Abiola Abrams is a love columnist, peer educator, and certified life coach. Abiola is also the founder of the award-winning women's lifestyle site The Passionista Playbook and hosts the hit web video series "Abiola's Kiss and Tell TV."
There's a joke making the rounds in New York City that only our gay friends still want to get married. That may seem to be the case on the surface, but the majority of single women who reach out to me for my Dating Detox and Relationship Rehab coaching services are interested in long-term partnership. This means different things to different women. For some, it means living single until there's an engagement ring. Others may see living together as a viable way to test the love waters. For those not interested in marriage, cohabitation is viewed as a permanent solution.
Is sharing keys with someone the same as 'putting a ring on it?'
Shacking up no longer has the stigmas once associated with unmarried couples living together, thank goodness. As a result, it may seem like "everyone" is doing it. One might also assume that couples who choose to live together without getting legally hitched are looking to play outside the lines of traditional partnership across the board.
But a new study says otherwise. Researcher Amanda J. Miller, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Indianapolis, notes, "Many people have thought of these cohabitors as very egalitarian." In other words, we might expect that heterosexual couples who live together would be going for the modern picture of the 50-50 household. Instead, these couples are falling into conventional roles of the man who brings home the bacon and the woman who fries it up for him.
Sharon Sassler of Cornell University and Professor Miller interviewed 30 cohabiting couples. Because "unwed" is no longer the most politically correct term, as it assumes the involved parties desire to tie the knot, the research duo focused only on cohabiting, working-class couples for their study. They asked participants questions about the division of labor, paid vs. domestic. The results were interesting.
Playing house: conventional, contesting, and counter-conventional.
Couples fell into one of three groups: conventional, contesting, and counter-conventional. In conventional couplings, partners accept traditional gender roles. The man is the hunter-gather, and the woman is the domestic goddess. In contesting partnerships, one partner seeks a more egalitarian paring. This partner was usually the woman, and she was often unsuccessful; go figure! In counter-conventional pairings, the woman is often a financial provider, but must still assume the household duties.
Perhaps the most surprising part of the study is this: Even when the "wife" in the couple is the sole breadwinner who is financially supporting her mate, the "husband" still considers himself to be the head of the household with the woman responsible for domestic care. Miller explained in the study, "A number of these working class men wanted the respect of being the breadwinner, but were not necessarily taking on that role." She went on to say that while these men "were content to let their girlfriends pay at least half of the rent, they admitted that they had no plans to take on half of the housework, even if their partners were very unhappy about doing more than their fair share."
Come on, men. Really? Talk about having one's cake and eating it, too. Living together may be as much fun as playing house, but committing to a relationship must include considering the other person's needs.
50 shades of confusing.
As a result, women in these spousal-equivalent couples were not looking forward to marriage as a romantic enterprise. Instead, they view marriage as signing up for an even heavier workload all around. Unfortunately, it seems that the men are not considering what would be best for both parties. Miller insisted that as a result, these hard-working women are "afraid that they're going to be doing even more than they do now, which may help explain the retreat from marriage among those with less than a college education."
So, does this make us happier?
A study from the National Bureau of Economic cites that after 40 years of feminism, the majority of American women are unhappier than ever. "The Paradox of Declining Female Unhappiness" explains that economic, social, and political gains for women have not led to happiness at home.
As a coach, I always recommend that couples ditch attempts to be politically correct in the household. Go for what feels right for you and your mate. If that's marriage, have at it. If you run the castle on all fronts, good for you. If you want to stay home and have babies, that's beautiful. If your hubby is the in-charge head of the household, more power to you. Just be sure to pick a partner who is on the same page.
Should we shack up or not?
For couples who see living together as a precursor to getting married, there are other concerns. Does cohabitation help or harm chances of a successful marriage? After all, two-thirds of couples live together before jumping the broom.
For men, it turns out that living together doesn't affect the union one way or another. For women, on the other hand, a relationship is more likely to be successful if there are clear goals about getting married. Since women are more likely to be the partner filing for divorce, this clarity and understanding up front is key. Women who feel uncertain about a relationship's future should most certainly not sign a joint lease if they want to marry their partner.
The bottom line?
Know thyself to get what you're seeking.
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