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August 7, 2000 e-mail e-mail to a friend in need

So much for my lede. This blessedly mild summer -- a few heinous humid days notwithstanding -- has left me unable to start off with a joke like: "Oy! It's too hot to move! But it's not to hot to MOVEmove...If the place you're going is air-conditioned!"

But since the sidewalk's not melting, if I want any sort of news peg for this column, I'll have to venture into the murky-as-tar area of All This Talk about the "Marriage Penalty." The current tax issue, not the non-joke ("Yeah, you're stuck with 'em! That's the penalty!"). Did you know, by the way, that the laws (which used to penalize the unmarried) were changed by the successful efforts of the singles lobby (back before we were spending all our spare time on the Internet)?

Anyway, basically, the way the IRS code has been, you're damned if you say "I do." But now everyone's on pins and needles to see how much "I'd love to marry you; we just can't afford the new tax bracket" will serve as a viable procrastination tool (or means of parental extortion: "Help us out with $3700 in added taxes, or else we'll keep...LIVING IN SIN!"). See, there's my lede. And here's my theme:

Nice Place to Revisit:

I've said it before, I'll say it again and no doubt again: Live together if you like. I mean, if it's just because. Because you LIKElike each other. Because you can't stand to go one minute in the morning without seeing each other. Because you're totally committed to each other and less so to the institution of marriage. Because your housemates have already turned your room into a study anyway.

But do not live together if you'd like... just to see how it goes. I mean, to see if the wedding's a go. Because research shows that cohabitation is not a reliable dress rehearsal for marriage. How come? Well, for one thing, you've said "I do" only to the landlord, not to each other; there's always -- in theory -- a relatively "easy" out (unless you live in Manhattan, where the only way to get a good place is to marry the landlord). It's not the same.

That said, the very latest research suggests that more and more people are living together...because. "Legal marriage [is] losing its primacy as the manifest center of family ties," writes sociologist Pamela Smock of U. Michigan's Institute for Social Research in a study to be published this month in the Annual Review of Sociology. Smock's observations include:

  • More and more couples are "living in sin...gle." Overall, the percentage of marriages preceded by cohabitation quintupled over the past three decades. Never mind all the couples who didn't marry.
  • But not for long. "Only about one-sixth of cohabitations last at least three years and only one-tenth last five years or more," Smock writes. "Lower proportions of cohabiting couples are marrying and more are breaking up." Only about half actually marry; 40% break up within five years.
  • Coparentation. About half of once-married live-togetherers and 35% of never-married have kids in the co-home -- usually that or those of one partner. (About 40% of kids born to "single" moms actually have a "single" dad at home too.) Also, women are more and more likely to move in rather than marry if they get pregnant.

No matter what, when we talk about committed couples today, it's not just either married or..."commuting." Smock's main goal is to send up a flare highlighting the true complexity of the living arrangements we all make today. She writes: "Discussing family structure primarily in terms of marital status can seriously distort our understanding...The prevalence of cohabitation, and of the presence of children in cohabiting unions, indicates how family life in the United States is being transformed."

So whatever transformations you're considering in your family life, we'll have to wait and see -- given Clinton's veto -- if the folks in Washington'll try to save you money (the race, at least, is heating up). But no matter who's convening/cohabiting where, BG will try to make you happy.

"How do I deal with doubts?"


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