through March. Sometimes even through April. And I suppose there are days you can call grey and gloomy—as if that’s not great fodder for the mind of a writer. But what we get in exchange for the sunny January warmth of the South is this beautiful warm-hearted camaraderie. The winters of the Midwest make people better people—or maybe I mean nicer. More compassionate and down to earth, definitely. There is nothing like 8 inches of snow on top of 8 inches of snow on top of 2 inches of ice to make people more human, more friendly and conversational. People still commute on bikes in the snows of Iowa, because that’s the type of people they are.

    People here are bright and hard working and drop what they’re doing instantly the moment anything goes wrong in the lives of other people. Tornado tears across three corners of Iowa City? Everybody converges on Iowa Ave to clean up debris. Floods rage, threatening not only well-funded University buildings, but local businesses and residences, and complete strangers take off work to help sandbag—on the off chance they can make a difference. And, sometimes, you’ll have the privilege of being in the middle of hundreds of dedicated, unpretentious, college students, sand-bagging in the heat, only to look up and see 20 Amish men in long-sleeves, suspenders, and straw hats approaching in a line, shovels in hand, ready to work to protect buildings that represent a way of life completely different from their own. This is the cold, gray, gloom of Iowa and it’s gratifying and refreshing, and someone used to living in the often emotionally cold world of a city with too many people with problems of their own can do worse than to move here. Trust me, I know first-hand, having grown up in the urban bustle of DC and lived in the warm (but often closed-minded) climes of the South.

    But onto the more salient points of the debate. It strikes me as entirely feasible that the same people who move in together prior to obtaining that tangible sign of “forever commitment” the marriage certificate offers are realists. People not given to the religious/superstitious/time-honored traditions that argue for a ceremony and visit to the notary-public before agreeing to commit to a life together, whether in a house or in a marriage.

    Realists are probably also the people who, for better or worse, realize that the life they committed to just isn’t working out, and that we only live once, and that divorce, while less than ideal, and surely very painful, and potentially damaging for the long-term, is still sometimes preferable to a life of misery (or abuse—even), or mental suffocation. So that stat that claims that living together makes you statistically more likely to divorce doesn’t hold water, despite the sandbagging efforts Cousin Michael employs. I don’t see one as having a causative effect on the other, except for the likelihood that both have something to do with personality—and no amount of moving or not moving or moving in or not moving in will change the personality that someone has spent years cultivating and reveling in and perfecting as the best versions of themselves. Thank god—and you know, I mean that quite literally. If there is God, shouldn’t we thank “him” for the differences that make us all interesting and flawed and fun?

    This: “A critical element in marriage is two people making a commitment to each other to achieve a common vision of their lives together, and then working hard together to achieve that vision. Shacking up just doesn’t do that at all” makes no sense to me. Because you say it, Michael, it’s true? And how would you know? I guess it’s all in how you define commitment, but with the divorce rate in the US at ~40% annually, that means 4 in 10 people are divorcing, despite that waterproof union, the marriage. And so if commitment at least first means I will share my house and life with you in Iowa City, how can anyone argue that that does not include “achieving a common vision of their lives together and working hard to achieve that vision?”

    As Dan has said, we co-habited before we married. One set of parents didn’t mind. The other probably did, but mostly they just wanted us to be happy and give them grandkids. At our wedding, Dan’s mother tearily told the room that I had improved her son and that she was thankful I’d restored the Dan she raised. Dan’s mother is very dramatic, it should go without saying. I hadn’t rescued him from the brink of depravity, but I had centered him, I suppose. Taught him some things about compromise and side-by-side unity, and empathy. Or should I say that we learned those things together, for that is certainly true, and no amount of mean-spirited cousin speechifying will make that untrue, or impossible for the lives—YES—adventures that Rebecca and Dan are embarking on. And we will be there for her with our Iowan spirit, faith, and cheer.

  15. Well put, Honey! And I love your improvement to the ending of Jerry McGuire: “You center me!”

    I sure am glad I co-habited you! It’s so hot when you put narrow-minded reactionaries in their place! MeOOWw!……:)

  16. oh my goodness.

    i just don’t even know what to say…i had no idea dan played warcraft.

