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Dr. P on Cohabitation and Marriage


Dear Dr. P,

Since graduation I have met a woman and decided to move to Arizona with her. In my two months here there have been ups and downs, as there always are, but everything is great within the relationship.

The only problem is that I feel as if I’m too young to be out here with her and that I’m missing a lot of things going on back in Boston.

I think my maturity level has not reached the level at which it should be to participate in a relationship of this caliber. Whenever I hear of parties and other things going on back home with my (mostly male) group of friends I become upset and wish I had stayed back there for at least another year or two before I moved on with my life as I have done.

My girlfriend is a couple of years older than I and, obviously, ready for something like this relationship. Now, after already participating for two months, I don’t know how to tell her that I’m not ready for this deep of a relationship.

I really just wish I could get back to Boston and live my own life without breaking the heart of this amazing young woman. She has also expressed interest in having kids by the time she is thirty, which is something I’m almost entirely sure I’m not going to be ready for.

The last time I told her I wanted to go home was about two weeks into this living arrangement and she started crying. I backed down and was happy for a while, but now I know it’s the right thing to do. Or is it?

Photo Courtesy of Google Images
Photo Courtesy of Google Images


There is no easy way out of this but to face the issue and tell your partner exactly what you have told me. Tell her that you find her amazing and that, whereas you love her and find being with her rewarding, you have issues of uncertainty. You feel that you are not fully ready to settle down and that continuing the relationship without being completely willing to commit to a life partner and family would be unfair to her because that little doubt would always be present. Let me tell you, even when you are married, you will sometimes have these same doubts and regrets for the road not taken (i.e., remaining single or not choosing the other person).

This is why societies have invented the social institution of marriage. Cohabitation is a half-assed commitment to the other person for as long as the times are good. As soon as adversity or difficulty, or another face appears, the commitment dissolves like candy in the rain.

The social contract of marriage and the difficulties of terminating this legal bond tend to stabilize the couple during the tough times so that when the good period again occurs they are glad they stayed. You have already mentioned the “ups and downs.”

You probably mutually decided to move in together and move to Arizona during the heated excitement of the newness of your relationship. This was a big mistake. One should always marry “in cold blood” and not in the temporary passion of love, lust or limerence.

In deciding to marry one should make a cold decision that staying, or going, is in your mutual best interest. Is she your “best friend?”  Do you share so much in common that you would spend time with her even if there was no sex?  If so, are you willing to give up your life (in Boston with buddies) for the sake of her happiness? This would mean that you truly loved her.

Her happiness should come first, or at least equally, in your life, and your own happiness should be contingent or dependent upon her being happy with you. In other words, your happiness would depend on hers. This would mean you truly loved her and you would be willing to sacrifice your own “party” time and pals back in Boston for what you would gain with her. Let me tell you, a good wife is better than a dozen good buddies.

Everyone faces a combination of fusion–wanting to be together–and fission– wanting to separate– in any relationship. The important issue is not staying to avoid guilt over breaking her heart (most people survive this) but whether parting with her would be tolerable to yourself. Would you long for her? Would you be able to live apart? Would you even miss her? Or, would you feel a sense of relief (although guilty) that the relationship is over?

Ask yourself this: If you could erase the period of time since you first met her so that she would have no memory of you–that the relationship never happened–and therefore there would be no broken heart or guilt–would you do it? Or could you accept (yet acting hurt to cover your own relief and sense of ego) her saying that she wanted to break up with you?

You’ve got to get a ledger with “A” (Stay) and “B” (Go) columns on it and write the reasons to stay and the reasons to go. Enter all of the good factors and all of the bad, both already experienced and anticipated.

You both need to discuss the future, as each of you want it to be, that involves career plans, travel, funds, family, children, and even long range retirement. You don’t marry a person, you marry that person and his or her family, by the way. These are all issues you should have discussed before making any commitment, much less a marriage.

It takes courage to face and tell the truth. Both of you need to talk and continue talking. Talk is the real four letter word that means intercourse. Who knows, you may be able to honor your implicit promise of commitment in your agreement to cohabit and find that it does lead to marriage.

Love that results in marriage is not a feeling. Love is a decision and a promise to be there when you don’t want to be there. This keeps you there long enough for you to realize the joy and quiet satisfaction of a real caring love.

Committedly yours,