Why ‘Shacking Up’ Is a Colossally Stupid Idea—Especially for Women

I want to spend the rest of my lease with you.Before we got engaged, my first husband suggested we live together instead of get married. Looking back, this was a huge red flag about our different values and priorities since I didn’t believe in cohabitation. But being 23 and “in love,” I ignored it. Instead I wore him down, and he ultimately agreed to marry me. (I know, I know, but did you hear me? I said I was 23!)

The marriage lasted four years.

I tell this story not to highlight my own stupidity but to emphasize that I got one thing right at least: I was insulted by his suggestion that we live together. Why? Because I’m worth more than that. Despite my age, even I knew that much.

The question is, why don’t women know this anymore? What happened to make them think living with their boyfriend constitutes some sort of “step up” in the relationship?

Cohabitation, formerly known as ‘shacking up,’ is one of the most significant sociological phenomena of our time. Since the 1970s, it has increased by more than 1,500 percent. Like divorce, cohabitation has become so pervasive raised eyebrows have all but disappeared—ultimately paving the way for widespread social acceptance.

If you were to ask the parents of today’s twenty- and thirty-somethings, some might say, “We don’t like that our son (or daughter) is doing it. But what can we do? They’re adults.”

It is true parents have no control over what their adult children do. But a strong case can be made against cohabiting before your children leave the nest. Sure, they might do it anyway. But at least you can rest easy knowing you did your part. Besides, parents have more influence than they think—if the relationship between parent and child is a good one.

Here are a few facts to get you started:

  1. Cohabiting prior to marriage is linked to lower levels of commitment, as well as poorer marital quality and increased likelihood of divorce.

  2. Thus, women and children become far more vulnerable living with a man who has not committed to being a husband and father.

  3. Women are far more likely to view cohabitation as a step toward marriage, while men are more likely to see it as a way to test a relationship or postpone commitment. This gender asymmetry is associated with negative interactions and lower levels of commitment, even after the relationship progresses to marriage.

  4. A 2014 Bowling Green University study found that all types of cohabiting couples, including engaged couples, are more likely to break up than to get married, compared to cohabiting couples twenty years ago.

Now young people being young people, they tend to think they’ll be the exception to the rule—so the facts above may not register. If not, I believe this will—with your daughter at least:

Dear Daughter,

Putting aside the fact that moving in with a guy is beneath you, there’s one thing no social change can eradicate: You have a biological clock, and he does not.

That means shacking up benefits him, not you. Why? Because you’re going to waste x number of years hoping the relationship will result in marriage, and it often doesn’t. Then you’ll feel your biological clock ticking—he will not—and begin to inquire whether or not he plans to marry you. (Good Lord, didn’t you see the film He’s Just Not That Into You?) If he refuses, you’re back to the drawing board at a very late age.

That is not a place you want to be.

Even if the relationship does result in marriage, it will likely be because you talked him into it—because let’s face it: if he wanted to marry you, you’d have a ring already. And if that isn’t the case, if you both have been so career-focused you didn’t have time to get married, well, that says a lot.

Either way, your marriage will not have the bedrock it needs to survive the long haul. Because the truth is, when two people are already “playing house” and have all their things combined (animals, mortgages, furniture, bank accounts, etc.), they tend to “slide” into marriage — as opposed to making a well thought-out, objective decision about whether or not the person is right for them. In fact, neither one of you is really making a decision at all. And if you think that won’t come back to bite you in the ass, think again.

So don’t shack up, Darling. It’s a colossally stupid idea. And you’re anything but stupid.

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Suzanne Venker

Suzanne Venker is an author, speaker and cultural critic known as “The Feminist Fixer.” She has authored several books to help women win with men in life and in love. Her most recent, The Alpha Female’s Guide to Men & Marriage, was published in February 2017.

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