  17. Cousin Michael:

    Surely, if YOU have what you consider to be “gainful employment,” you must know that when you have feedback/criticism for an employee or staff member, you pull them aside privately; that broadcasting your criticisms publicly, in a memo or the company newsletter for mass distribution, or on the loudspeaker, generally speaking, is inappropriate and frowned upon. I mean, you could get tangled up in a real HR nightmare! So, you see, you don’t really ACT like someone who really understands what “gainful employment,” means. You just like how the words sound. And about gainful employment…

    I have gainful employment. I make boat-loads of money, work in a fancy-schmancy office in Manhattan, and have kick-ass health insurance. But, boy-oh-boy, would I trade with Miss Becca in a heartbeat! Wowee, do I wish I had pursued what I longed for in high-school/college…I wanted to be an actress! I wanted to paint! I wanted to sing! How proud I would be to be able to teach others how to write, how to express themselves, how to leave THEIR imprint on the world. But, I was raised by people like YOU. People who said, “Act? Sing? Dance? Write? Paint? You silly girl! Those are aspirations for THE OTHER PEOPLE.” You were probably raised by the same people. So here we are, Michael, with our gainful employment, our health insurance, and our admiration of others who sing, dance, write, paint, and teach. Happy?

  18. Dear Cousin Michael,

    I can only hope that I do as wonderful a job parenting my son, as Becca’s parents have done with her. They have raised a spectacular woman; kind in mind, heart, spirit. Becca is full of integrity, honor, creativity, commitment, passion for life…She is accountable and responsible. She is witty and funny beyond belief. She is wildly talented. She and Dan relish making people feel good about themselves, building them up, inspiring them.

    Becca has earned two degrees, one of which is an MFA from NYU (no easy task). Becca teaches writing courses. She’s a TEACHER…(hello????) Becca is a personal assistant to a well-known and very successful, widely published poet. Amazing. I had to go to the doctor’s office. I was scared. Becca came with me and took notes because she knew I was too afraid to listen. That’s who she is.

    I have so much respect for her parents for raising this woman I have come to know, respect, and love, I will spend LOTS of money to visit her, and support her in her move. I cherish my time with her and honor her as my friend. In fact, I think I need to call them up right now! and find out what else I can do for my son so he can be as well balanced, accomplished, and self-confident, as she.

    We love her so much, Michael, that no matter WHAT happens inside her new shack with Dan, we will be there for her, and we’ll even CALL her first, if we think she’s making some sort of dire mistake in judgement, cuz, THAT’S WHATCHYA DO. When she makes her mistakes, I’ll be there. When she has her successes, I’ll be there. When she’s straddling the in-between of the two, we’ll be there. Cuz, that’s whatchya do, when you love someone, Michael, when they MATTER to you.

    Since all we have of YOU is your comment, here’s what can be gleaned about YOUR person:

    1) You are the guy who sits on the sidelines and criticizes the players rather than putting your ass on the line, out on the field yourself, and then whines about losing later;
    2) You obsess about other people’s lives so you can avoid looking at your own;
    3) You forgot who YOU were supposed to be.

    You can only give what you have inside of you, and what you have inside of you is your self-righteous indignation, your meanness, and your contribution…nothing. What you have inside of you is what you wrote, and that COULD be YOUR legacy. But you are not the whole of what you have written here. And, perhaps, you mis-communicated your true feelings. Perhaps you DO really LOVE Becca, and are just clumsy about expressing it. Legacies can change on a dime and this is a new moment, and you have a new opportunity to make a NEW choice, in your relationship with Becca, PRIVATELY. And even tho I’m angry that you attacked my friend and attempted to make her feel lowly about herself, and even tho I think you’re a bit of a knucklehead, it would make me happy if you called her, or wrote her, and apologized and said, “Geez, Girl, Don’t know what I was thinkin’…I’m just so worried about you and Love you, and, I know I haven’t been around much, can we talk? Can I be there for you? Can I help you with advice on how to get health insurance for yourself as a freelance writer? Can I talk with you about how to plant tomatoes like the wicked sweet ones at Whole Foods?” You know why? Cuz that’s whatchya do.

    If not, my only regret is that now our Becca must grieve the loss of the friend she thought she had in you. But, don’t worry. Knowing Becca, she will always love the image she had of you.

