The XX Factor

You Know What Turns an Unstable Relationship into a Stable One? Not a Wedding Ring.

Beautiful. But not required.

Photo by Yiannis Kourtoglou/AFP/Getty Images

I’m beginning to wonder if the folks that write for the Knot Yet website simply have an unnatural affection for going to weddings. The site, which purports to be about the “benefits and costs of delayed marriage in America,” is really mostly about the costs—reading it is like talking to your delusional grandmother who has convinced herself that you could still be a virgin on your wedding day.

This recent blog entry by Amber Lapp is typical. Lapp rejects sociologist Andrew Cherlin’s proposal that “we” should be just as interested in encouraging stable cohabitation as marriage. Lapp is skeptical, because most Americans claim to want to be married, and so she thinks if they’re not, that inherently makes their relationships less stable. She cites her neighbors to bolster her argument:

I’m all for finding ways to help my cohabiting friends and neighbors with children become more stable. I’ve watched, sadly, as the 20-something cohabiting couple next door went from attached-at-the-hip in-love-ness as they delighted in parenting their toddler son together, to the bitterness of a break up brought on by cheating, to the birth of a second child, and now to the ambiguity of late night visits and subsequent all-nighters spent trying to piece the relationship back together before he has to leave in the dusky dawn morning for his electrician’s job in a nearby city 45 minutes away.

This passage does more than out Lapp as the Gladys Kravitz of her neighborhood. It also exposes the emptiness of her conclusion, later in the post, that “the instability of cohabitation is also an emotional instability driven largely by a trust deficit” and that “added symbols of meaning like rings and weddings” provide trust and stability. But since when have wedding bands stopped a spouse from cheating? Or from having to take a job far from home? If I didn’t know this couple wasn’t married, in fact, I would assume they were headed for divorce. 

Indeed, what all this sentimentalizing of marriage—especially young marriage—repeatedly brushes past is that now that people wait longer to get married, the divorce rate is falling. Maybe the ugly truth is that relationships formed in one’s late teens and early twenties are more unstable, which has very little to do with whether you and your significant other have gone through the process of putting together seating arrangements and ordering flowers together or not. So let’s adjust our expectations and let young people go through the romantic tumults of youth, even if that means they have living arrangements that make Granny uncomfortable. Then maybe we’ll get invited to some awesome weddings for marriages that actually last.