Boomer cohabitation - for those of us now single, is it a better alternative than getting re-married, or are we best off continuing to live alone? There are points to be made on each side of this question, but the answers probably depend upon our own particular circumstances and what we're looking for now.
Boomer Cohabitation - Why?
Back in the day, it was simply known as "living together", co-mingled with the sexual revolution of the 60s and the willingness of our generation to challenge most any form of authority, including a marriage license. Boomer cohabitation today, however, is likely prompted by our own experience and perceptions, coupled with human and practical needs.
We already know how very different our lives are now, compared to our teens and twenties. We have worked our jobs for a number of years, and by now we have a much better idea of what we’ll be when we grow up! We’ve established where and how we live, whether by choice, by necessity, or happenstance. We have bought “stuff’ – in some cases a lot of stuff – cars, homes, furniture and other things to which we feel bound by desire and/or responsibility. But most important of all, if we are considering boomer cohabitation now, we find ourselves single and alone, following divorce, death of our spouse, or that we never married earlier. If we’ve had children, we have those parental and financial obligations as well.
Some reasons prompting boomer cohabitation:
We have the human need for companionship, and for the most part that need seems to be gender neutral. We’re used to sharing a roof with others, be it spouse, children, or roommates, and we shun the loneliness that sets in if we find ourselves single and empty-nested. Many of us are not used to being totally alone, and we just make
better meals when we’re cooking for two.
Our finances, or the lack thereof, can also prompt cohabitation. Sharing the cost of rent, groceries and utilities certainly helps our budget each month, and where we feel sufficiently comfortable and committed, sharing a mortgage and perhaps other investments can help insure our financial future. We may also want/need to share household chores and maintenance responsibilities.
With the possible exception of corporate America, the stigma of living together is no longer a deterring consideration, belonging more to the past than the present. Studies indicate that we as boomer parents are more tolerant of our grown children cohabiting than our own parents were in the 60s and 70s. In fact, younger adults are as likely to cohabit as we are, albeit for different reason(s). Their motive is borne more from fear of marriage failure and not wanting to repeat the mistakes they felt their parents (we) made. Cohabitation in younger segments is more a precursor, rather than an alternative, to marriage.
- LibidosAnd what of our libidos? Yes, it’s a human need that continues to drive us, and yet another factor in boomer cohabitation. Studies have shown that rates of monogamy for cohabiting partners are equally high (and rising) as they are for married couples. For those cohabiting members desiring sex, the belief seems to be that sex outside of marriage is permissible, but not outside of the cohabitation relationship.
Boomer Cohabitation - Advantages
In addition to the factors described above (companionship, shared finances, et al), proponents feel there are several other distinct advantages that boomer cohabitation has over marriage:
- No Long-Term Commitment
Seen as prerequisite to happy marriage, long term commitment to a boomer cohabitation might only be as long as the apartment lease (or any other period of time that all parties agree to). Calendar dates can be chosen as mileposts to see how things are going, and the trial periods can be extended if things are working. But if things are going wrong and adjustments are not seen as feasible or desired, the parties can part ways more amicably by a date certain, and so no one ever feels trapped forever.
- Avoids Aftershocks
Much like the aftermath of an earthquake, the reoccurring habits of your partner and the realities of everyday life together can be a shock. Such may be the case for newlyweds that were “swept off their feet”, and shortly thereafter must regain their footing to face their shared obligations (scroll over to Boomer Marriage). Living together means each partner is very real to the other, with no pretense for being anything different than what they are. Since no long term commitment is made, it's easier to escape if the aftermath proves too shocking.
- Maintain Identities as Individuals
Unlike marriage, boomer cohabitation does not unite two people to become one entity. For some, maintaining their own sense of self is paramount, and they require additional time if they are ever to build a relationship that works for the benefit of each partner. The cohabitation is seen as a low-risk period of time to determine if indeed each person can live with the other’s personal habits and traits, before necessarily having to give those up to advance the relationship. For one or both partners, those personal habits and traits may be more important than the relationship itself.
- Equally Empowered
Entering boomer cohabitation, each partner probably feels that their respective roles in the “household” are equal, unless otherwise agreed upon in advance. Husband and wife roles are absent, and each partner can see whether one or the other “grabs for the power” (or grabs for the remote) to make decisions and choices for the household. If empowerment or the roles of each partner become an issue, it becomes apparent before the relationship becomes committed.
Boomer Cohabitation – Disadvantages
The list of disadvantages for boomer cohabitation might be shorter than the one for advantages, but no less important for us to consider carefully. While lack of commitment is seen as the strongest point in favor, opponents see it as the greatest disadvantage, particularly in the instances where the partners are using it as a pre-test for marriage compatibility.
In marriage, we discussed how the ultimate glue in the relationship is each partner’s sense of commitment to the other, to resolve problems in the interest of each other, e.g., “What can I best do to make YOU happy?” Opponents to boomer cohabitation point out that the partners instead ask the question, “What can YOU best do to make ME happy?” If the partners are more interested in “me” rather than “we”, the cohabitation can still work, but prospects for a successful relationship beyond mere roommates are pretty dim.
Studies have also shown higher rates of depression among cohabiting partners, irrespective of gender, than for married partners. Reasons for the greater depression include having fewer economic resources (which might have prompted cohabiting in the first place), and in particular, greater concern that there is no partner committed to helping take care of them in older years should their health decline. Indeed, commitment (or the lack thereof) is a central issue in most types of relationships.
Boomer Cohabitation – Setting the Ground Rules
No matter the arguments for or against, boomer cohabitation may become a grow- ing trend as our generation continues to “age” the population. The notion of “hap- pily unmarried” may or may not apply in the future, but it’s probably best to at least set some ground rules to have some hope for success. Conventional wisdom suggests treating boomer cohabitation more like a business arrangement; having a checklist may help:
- Identify a Shared Vision – what do we want this particular relationship to look like? What circumstances in our respective lives prompt this type of living arrangement? Why do we feel that this arrangement has legitimate chances for success?
- Identify Objectives - what things do we expect to accomplish for ourselves and for the good of the new “household”? Can these things be measured or evaluated after certain periods of time to see if we’re being successful, or if our approach needs to be revised? In the event we are unsuccessful despite our best efforts, do we have an amicable exit strategy?
- Establish an Image – do we care what others may think? Can we make it clear to family members and friends as to why we seek this type of living arrangement? Are we braced for any criticism (and repercussions) that may affect our social well-being, and in some instances even our corporate well-being?
- Merge Lifestyles – have we reasonably accounted for the respective needs of each household member (especially important if children or other family members are going to reside in the new household)? How do we merge our possessions, such as houses, apartments, furniture, etc.? How will we treat visitors? What will the holidays look like?
- Assign Household Responsibilities – have we decided how decisions and choices are to be made for the household? How are the bills paid and by whom? What about household chores and upkeep - who is going to do what (not just take out the trash)?
Boomer cohabitation can be a legitimate choice for us, as long as we're honest with ourselves - and with our partner - as to why we want to do it. Needs for companionship, sharing finances, and genuinely wanting to help one another provide a good footing for such an arrangement. But if we're looking for the benefits of marriage without its responsibilities, we're probably just kidding ourselves. Commitment doesn't come from practice; it comes from the heart, and that's why it's the glue that holds every solid relationship together.
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