Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Lest ye be Judged...

It seems that within the last two years, more people I know have gotten married than in the rest of my life combined. This, of course, is attributed to the fact that I'm at that age where people typically get married. We're in our twenties, we've finished college and/or found careers. We've dated enough losers to know when we've found someone worth keeping, and we find ourselves ready and willing to "settle down," buy nice furniture and a cat, and thus complete the transition into adulthood.

For those not quite ready to take the plunge, there's an alternative. Moving in together. This is the option of choice for those who aren't ready to get married, but also don't want to break up. Instead, they decide to cohabitate, "test it out" for a while, and then if it works, perhaps get married at a later date. Many object to this arrangement on moral grounds, but for a purely practical argument against the "moving in together" phenomenon, you need only look one place:

Judge Judy

I should probably elaborate. When I worked at a major retail store (the kind where employees have to wear ugly vests) through high school and college (fun times, let me assure you), there was a television in the break room that got two channels (three on a really good day.) On one of those channels, there were inevitably episodes of Judge Judy. For those of you unfamiliar with this red-haired queen of justice, she's a judge who tries small claim cases on TV ("Her cases are real, her decisions are final.") From watching countless episodes of her show, I learned the following lessons. 1. Never lend anyone your car. They'll probably crash it and then refuse to pay you for it. 2. Don't lend large amounts of money to friends, relatives, significant others, or strangers. They will spend it on something dumb and then claim that it wasn't a loan, it was a "gift." and 3. Never move in with someone you're just dating.

At least once every other episode, there would be a couple that had moved in together, broken up, and were now suing (and often counter-suing) for various expenses and possessions. What happened was that at the most loving point in their relationship, they had decided that they wanted to spend every waking moment together without actually tying the knot. Feeling all lovey and cooperative, they'd make all sorts of offers and agreements - "don't worry, sweetie, I'll pay the entire security deposit," or, "it's ok, I'll put the big screen TV and Lazy-Boy on my credit card if you'll just pay for the next six months of groceries." Then they break up, and suddenly one of them thinks it's horribly unfair that the other gets to keep a big-screen TV and living room set, and all they're left with is some month-old salami. And ultimately, Judge Judy rules that if your boyfriend paid for the television, it's his television, even if you were paying all of the utility bills for an entire year (because unlike divorce where everything has to be split at least semi-fairly, the law provides no protection for people who end dating relationships). And then you're mad, and everyone who works at the un-named major retail store is sitting there in their little vests, laughing at you from the poorly lit break room with the fuzzy television.

Let me be clear that I'm not trying to judge or insult anyone here. I've no doubt that there are people who lived together before getting married who ended up so happily ever after that it should've been a Disney movie. But I also know people who lived together, assumed they'd be together forever, and then suddenly found themselves coping not only with the loss of a significant other but also with the loss of the cat, Christmas dishes, and Wii Fit, and with no legal recourse whatsoever. So my advice (not that anyone cares), based on my extensive Judge Judy watching experience, is that if you're not ready to marry someone, you probably aren't ready to enter into serious financial arrangements with that person. It's all of the responsibility with none of the commitment, and that's a recipe for disaster.

Now, there may be those of you who are thinking "You don't know anything! My boyfriend and I are living together, and we'll never break up or fight about who gets to keep appliances!" And I hope you're right. Because if you're not, I think it only fair to warn you that if you end up on Judge Judy arguing with your ex about who gets custody of your dog, Bobo - somewhere out there, there will be a person who has worked as a shopping cart pusher for 20 years making $7 an hour who thinks that your life is sad.


Dr Zibbs said...

I agree with 99% of the stuff Judge Judy says even though I've only seen the show about 5 times.

MelO said...

I LOVE Judge Judy! She really does entertain, doesn't she?

So did you and Mr. Darling live together before getting married? I see where you (and the judge) are coming from but I feel like I could never marry someone that I've never even lived with!

But one thing I DID learn from Judge Judy? PROMISSORY NOTES! :D

p.s. your mother in law sucks :P hee hee hee

LYDIA said...

I agree with 100% of this post! From experience, sadly lol. I lost my kitchen table, couch, dishes, silverware... etc, etc. Oh well, I have all new now with Hubs.

Hannah Noel said...

I agree whole-heartedly!!

No offence to those who are living together, but I don't get it. If you're going to make that kind of commitment, why can't you get married?

Thanks for stopping by my blog!!

Tova Darling said...

Melo - Nope, we didn't live together before we got married. For one thing, both of our families would have probably disowned us, so it wasn't even something we considered. :)

ÄsK AliCë said...

I've lived with two guys - the first one was right out of High School and I didn't think we would get married but we spent so much time at each others houses we figured we may as well move in together. It lasted 2 years and the breakup was fair enough to both of us.

