Unmarried With Children

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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43 Responses

  1. Marchmaine says:

    I don’t mean to pry, but I’m wondering if a sentence or two was edited from this section?

    I moved in with my now-wife while she was back home lining up the ducks for our wedding. it was snowing and the wind was so fierce I was actually blown over while carrying the mattress twice. And I finished, two days later we were married, and a week after that we were living together. But despite my unusual views on this and my own experience, even I can’t muster a substantive objection to avoid doing what I did.”

    I’m left wondering if you cohabited for 2-days, an entire blizzardly winter (where it might have taken you an indeterminately long time to move a mattress under extreme duress – but we’re given to understand that eventually you finished!), or not until a week(!) after you were married.

    It seems important to your POV cred, so might be worth clarifying?

    Substantively, I appreciate that you are coming at this obliquely and with some sympathy… but I wasn’t quite sure how to reconcile these positions.

    Now, being the resident scold that I am on this issue, in the first case I would question the wisdom of cohabiting to begin with. You may not be entering a marriage, but you’re entering a situation that is about to become much, much harder to leave if things aren’t working out.


    And if you’re in a relationship that had been casual, you should really consider cohabiting if you’re (quite reasonably) uncomfortable marrying them.

    My mind wants to insert a [not] to stay consistent with the descending order of cohabitating decisions… but I’m not entirely sure? I guess I’m unclear then on when the red flags would come out if you are already uncomfortable marrying them? I’m sure you have an angle there, but I’m a little lost (but that could very well be on me).Report

    • Will Truman in reply to Marchmaine says:

      I’m left wondering if you cohabited for 2-days, an entire blizzardly winter (where it might have taken you an indeterminately long time to move a mattress under extreme duress – but we’re given to understand that eventually you finished!), or not until a week(!) after you were married.

      Ahhh, fair question. It was a logistical thing. Our wedding was down south. She left on Tuesday, I moved in on Thursday, we got married on Saturday, and then lived together after the honeymoon.Report

      • Marchmaine in reply to Will Truman says:

        Gotcha… so the mattress escapade was on the front end in the moving “from” not on the back end moving “to”… maybe some visio or gant charts to outline the move and marriage logistics project… you know, the ones you used at the time?Report

    • Will Truman in reply to Marchmaine says:

      On the second, they are contradictory but one is talking about relationships in general while the other is relationships if there is a kid in the picture. I switch gears in between, or tried to. If you don’t have kids, move cautiously when it comes to moving in together. If you do have kids, move to your maximum level of comfort and give it your all as you are already bound to the other person so the tradeoffs change.Report

  2. Damon says:

    I can’t fathom the concept of ““That’s just not the kind of stability that people want to have before they start making legal ties to each other,” said Kuperberg.” but moving in together and having a kid.

    If you’re burdened by ed debt and you don’t have the prospects of a high paying job, having a kid seems to be “da stoopid”. But what do I know–I didn’t want kids in the first place.

    I lived with the gf for about 2 years before we got married. Frankly, marriage didn’t matter to me. But I discovered she really wanted to be married, so I did. Not much changed for me except she got much happier and I was happy she was happy.Report

    • Murali in reply to Damon says:

      If you wait until you’ve paid off your educational debt to have kids you probably won’t. Especially if you’re a woman. Biological clock and all that. On the guy’s side its going to be a lot harder to be an active parent to a small kid when you’re middle aged.Report

      • Damon in reply to Murali says:

        Well I had paid off most of my debt before I got married. OFC I went to college and grad school when it was much cheaper and I went to state schools…Report

  3. Mike Dwyer says:

    I moved into my wife’s condo the day before our wedding. We certainly weren’t angels. There were lots of pre-marriage sleepovers, etc. We basically just did it as a nice gesture towards her conservative parents.

    My daughter lives with her boyfriend. I don’t pry into their marriage plans, but I do get concerned over kids. I want her to wait as long as possible. Something that has aided that is her environmentalism. She’s actually concerned that having a kid would be morally wrong because it increases her carbon footprint. I’m sure this phase will pass, but it aids dad’s goals without me being controlling so win-win.

