Rise Of The Unmarrieds: A Look At Happily Unwed Couples

Rise Of The Unmarrieds: A Look at Happily Unwed Couples

Kate Hudson, who just gave birth to a son with her musician fiancé Matt Bellamy, is in no rush to head down the aisle, saying her previous divorce showed her that marriage is "not the golden ticket." Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis have been together nearly 15 years and have two kids together—but have never tied the knot. Then there's KISS frontman Gene Simmons and his partner of 28 years who have a reality show on VH1, Happily Unmarried dedicated to following their (somewhat) happily unmarried life together. Love, Money & Commitment: The Life Of An Un-Wife

But it's not just Hollywood that is shunning the great white walk down the aisle. According to census data, among young adults 25 to 34, only 45 percent were married in 2009 compared to 55 percent in 2000—a startling 10 percent decline. Plus, the percent of people in that same group who had never been married grew from 34 percent to a sizable 46 percent. The marital experts we spoke to said they believe these statistics point to a delay in marriage, but not yet a shunning of the institution altogether: "I have seen the trend towards people getting married later, as a psychologist in private practice for twenty years who teaches pre-marital workshops," says Dr. Michelle Gannon, Ph.D. 10 Famously Unwed Couples

Behind The Trend
So why are so many young men and women delaying marriage—or even taking it off the table altogether?

Elizabeth (named changed for privacy), 32, of Chino Hills, California, just doesn't believe in it: "I see marriage as a waste of money and a deterioration of personal identity." Her long-term boyfriend, Kevin, 36, (name changed for privacy) agrees.

"The concept of the nuclear family is dead, making marriage a somewhat anachronistic practice in my eyes. A woman these days can easily make a living on her own without having to worry about support from a man, which I believe was a primary motivator for marriage in the past-and also why divorce was less common then than it is today," says Kevin. Others I talked to liked the idea of being together because they wanted to be, not because they are legally bound.

"I've been with my boyfriend Gregg for eight happy years now. We don't need a contract to stay together," says Amy Alkon, 46, of Santa Monica, California.

Previous bad experiences with divorce—their parents or their own—can make potential brides back down from the altar, too.

"I've been 'happily unmarried' to my partner for more than a year. And yes, I have made a conscious decision to not marry, at least for now, because of the rather traumatic divorce I went through four years ago. I learned that marriage isn't necessary for a happy relationship and also that marriage is not for everyone, for many reasons," says Jennifer Ford, 30, of Norristown, Pennsylvania.

History may also play a factor, both biologically and socially.

"The big reason people are delaying marriage is the birth control pill. Historically women had to get married because it was too risky to have sex outside of marriage," says journalist Hannah Seligson, who wrote the book A Little Bit Married. Why I Chose To Be Unmarried And Childless

Then, there's the fact that more women are graduating from college than men and have increased their earning power as a result.

"On the national level, economics plays a really big role. Women no longer need or want to get married to be supported economically by a husband," says Nicky Grist, executive director of the Alternatives to Marriage Project. And as Kate Hudson and countless other unweb celeb parents indicate, in 2011 marriage doesn’t necessarily precede a baby carriage. It's worth mentioning, however, that many of the women I spoke to said that a decision not to have kids did make the decision to remain unwed easier.

The Benefits and Challenges of Staying Unmarried
There are many reasons why women and men aren't wedding at the same rates as they were historically, but is this actually a good thing? Seligson sees benefits.

"You've had a decade that is the 'me era' and time to examine life and maybe go into marriage with a better sense of what you want in a partner," she says. Those who have "been around the block" may also have picked up some pointers along the way. "Older couples generally are more willing to work on their relationship. They may have past relationship experience, some wisdom, some things that didn't work. (These) people realize love is not enough and may be more willing to work on their relationship," says Gannon. 

Still, old notions about marriage die hard, and there are pitfalls to going against the grain.

"It is definitely frustrating when I am at family get-togethers and I am asked why I am not married," says Megan. There are also legal and financial ramifications for long-term relationships without a marriage license.

"I was compelled to lie and call myself my boyfriend's wife when he was admitted to the hospital a few years back so they wouldn't keep me out of his room or from making decisions about his care," says Amy. Remaining unwed can cost couples the benefit of sharing medical insurance if an employer does not allow a domestic partner the same benefits as a spouse.

And, Gannon has seen biological issues with delaying marriage, like loss of fertility, come up in her practice. How To Stop Worrying About Your Biological Clock

"Sadly many women still believe we can have babies well into our 40s. Couples then will often encounter stress with getting pregnant," says Gannon.

Kevin thinks that society isn't yet sure what to do with committed but unwed couples like he and Elizabeth.

"I do sometimes feel that society does not understand not getting married, and occasionally that bothers me. I also feel like there should be another word for boyfriend/girlfriend, since that term often seems like it does not apply to grown ups in a long term relationship," says Kevin.

May we suggest "happily unmarried"?

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