The second guy thought we'd get married but I was still really young so we moved in together instead. I didn't lose too much in the breakup - other then the fact that I'd sold my bed prior to moving in with him.

I don't think I coud ever marry someone who I hadn't lived with, even for a few months. You learn so much about that persons daily habits, and personality when you're with them everyday. That being said, I couldn't see myself living with a guy again for a long time.

ÄsK AliCë said...

Oh and also, I don't think marriage is the end-all be-all of relationships. Why is that commitment better then any other? What about gay couples? I have friends who have been happily cohabitating for 9 years and are one of the best couples I know - they have two kids and are very happy but not married.

I would like to get married eventually but only if and when I find the right person. Some people do it for the sake of marriage and I don't think that's any better then moving in together to "test things out"

I think I could write a whole post so I'll stop now ;>

Tova Darling said...

Alice, you raise some very interesting points, and I agree with you that "marrying for the sake of marriage" is a terrible idea (this is a topic for another post which I've already started writing. :) ) I married my husband because I love him more than I've ever loved anything or anyone in my life, and while I knew that I could probably live without him if I had to, I never wanted to have to test that theory. :)

I think that the reason I see marriage as being a better (or perhaps "stronger" would be a better word) commitment than any others is because it's an actual legal commitment as opposed to a verbal one. Ideally, a verbal commitment would be enough, but in any relationship (married, dating, engaged, or whatever), there are eventually going to be days where you're not particularly fond of the person, and to quote author Judith Viorst, "One advantage of marriage, it seems to me, is that when you fall out of love with each other, it keeps you together until maybe you fall in again." Being married ensures that you can't just walk out and chuck the whole thing at a moment's notice because you had a bad day.

I certainly don't think that relationships between people who aren't married are meaningless, but I do think there's something to be said for standing up in front of your family and friends (or even just an officiant and two witnesses) and saying "Listen up, world. I pick this person over everyone else, I'm commiting myself to them for the rest of my life, and I'm so serious about it that I'm willing to enter into a legally binding contract that says I promise to be with them for the rest of my life." (Of course, some people don't take their vows that seriously, which is again fodder for a different post.)

The other thing is that marriage holds weight when it comes to the law and society in ways that dating or cohabitating doesn't. If something were to happen to my husband (God forbid!) my position as his wife automatically gives me rights regarding hospital visitation, major decisions regarding his medical care (if he's incapacitated), life support, burial, organ donation, inheritance, etc. The legal and medical communities (along with the government and the IRS) recognize "marriage" in a way that they don't automatically recognize a dating relationship.

Anyway, this is practically another post, too. :) I need to work on having shorter opinions. Or at least wording them more concisely.

ÄsK AliCë said...

I completely agree with you on those points - a marriage IS legally binding and stronger then any form of relationship. I agree with marriage wholeheartedly. I also agree with cohabitation as well.

After you have lived together for 2 years (some places longer, some less) you are "common-law" married and have many of the same rights.

My point is that some people have a strong resistence to marriage (whether it be because it's a "religious" ceremony or an "outdated" thing or whatever the opinion is, maybe they're gay and don't have that option!) and I still think they can be in a completely happy union.

Most people who live together can't just "up and leave" if they're having a bad day - it's the same reason you wouldn't just divorce someone. There are things to consider - maybe you have joint bank accounts, bought expensive furniture together or share a pet or even children together.

When my ex and I broke up (after more then 2 years) it was hard and we really tried to work things out first. It just wasn't reasonable for either of us to try to keep things together. Of course there were ugly "I want the couch" moments but all in all it was respectful and we both got what we needed. I see this as the same as a divorce.

My sister and her hubby are happily married and I think it was absolutely the best decision for them.

I think standing up in front of everyone IS important and if you find the right person, it is probably one of the happiest moments of your life! Many people don't take the vows seriously which, in a way, ruins it for many others. Some people just get jaded by the whole process - especially children of divorce (which I'm not - btw)

I think all I'm trying to say (in this essay) is that living with someone is a good way to see if you really want to be with them for the rest of your life.

Personally I don't think I would live with someone again until I was pretty certain that they were the one I wanted to spend my life with and even then, I may need the ring on my finger already ;>

Tova Darling said...

Alice, I think you and I should write a book together about the pros and cons of cohabitation and marriage. We're already halfway there!

You're right that marriage isn't for everyone, and I certainly wouldn't advocate for anyone to get married just because I think it's a good idea. From personal experience, though, I can say that it's totally possible to know if you want to spend forever with someone and have a good idea of what living with them will be like without ever living together. By the time my husband and I got married, we'd dated for a year and 8 months and had been engaged for a year, so having spent so much time with him (without ever living together), I had a pretty realistic idea of what living with him would be like, and there was nothing about living with him after we were married that came as a surprise to me.

