I see a lot of single women in my office, women who -- despite being smart, successful and attractive -- complain that the dating world isn't being kind to them. To be sure, both single women and men must navigate a dating world that often seems long on narcissists and nutjobs, and short on nice and normal.
When it comes to women, their complaints are threefold:
1. They can't meet a good man
2. Men treat them with disrespect or indifference
3. They get stuck in dead-end relationships
Of course, men have their complaints too, and these will be addressed in an upcoming blog.
When I first sit down with a single woman who is looking for dating advice, I ask her a simple question: "What are you looking for?" A no-strings relationship? A co-habiting or common law arrangement? A husband and legal marriage? If her answer is the latter, we take a critical look at her dating habits. What is she doing? Are her choices leading her to the life that she wants for herself?
Over the past decade or so, I've found there are a few common pitfalls that women who want to get married inadvertently fall into, and which decrease their chances of getting married while they're still young enough to walk down the aisle without stopping for breath. One of these pitfalls is living together before marriage.
I don't come at this issue from a moral or religious standpoint. A woman is and should be free to decide what is best for her without being judged, controlled or condescended to by others. My advice is only for those women who want to marry, and is based on studies as well as my professional experience.
These are eight reasons I believe living together is a bad choice if a woman wants to marry:
1. Men and women have very different ideas about what living together means. Women typically see it as an almost inevitable step toward marriage, while men see it as a no-obligation "test drive." Couples who initiate a live-in relationship under the fog of such contradictory assumptions are already in trouble.
2. You've heard the old expression, "Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?" It's an ugly phrase, but there's some truth to the message. Living together results in regular, no-strings sex for a man, thus removing the sexual motivation that is part of a marriage proposal. And don't worry about his proposing just to bed you -- there are too many sexually available women out there for a man to propose marriage just for sexual release.
3. Living together means that a man doesn't have to pursue his girlfriend any longer. And if something is too easily acquired, it just doesn't hold the same value as something that is more challenging to get. I have seen many men in my office who are apathetic about their partner, and I have noticed this to be more true with couples who are either co-habiting or who lived together before "sliding" into marriage. I can't tell you how many times I've heard a man say, "Well, we're not married so it doesn't really matter," or "I just married her because she wouldn't shut up about it," or "I only proposed because everyone expected me to." Their lack of enthusiasm and passion toward their partner is as depressing as it is discouraging.
4. Because it removes much of a man's motivation to make the formal commitment of marriage within a reasonable time, living together often causes women to feel frustrated and get stuck in a cycle of hope and disappointment. Christmas comes and she hopes for a ring, only to be disappointed. Her birthday comes and she hopes for a ring, only to be disappointed. Her sister gets married and she hopes for a ring, only to be disappointed. You get the idea. Even worse, this cycle often leads to ultimatums -- Marry me or it's over! -- which, in turn, can lead to a reluctant and passionless groom or, just as bad, a woman who tries to fool herself into believing that "marriage is just a piece of paper" so that she doesn't have to break up with a man who calls her bluff.
5. Couples who live together are less likely to get married. Why? Well, for the reasons I've mentioned that remove the motivation to marry. Co-habiting couples also tend to have a more lax attitude toward commitment and don't work as hard to stay together. When their relationship goes through a rough spot -- as all relationships do -- it is all too easy to just walk away. The legal and public commitment of marriage motivates couples to work through conflict, strengthen the relationship and stay together.
6. Living together is not a reliable way to predict long-term compatibility or marital success. In fact, couples who live together before marriage divorce at higher rates. There are other ways to set yourself up for a happy, healthy marriage. Serious dating allows two people to get to know each other as loving friends and determine whether they have a reasonable chance of being a faithful, respectful and cooperative couple with shared values and vision. Spending time at a boyfriend or girlfriend's house will reveal many personal habits and quirks, while a practical pre-marital class that teaches communication, interpersonal and life skills can give couples the tools they need to help avoid common problems and resolve those conflicts that will invariably arise.
