Last Friday’s dating column in The Guide had an article, “Why We’re Making Out, Not Going Out,” that ended with this line: “It is not a question of whether you will participate in the hookup culture, but how you will.” I’d like to think that things haven’t quite come this far yet, but it’s not at all difficult to find evidence for this observation. The article brings up questions: What is the so-called “hookup culture”? Is it really what we want? What are the other options?

Consider the issue of cohabitation. In light of recent publications such as last fall’s Time Magazine article, “Who Needs Marriage?” it seems that cohabitation before marriage, or maybe even in place of marriage, is now the way to go. It’s a more loving and romantic alternative to hooking up, but it’s not as restricting, stuffy or risky as waiting until marriage. With divorce rates so alarmingly high, now more than ever, couples need to be assured that they will be happy living together before they make the ultimate commitment. As the argument goes, why not test-drive the car before buying it? If I am supposed to spend the rest of my life with this person, I want to make sure I enjoy doing so. What happens if I find out a few months into my marriage that I don’t like living with my spouse?

The paradox is that most Americans in their 20s and 30s feel very uncomfortable about cohabitation before marriage because they still have the dream of a romantic marriage that doesn’t need a trial period, but they also find themselves highly suspicious of ever attaining that level of certainty. We find ourselves wishing we could be certain that we can happily live with our spouse, but we don’t want to risk that our sanctified vision of the perfect marriage will crash in the flaming failure of divorce so we go with a “trial marriage,” the middle ground. But even then, we worry about which path will make us more loved, cared for and happy.

At the Cardinal O’Connor Conference earlier this semester, one of the speakers addressed this problem with commitment. She said that all too often, Americans decide to cohabitate rather than risk getting married, even though they, especially women, would much rather have gone straight to marriage. She said that when these relationships end in marriage, we are stunned to find that rather than being more successful, they have an exponentially larger failure rate.

Professor Helen Alvare returned to Georgetown on Tuesday to go back to this question of cohabitation. Her research, along with the most recent research on marriage across the country, is beginning to show a frightening trend: Marriages that start with cohabitation are more likely to fail and to result in increased violence, less commitment and unhappiness. Alvare asserted that one of the most robust, ironclad findings in family law research is that children of stable marriages between two biological parents do better in every measurable demographic — grades, crime and abuse rates. Scarier still for women, statistics show that even though many women believe that their cohabiting relationships will lead to marriage, their partner almost never believes the same. Alvare’s research is backed by a vision of human relationships that attempts to find a way out of the hookup culture without feeling like a return to the 19th century.

Though a daunting one, this question at least deserves serious consideration if our lifelong well-being is being threatened. Even just from reading the biweekly dating column in The Guide, I know we find ourselves caught up in an overwhelming anxiety over dating and marriage. There comes a point when we have to ask ourselves if we’ve been looking at this the wrong way, because what we are doing certainly isn’t good for our happiness. For those on the fence, those who find article after article on dating unfulfilling and those who desperately seek happiness, care and love out of their relationships but have no clue as to what path will lead there, I invite you to join in this conversation.

 

Chris Mooney is a freshman in the College.

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