One way that the U.S. differs from Canada is in laws regarding common-law marriage. In only 11 of the 50 states can one contract a common-law marriage, and even in those states, just living together for a specified period of time isn't enough to make a common-law marriage. You have to also present yourselves as husband and wife. So, even if you lived together for 50 years in a common-law state in the U.S., if you still refer to yourselves as "boyfriend and girlfried" and nobody thinks you're married, you don't have a common law marriage.

So, do you know anyone who works for a publishing company? Let's get working on our book deal!

Tova Darling said...

Just to clarify (not that anyone cares) Mr. Darling and I dated for a year and 8 months and THEN were engaged for a year. So we'd been together for almost 3 years when we tied the knot.

ÄsK AliCë said...

Ohmygawd we need a publisher!!

I'm sure we could both ramble on for another few chapters?

pj said...

two things:

my break room always had judge judy on as well... weird, really weird.

dad always said: ' son, don't buy the car till you take it for a test drive. '

Candy's daily Dandy said...

I missed out on this whole discussion; (being sick sucks) but let me weigh in here with my experience since I have been both married and divorced and am currently co-habitating with my guy.(I also have 2 children)
I want to say that I love the fact that Tova, as a "20-something" you have taken a stand on marriage that is completely commendable and encouraging. Too many people today,(young,mid and old) think they can and should just walk away from a committment like marriage if things are not going according to plan. This is the problem. Having said that, I would have never thought I would be divorced today and if it were up to me I probably wouldn't be. I believe in working things out and at the risk of sounding cliche-for better or worse. What I now realize is that my ex did me a huge favor. The crimes he commited were far worse than the worst. Every relationship is different-I was married to a liar and a cheat who got caught and continues, to this day, to tell me what a fool he has been. Too late-He destroyed 20 years together and there was no way for me to forgive. I was left with no choice. I took my broken heart and moved on.

Then my guy found me. I wasn't looking and on our first date I told him I would never marry again. He persued me gently and then committed himself to me and my children in the most admirable and respectful way possible. We were like a bird whose broken wing needed the precious time to heal before we could possibly fly agaian. Now here I am, 3 years later and we look every bit the married couple. And I am "flying" again, happier than I have ever been.

Do I need a wedding to seal the deal here?? Having already been down that road before I can tell you I would not want to go down the "divorce" road EVER again. BUT I believe in marriage, I am the marrying type, but I am not feeling like I NEED to marry. My philosophy is this- If it happens for me and my guy, GREAT! (and it is certianly a possibility) If not, GREAT too! The committment to each other is what matters most. I may be a little gun shy when it comes to marriage, but can you blame me? All of the points both you and Alice have made are valid. From a view point of experience I give you my standard answer when people ask me when me and my guy are going to take the plunge, "What's wrong with being Kurt and Goldie?"

Tova Darling said...

I am LOVING all of the conversation that this post is generating!

PJ - I wonder if Judge Judy knows that 90% of her viewers are trapped employees who have no choice but to watch her because nothing else is on in the break room. I mean, I love her and all, but she's no Project Runway.

Candy - It's definitely understandable that you'd want to take your time before getting married again after the situation with your ex. A good friend of mine is in kind of a similar situation - her husband cheated on her, and now that she's divorced, she's reluctant to even think about getting married within the next 5-10 years. It's definitely not my place to judge anyone's motives in choosing to live together instead of or before marrying.

One thing that I've seen happen too often (especially with 20-something couples) is that one person (usually the woman) is ready to get married, and the other isn't, and so they "compromise" by moving in together. The problem there is that the one who wants to get married is essentially "auditioning" for the role of wife (or husband). Even though the couple is living together, it's not necessarily an accurate representation of what married life will be like, because one person is not completely satisfied with the situation and feels the need to behave in a certain way in order to get what they actually want, which is marriage. And then, if there's no ring after a certain period of time, it's a set-up for resentment and bitterness - "I've been the perfect girlfriend, I've cooked him dinner every night, why won't he marry me??" I suppose if the couple is in complete 100% agreement as to the time-table or long-term goals of the relationship (which sounds like it might be the case in your situation, Candy), then it could work, but it seems like very often (at least among people I know personally), one person is ready to get married and one isn't, and so living together isn't a true compromise, because one person is getting everything they want, and the other is getting nothing they want.

Alice, where are we on that publishing deal? I think we have about 5 chapters by now.

Tranquility said...

Haha... so true, so true!

Candy's daily Dandy said...

I know- enough already, but one quick point. Research shows,ie: longitudinal studies, that couples living together before marriage usually do not stay together as marrieds. Interesting...