    In general, I find marriage to be hard but worth the effort. I adore my wife, even when she makes me crazy, and we really are a great team. Doubling our income has been nice, but obviously that comes with the pitfalls of spending money like you have two incomes.Report

  4. Michael Cain says:

    My now-wife and I moved in together a year or so before we got married. One of the things we wanted to do was go from “your” money and “my” money to “our” money. Almost 40 years ago in New Jersey, this was a surprisingly difficult thing to do officially.Report

    • Mike Dwyer in reply to Michael Cain says:

      We combined our finances about 3 months before we got married. I remember that being a surreal experience. In a way, it felt like the most intimate thing I have ever done.Report

      • I bought the mini-van the week before the wedding. That is commitment. The finances were minor compared to that emotional hurdle.Report

      • We still haven’t really combined our finances (our five year anniversary was Tuesday, by the way!). Technically, we’re on each others’ accounts, but we have hers and mine as well as one “joint account” (even though they’re all technically joint accounts and we could theoretically access each other’s money whenever we want). When we pay rent and other bills, she writes a check for her half and I write one for mine. (That’s an over-simplified version of what we do, but it’ll do for this conversation.)

        If one of us lost our jobs, we’d have to reconsider how we do things, of course. But so far that’s how it works.

        I will agree that mixing money, or even talking about money, is an intimate, even (as you say) “surreal” experience. We are (knock on wood) very fortunate to have a lot of resources and we have no debt, but even with those advantages, talking about money and spending is hard. It’s rewarding, but it is also a very personal thing in a way that I’m not sure I was expecting before I got married.Report

        • Aaron David in reply to gabriel conroy says:

          Congrats on the anniversary, and it took my wife and me six years or so to combine finances. Now, we have six personal accounts (checking and savings accounts for both plus a joint one of each), plus one for my business, along with various retirement accounts. A lot of this comes from the desire to have complete autonomy over our own money with no questions from the other partner, along with ease of access for bills and major joint purchases.

          And yes, we now have a will.Report

          • That’s close to what we do. Between us, we have 5 bank accounts. While we’re both on all the accounts, there’s only one we consider an account for joint expences. At first we considered those for things more like emergency or health related expenses. We’re edging toward using that account to pay some bills, but it’s still in theory an extraordinary fund.

            We’re working on a will right now and hope to have one completed in a month.Report

            • North in reply to gabriel conroy says:

              Hubby and I merged accounts early early on once I moved to the US permanently. It wasn’t hard because neither of us had much money to speak of. It is sooooo easy having merged finances though it requires a certain degree of policing of roles. Someone has to be the bad guy tightwad and someone needs to be the live a little crowbar the wallet open guy.. otherwise it gets bad.Report

        • …and we have no debt…

          Our experience was that getting a mental handle on debt was harder than income. “We” had student debt, which I had worked very hard to avoid. “We” had a car payment on a vehicle my wife couldn’t drive (she has some sort of weird mental block and I’ve never been able to teach her to drive a manual).Report

          • I’ve never learned to drive a manual, either. In fact, while we both have licenses, neither of us really drive at all, except when we visit our families and they lend us a car for the day. Even then, though, we rarely take them up on it.Report

        • Damon in reply to gabriel conroy says:

          Here’s how we combined our finance.

          When living together and the first year or five of the marriage, there was mine, your, and our, money. We would transfer money from one account to another to cover joint expenses like the mortgage. One day the wife came and complained that she was tired of paying her bills. I offered to pay them IF we had a joint account. Problem solved. I paid the bills, we each got an allowance, and it was all good.Report

          • gabriel conroy in reply to Damon says:

            We’re evolving toward that system, except with no allowance. In other words, we still have hers and mine, but more and more of the bills are being paid from the joint account. (That’s part of how what I wrote above was “over-simplified.”)