  19. wait…

    no, seriously…dan plays warcraft?

  20. I have to say I’m frankly surprised to see so much concern expressed, in this day and age, about shacking up. Yes, it’s a big step in a relationship, and should not be taken lightly. And I’ve been there myself a couple times, wondering whether to take the plunge, considering if I’m ready for that level of commitment — it’s not easy! But I only know one person in my peer group who has NOT lived with their partner before marriage–and she was a virgin from a hardcore Christian family. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; she’s a good friend and I respect that that decision served her best. But it’s my impression that for our generation (I’m 30), living together before getting married is the norm.

    And frankly, I can’t imagine doing it any other way! Oh the things you learn! And if you live with someone and the relationship ends up not working out, instead of blaming cohabitation for the disintegration of the relationship, most people think “Thank God I didn’t marry that person!” At least that’s how I felt when it happened to me.

    When it does work, it’s great. “Mending and repairing as a team” IS satisfying, as you say, Becca. Being creative together, finding solutions, crafting a home and lifestyle, learning how to communicate… you learn as much about yourself as you do the other person. Which I think helps mature you into someone who is more qualified to make a decision about marriage.

    I also think Michael’s portrayal of living together — basically men taking advantage of women who will settle for living in sin while waiting around for the schmuck to pop the question — is the most sexist thing I’ve heard in a while. I give women a little more credit (ok, a lot more) than that to be authors of their own lives. I live with my boyfriend “out of wedlock” because I want to see if it will work, not because I’m desperate for a ring.

    Finally, as one who lives in NYC, but doesn’t plan to live here forever, but is scared of leaving, I’m probably most intrigued by your relocation! I can’t wait to hear about your adjustment to the slower pace, the quieter mind, the greener grass, as they say… Best of luck with everything!

  21. Duuuuuude! You’re going to the midwest! And you have a boyfriend who loves you! And you can learn to play Warcraft too and lol at how you and DANTHEMANN85767 are living together irl!

    But oh darling dear how we’ll miss you. Can I come visit?

    LOVE!!

  22. Pingback: Maids and A-Milking « TryBecca

  23. Boyfriend Dan (can I still be #1?)

    Wow. I knew that Becca is beloved, by many people other than me, but this outpouring of kindness and, um, well-intentioned defensiveness is quite nice. I know Becca appreciates all the love shown here, and it warms my heart as well.

    Though I disagree with it entirely, I don’t begrudge Michael his opinion; I’m just grateful that everyone in Becca’s life who I have met, particularly her parents, has been kind, thoughtful, loving, and welcoming. She comes from and surrounds herself with beautiful people, people who I want in my life. For me, that’s a far better measure of the quality of someone’s life than her income.

    Do I fit in with this group that surrounds her? Well, Michael did essentially accuse me of being an abusive, chauvinistic, hypothetical-baby-abandoning, uncommitted, Warcraft-playing monster. (Only one of those descriptors is true–Orcs beware.) Or maybe he was condemning my entire sex, himself included, as base creatures with only bedpost notches in mind. Regardless, I consider it an honor and a joy that Becca is moving out to Iowa to be with me, to live with me, as I know the kind of people who she holds close in her life. I hope I do meet that standard, and I hope to be one of those people for a long time.

    The rest of your responses to Michael’s concerns seemed, to me, to address the subject with far greater eloquence than I could manage. I don’t know what else to say, really, except, thanks.

  24. Boyfriend Dan (can I still be #1?)

    also, McGrew, yes, I play Warcraft 3 and I’m proud of it. Don’t make me throw my rubber pointy ears at you tomorrow.

  25. There are two very important questions to ask oneself in relation to the above topic.

    1. Are you happy?

    2. Would you like to take another look at question #1?

    Rooting for everyone,
    s

  26. Oh, Mikey. Your specious argument just keeps getting curiouser and curiouser. Courtesy of Ariel on FB, some actual relevant scientific research:

    http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2008-07-28-cohabitation-research_N.htm?csp=34

    “The odds of divorce among women who married their only cohabiting partner were 28% lower than among women who never cohabited before marriage, according to sociologist Daniel Lichter of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.”

    Such a shock that a more precise scientific analysis matches our real experiences and not your wild, out-dated assumptions. Good news for fornicators everywhere!

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