Happily Unmarried

  • They refer to themselves by different names: partners, lovers, significant others. But they share a common condition: they are unmarried couples who live together. There are currently 5 million heterosexual couples cohabiting in the U.S., a 200% increase since 1980. TIME spoke with Dorian Solot and Marshall Miller, authors of Unmarried to Each Other: The Essential Guide to Living Together as an Unmarried Couple (Marlowe).

    Why has there been such an increase in the number of couples living together?

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    SOLOT: Most people today live together as a stage between dating and marriage. They want to be very certain that this is the right person for a lifetime, before they say "I do." For a minority of couples, cohabitation is something they're doing instead of marrying.

    How much of this trend is due to the high rate of divorce in our society?

    SOLOT: I do think that is a big part of why many people cohabit. They're concerned about divorce, and they want to make sure that they're taking the decision to marry seriously enough.

    Are these couples monogamous?

    MILLER: Yes, 95% have the expectation of being monogamous.

    SOLOT: The statistics are quite similar between married and unmarried couples.

    What are the financial ramifications?

    SOLOT: Unmarried couples can take care of many of the most important financial and legal issues by filling out the right papers and preparing the right documents. But there are some things that you just can't get around; there's no way to get access to those things without getting married. Social Security is a really big one, and survivor's benefits, which became a big issue after Sept. 11. Unmarried partners can't get a marital tax deduction, so they need to do careful estate planning.

    MILLER: In a will, you get to name whom you want to inherit your estate. If you don't do that, your partner is not entitled to receive any of your estate.

    Do some people experience family pressure because they live together?

    SOLOT: While some families are supportive, other people we talked to had really sad stories about their mothers' cutting off communications with them because they were "living in sin."

    What would you say to someone who argues that the increasing number of unmarried partners is evidence of social decline?

    SOLOT: Well, I think it's a sign of social change. The way that people form relationships and families is changing. The challenge facing us now is to figure out how we're going to recognize these new kinds of relationships and families.

    Can you describe the story of your own relationship?

    MILLER: We've been together 10 years. We met at college, at Brown. When we first met, we were talking about music and classes and where we were from, and it didn't really occur to us to talk about marriage. We graduated and started living together. What we realized after a while is that while marriage wasn't something that either of us was thinking about, it was something that was a big deal to other people.

    Do you suppose the two of you will ever get married?

    SOLOT: We never say never, but we certainly don't have any plans to. We're very happy being unmarried to each other.