A 2006 Pew Research study found that about a quarter of unmarried Americans (23 million) say they are in unmarried committed romantic relationships. A slice of this population is what I dub "a little bit married": They live together, go on each other's family vacations and own pets together, but aren't yet engaged. In my new book, A Little Bit Married: How to Know When It's Time to Walk Down The Aisle or Out the Door, I conclude that "a little bit married" (ALBM) is a recent cultural phenomenon, taking place especially among college-educated, upwardly mobile, twenty- and thirty-somethings.
ALBM is a stopgap between dating and marriage, a place where many people find themselves parked for long periods of time. As the median age for a first marriage in the United States soars to the highest it's ever been—27.1 for a man and 25.3 for a woman (and it tips even higher in many cities)—new dating rituals such as prolonged courtship and cohabitation have become socially acceptable. In fact, the number of cohabiting couples has grown more than tenfold during the last forty years.
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Yet despite its pervasiveness, ALBM is often the cause of relationship stress. So how do you swim through this life stage toward marriage and not just tread water? Here are some cardinal rules to help you survive being ALBM.
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Be Honest with Yourself. Will you be happy if the status quo remains the same for the next two years, or if there's no clear commitment to the future? Do you even want to get married? Do you want to have children? Ask yourself what you really want from the relationship. That way you'll be able to have an honest and empowered conversation with your partner about how, when or if to take the next step. 5 Steps To Take If Your Man Hasn't Proposed
Ask the Right Questions. Yes, you can ask your partner, "Where is this going?" But that might not help you learn what you really want to know, like whether you have compatible career goals or priorities in life, and where he sees himself at 35. It's worth asking about these things so that there are no hidden deal breakers.