            Also for us–similar to something I think you mentioned above–we don’t want and are planning not to have children. That simplifies things.Report

  5. Jaybird says:

    Being married is one of those things that I’m having difficulty putting into words that would easily explain what it’s like to someone who is not married.

    I suppose I’d try to talk about siblings and roommates and small non-profit businesses. Sure, it’s *KIND OF* like those things? Except there’s a romantic element?

    It’s with that in mind that I try to wrap my head around parenting. I don’t have kids. So when I try to figure out what it’s like, I’m stuck trying to comprehend the whole issue of whether it’s like having a cat that can’t take care of itself for years and years that has your DNA that is really receptive to machine learning techniques. Oh, and you’d die to protect it.

    I can’t really see wanting to do that with someone that I am not married to. I can’t really see *RISKING* doing that with someone that I am not married to.

    And I know that my description of parenting is probably as faulty as my description of marriage.Report

  6. Chip Daniels says:

    This is sort of what I touched on in the other thread about child welfare.
    That in 1918, a young couple would likely have had their child born into a large household of extended family of aunts, cousins, and grandparents.
    The social pressure to make the marriage the right one, and to make it work, and the accompanying support- financial, counseling, the day care/ babysitting/ parenting advice was the traditional support network that people throughout time relied upon.

    Nowadays we don’t have that.We have sheared off the stifling ties of family, yay, but also whatever sources of help we need.

    I don’t have any suggestions for how to square this, or put the toothpaste back in the tube.

    Maybe a start would be to recognize how insufficient the nuclear family is, to admit just how much outside help and support they need to function well.Report

    • Mike Dwyer in reply to Chip Daniels says:


      This is a very interesting point and I agree. My brother-in-law got divorced about a year ago. They started dating in college, got married right after graduation and then moved from Chicago to Boston to London to Washington D.C. while having three kids along the way. The whole time it was just them with no real support system. Not only did the kids have to keep making new friends but so did the parents. No grandparents to babysit so they could have a date night. No family get-togethers on the weekends. Just their little family…all…the…time. That could crush any marriage. My entire family is here in Louisville and I couldn’t imagine leaving them.Report

      • Chip Daniels in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        Sometimes when I read these awful stories of abuse and dysfunction, a picture emerges of two young people, maybe without functioning parental models, isolated and alone trying to step into the new terrain of being spouses and parents without a road map.

        And I recall how terrifying new marriage and babies are, how every pillar of our support- finances, time, sleep- are pushed to the limit.Report

      • Road Scholar in reply to Mike Dwyer says:


        Yeah, that’s pretty much been our life as well. Living way the hell and gone from any extended family and really, the last time we’ve had close friends (as a couple, opposed to her work friends and my work friends) was when I was in the Navy. It demands a lot from the primary relationship, more than it can really sustain.

        I’ve often bemoaned the fact that I’m just not the sort of person that can believe in God, or at least be comfortable pretending to. Because church could help a lot with that.Report

        • Mike Dwyer in reply to Road Scholar says:


          I think it can certainly be done, but it’s hard. I have a friend from grade school who married a career military guy. They move about once every 18-24 months. They (and their kids) are extremely resilient, however military bases have well-developed support structures in place to ease the stress of these moves. If you’re outside the military, yes, a congregation or some other organization with a social structure would certainly help. Unfortunately, in the case of my brother-in-law, they were not particularly devout. I think he made connections through his kids’ sports teams, but I’m not sure how much that helped.Report

      • A Teacher in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        This was a dilemma for Mrs. A Teacher and I when we got married. Her family (immediate) lived on the west side of the state where mine was on the east. I also had a full time professional teaching job there. She was a new graduate and was thinking about additional education. But when we made the choice to shack up over here on the east (we lived in sin for a year before the wedding), it also created some drama for her parents.

        Not that we were, ya know, living in sin, but that she was now 3 hours away by car. Of course part of our math had also been that her father had been forced to move twice in the last 5 years for work wherein my family was in the same house they had when I was in 7th grade. (They’re still there too).

