Clearly, we're not in the same dating world my grandparents inhabited. The way in which we, as a society, approach love has changed drastically in the last few generations and decades. Common steps in a relationship formerly followed the trajectory of date, get engaged, get married, move in together, have kids. Now, TBH, it feels like a huge milestone to simply have a toothbrush at someone's place…and even then, unless you've DTR, that person could still be dating other people. While noting the differences between my situation and that of my grandparents, I couldn't help but wonder—said in my best Carrie Bradshaw voice—what are the new relationship milestones?
Perhaps most strikingly is the order shift between "get married" and "make a family home." It used to be widely taboo for couples to live together before getting married, and data from The First Measured Century report by PBS backs up that notion. In 1960, only 0.2 percent of couples lived together pre-marriage, per the findings. But by 1998, that number jumped to 7.1 percent.
Also supporting this shift in milestones is a Pew Research Center finding that in 2016, 18 million people were cohabiting before marriage—up 29 percent from 2007. And according to this visualization of the results of Stanford's "How Couples Meet and Stay Together" survey published last year, people are waiting much longer to get married now than they did the 1970s, but the number of couples living together before marriage has been drastically increasing. For instance, after one year together, 70 percent of couples in the 70s were married with just 4 percent cohabiting, and after the same amount of time, 5 percent of couples in the 2010s were married with 26 percent cohabiting. And after five years together, 84 percent of couples in the 70s were married with 1 percent cohabiting, and 52 percent of couples in the 2010s were married with 24 percent cohabiting.
"Each couple needs to know whether mundane everyday tasks, like paying the bills, cleaning the house, or doing the cooking work within their relationship." —Annabelle Knight, relationship expert
Basically, it's been a steady trend that more and more people are living together before getting married. But is moving in together actually a bigger, more important relationship milestone than tying the knot? For some couples, yes. "Moving in together has become a huge milestone for couples, as it signifies the joining of two lives and, if couples are not interested in getting married, it becomes the milestone to replace that," sex and relationship expert Annabelle Knight says. Given that marriage—and divorce—rates have been declining, this intel tracks.
So long as both people in the relationship are onboard with doing so, Knight wholly supports living together before tying the knot. While many naysayers of cohabitation point to it compromising the sanctity of marriage, per Knight's stance, living together first can actually help determine whether or not wedded bliss is actually a viable option for a couple in question. "It’s the test drive that shows you whether or not you work together when your day-to-day lives have been fully integrated," she says. "Each couple needs to know whether mundane everyday tasks, like paying the bills, cleaning the house, or doing the cooking work within their relationship."
Her take reflects attitudes toward marriage as well—well, attitudes in big city centers, at least. According to data from OkCupid, 83 percent of Gen X women and 87 percent of millennial women in New York City believe that a couple should live together before getting married. 90 percent of Gen X men and 92 percent of millennial men in New York City agree. The same OkCupid data points for San Francisco and Chicago reflect similar results supporting shacking up, which Knight says shows that people want to know a relationship can work in a real setting. But it's also worth noting that, especially in pricey metropolises, if you're spending a ton of time at your boo's place, it can make both financial and time sense to move in together. (That's part of the reason why I moved in with my now ex-boyfriend. Spoiler alert: We didn't get married, and that's for the best.)
So what's the cause of this shift? "Societal changes definitely have a huge impact on people’s relationships, like a ripple effect," Knight says. "We must also consider the importance of celebrity culture on regular relationships. If people see their idols leaning toward a different relational structure, they’re more likely to consider a different path for themselves." Furthermore, recent data from Pew Research Center notes that in the United States, there's a large differential between younger and older people who affiliate with a religion. Since being a religious "none" (or not affiliating with a formal belief system) is on the rise, it stands to reason that traditional, religious-leaning reasons that may have kept certain people from cohabiting before marriage are no longer a factor.
"It really is different for every couple, as every relationship has a unique journey, marked by different milestones," Knight says. (But according to the data, a growing chunk of us singles would find it really effing weird to get married before living with our S.O. first.)
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