7. Very few unmarried couples who have children end up staying together. In other words, a child's chances of living in the same home as his or her biological but non-married parents until he or she is a teenager is negligible. Of those couples that do keep their relationships intact until their children are grown, 93 per cent of them are legally married. This is important, since children who are raised by both biological parents in a low-conflict home are more likely to be emotionally and psychologically healthy than children whose parents are co-habiting or divorced. They are less likely to experience mental health or behavioural problems, or to live in poverty.
8. Living together takes the excitement out of being newlyweds. Being a new bride and moving in with your husband to start a life -- and perhaps a family -- with those shiny new rings on your fingers to show the world your commitment, is a wonderful experience that many women still hope for. Put the cynics and haters on ignore -- their bitterness reflects their own choices and reality, not yours. Many, many couples still live "happily ever after" after marriage, and you can, too. You just need to know where you want to go in life, and what choices are most likely to get you there.
For a customized dating critique and plan, visit DebraMacleod.com
ALSO ON HUFFPOST:
"<a href="http://www.redbookmag.com/fun-contests/celebrity/kyra-sedgwick-interview-3" target="_blank">We got help when we needed to be alone,</a>" said Sedgwick of her 25-year marriage to Bacon. "We check in with each other all the time. I think that's ultimately the best for the kids, because they feel safe when they know Mum and Dad are good, enjoying each other's company and wanting to be alone together. I think that's important."
"We're willing to change with each other, let old things die and new things be born," said Griffith, who has been married to Banderas for 16 years. "But it's a constant endeavor."
After 13 years together, Taylor said the key is "<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/03/ben-stiller-marriage_n_1125508.html" target="_blank">a lot of communication</a>. And we're lucky these days because there are so many ways to Skype, e-mail. And you can take airplanes these days to visit when you're working."
Rita Wilson's keys to her 25-year relationship with Hanks? "<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rita-wilson/love-long-term-relationships_b_1266773.html" target="_blank">Laughter, kindness, respect, allowing the other to grow, hanging in there when it gets rough, not walking away. And great sex.</a>"
“<a href="http://www.glamour.com/magazine/2010/02/victoria-beckham-cover-shoot-photo-gallery#slide=2" target="_blank">It’s not healthy to be jealous</a>," Victoria said of their 14-year marriage. "I look at David and I think, He’s so handsome and I’m so lucky to have him as a husband. And he’s an amazing father. I don’t blame people for looking at him and finding him attractive. I mean, I do.”
"[Bowie] says it's all about the humor," said Iman after 21 years of marriage. "He finds me funny. I find him funny as well -- he's very English."
"The key to our marriage is <a href="http://www.rd.com/health/an-interview-with-michael-j-fox/" target="_blank">the capacity to give each other a break</a>. And to realize that it’s not how our similarities work together; it’s how our differences work together," said Fox, who has been married to Pollan since 1988. "The secret to a good marriage, as far as I am concerned, is a joke I make: Keep the fights clean and the sex dirty.”
Paltrow was put on the spot on "Chelsea Lately" when Chelsea Handler told an anecdote about Paltrow's love avice. "A woman was saying 'I got into a big fight with my husband and I got home and I wanted to scream and yell. You [Paltrow] were like, 'Whatever you're doing, do the opposite. If you feel angry, go at him with love and you give him a blow job.'"
"<a href="http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20237708,00.html" target="_blank">Get a good crash helmet on my head</a>," Ozzy said of his wife of 31 years. "When she gets pissed off, I really go up in the air."
Pfeiffer said of her 20-year marriage: "<a href="http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/family/celebrity-interviews/michelle-pfeiffer-0707-4" target="_blank">It's not something we take for granted</a>. We still have a regular date night every week."
"I say reach out and grab your husband's hand every once in a while," said Ripa of her 17-year marriage. "Even if he's wrong and he makes you sick. Because a little bit of that gets you a little bit of a back rub, which gets a little bit of 'You look pretty today.'"
"What’s helped us is being supportive, no matter what the situation is," said Will of their 16 years of marriage.
Follow Debra Macleod on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DebraMacleod