        It’s really hard to put to words the simple power of that family network though, being able to say “this is a bad spot we’re in” and have actionable solutions put out rather than “wow, that’s rough”. I don’t know if it’s a mid-west thing, an A Teacher’s family Thing, or what but I would really struggle to get up the gumption to move out of this support network now that we have two kids as well.Report

        • Mike Dwyer in reply to A Teacher says:

          I don’t think the support of family can be over-stated. Just last weekend, we had the whole family at the horse track for my mom’s birthday. My younger nephews were just sort of handed off from cousins to aunts and uncles and back and we all help with discipline, etc. There are no lines there. If nephew is misbehaving, anyone can step in to deal with it. I was the same way when my kids were younger. They knew Uncle or Aunt or Grandma was watching.

          And as positive as that support system can be, it’s also what keeps people living in questionable neighborhoods or American Indians from moving off the reservation. That support is so hard to leave behind, even if you see economic opportunity elsewhere. It’s really a double-edged sword in some ways.Report

          • Maribou in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

            @mike-dwyer It’s also a huge part of what kept my mom with my abusive dad. She wasn’t willing to lose his family and the day-in day-out support… I mean, she wouldn’t have lost all of them and really that was a justification for her real reasons, but it definitely played a role. Same reasoning kept other family members from feeling like they could do anything or say anything about their abuse – they’d be losing a lot more than just the abuser if they did so.

            You’re absolutely right about the double-edged sword thing.Report

            • Maribou in reply to Maribou says:

              At the same time (other side of the sword), I know how much it helps kids in the situation I was in to have non-abusive adults around… to not only be part of the dysfunctional core. Though it must be said that for me and for all my sibs, we ended up turning to adults *outside* our family to fill that role by the time we hit school age (or younger) – no matter how much we loved some of our relatives, it was still hard to trust people who we knew knew about some of our dad’s worst traits and accepted that we had to live with them. People who didn’t know and couldn’t know were much easier to trust. Still I don’t think we would’ve known to seek out better versions of it if we didn’t have the extended family context to start with.Report

  7. CJColucci says:

    Does marriage cause stability, or does stability cause marriage, or are there vicious and virtuous circles depending on the decisions you make?Report

    • Will Truman in reply to CJColucci says:

      Causality runs both ways, I think. There are only so many ways to demonstrate that you’re making a go of something. Cohabitation is one, and I would argue that marriage is another. And I think once you make that demonstration, you’re more likely to follow through. Sort of like how you’re more likely to quit smoking the more people you tell that you’re trying.Report

  8. Aaron David says:

    The stability of child raising comes not from marriage, but from the willingness to make it work. I moved in with my first wife when my house burned down. She soon became pregnant, even with birth control. Marriage was soon after, and not long after that was divorce. But at every point, we put the welfare of our son at the forefront of our activities. Often at our own lives expense. Because that is what parents do. Now, I am 47, my son has graduated college, I am in a financially secure place, my ex is in a financially secure place and we get along fairly well.

    A friend of mine is now living with a woman and their son. He is 48, she is 47 and their son is three. They have always talked about marriage, but are just so tired, all the time.Report

    • North in reply to Aaron David says:

      Dude, when the kid is 16 they’ll be in their late 60’s??? That’s insane!Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to North says:

        Its an extreme case but it is becoming more common these days. Not just among the really educated and prosperous people you worked a lot when they are younger. I’ve encountered working class people who also had children really late in life. I’m not sure what I think about it personally. Its not something that you can legislate against but it seems really bad to have children when you will be a senior citizen before they are an adult. Thats if your kid is normal. If your kid turns out to have special needs and won’t ever be a fully functioning adult, its even worse.Report

        • North in reply to LeeEsq says:

          Oh yeah, I agree. I don’t think it’s crazy as in something should be done crazy just that even in the best of conditions late 60 year olds just won’t have the energy to chase a 16 year old around.

          That said I’ve seen that age disparity, usually with grandparents raising grandkids.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to North says:

        48 + 13 = 61Report