ÄsK AliCë said...

Ok, so once we have 8 chapters we'll be golden with the book deal...here are a few more:

I think a lot of time it is true that one person feels the need to be married and agrees that living together is a good "compromise". For me though, neither time was like that.

The first time was because I was young and still living at my parents and I was ready to move out. My boyfriend at the time was living with a bunch of guys, most of my friends were still planning on living at home and I was ready for a change. I guess you coud say it was "convenient" but it was a decision we made together, never talking about marriage or anything or even thinking about it.

The next time, I had been living with a girl friend and our lease was almost up. My Ex was living with a friend but really wanted to take our relationship furthur and as I said before I was too young for marriage, not that he wanted it right away either. It just seemed like the natural next step.

I totally agree with you Candy - it's great that you, Tova, can see what the problem is with married couples who think comitment ius just words. It should never be just words.

That being said, people grow and change and divorce happens. Sometimes it's for a bad reason (cheating, whatever) but sometimes its legitimately that people grow apart. Obviously it happens in all kinds of relationships.

I could see where the research would get that. If people live together before getting married, it's not new or exciting when they do get married. Maybe that has something to do with the higher divorce rates?

Either way I guess it's everyone's decision on what they feel is right for them. I think when people are too close-minded about someone else's views that's when it creates problems.

I know that this can also be a religious thing but not everyone follows that way of thinking. I think tolerance is definitely key to understanding.

Cora said...

Ooh, interesting topic, Tova! You've definitely set Blog World on fire with this one - we're all introspective and stuff now! :-)

My Mom never lived with my Dad until they were married, and she described getting married as though it were a shock similar to getting shoved into a cold lake. She said you can never tell what a guy is really like until you've lived with him, because people are always on their best behavior on dates. She advised my sister and I to live with our boyfriends before marrying them so we'd know what we were getting ourselves into.

And like a good little girl, I did just that.

My boyfriend and I lived together before our engagement and wedding. And because I'd listened to my Mom, I thought all was well and that I knew what I was signing up for because I'd shacked up with the guy.

But no.

Once the wedding ring was on my finger everything changed. Everything. The gloves came off. The claws came out. My funny, quirky guy suddenly became this scary, abusive monster. He was a cheater. He was a liar. He was violent and arrogant and cruel just for sport. He had an itty bitty, runty, low oppinion of me, and I was like a deer in headlights - I had NO IDEA what the hell had happened or what to do about it. So, it turns out, marriage can still be like getting shoved into an icy lake even if you've already lived with the man first. People can still be on their best behavior while you're living with them. Some people will hide their true colors from you until they think they've got you trapped.

Fortunately, my husband and I are divorced now. Thank God!! He left me (and our newborn) for someone else, telling me he needed to go "be young" and that he had only been with me so he wouldn't be alone while he waited for "someone better" to come along. (Yes, he actually said that). I still don't at all understand why he proposed in the first place if all I was was a temp. I mean, he REALLY, REALLY wanted to marry me at the time - I actually said no when he first proposed because I felt we were too young and weren't ready, but he wouldn't give up, so I eventually agreed to it... only to be dumped about a year after the wedding! (Just weird - but also a SPECTACULAR life lesson!)

I don't think I'll ever live with a guy before marrying him again. There's no point in test driving the situation because, as I know first hand, you can STILL be deceived anyway. A happy cohabitation is NOT a guarantee you'll have a happy marriage. With a marriage at least you have a legal safety net if things go wrong (and your fella turns into Satan). If my ex had shown his true ugly colors while we were just shacking up, there really would've been no stopping him just walking out with everything. At least when things fell apart for me, I had the law to watch my back.

So, yes, I agree with you, Tova. The wedding ring first, then the moving truck. It's much safer that way.

Oh, and my old work place could only get Judge Judy too!! (well, and Jerry springer, but, gag me, I'd rather watch the wall!) Someone ought to look into that! It's starting to sound fishy! Judy's got a cruddy-job-breakroom monopoly going on! Unfair! But, hey, at least we could all learn a thing or two on our breaks. ;-)

ÄsK AliCë said...

Weird point here - my old work could get two programs - Coronation Street and...Judge Judy


Tova Darling said...

Cora- Wow, I am so sorry that happened to you! It's scary that people can change so suddenly and drastically like that. It's good that you are out of that situation now!

And seriously, does anyone watch Judge Judy when they're NOT at work? I'm getting the impression that maybe her show is only on work televisions.

Cora said...

Aww, thank you, Tova. But, like I said, it was definitely a good life lesson. I look before I leap now and I certainly learned to stand up for myself. So, it's all good. :-)

In my opinion, we don't devote nearly enough scientific research to finding a cure for jerks. ~ Calvin & Hobbes