In today’s life course, living together is often an obvious prerequisite before tying the knot. Until now, there’s been little research on long-term cohabiters’ perceptions of marriage. In his recent research, the late Timothy Ortyl complicates conventional notions of intimacy in American society by exploring the meanings long-term heterosexual cohabiters (hereafter, “LTHCs”) offer when discussing decisions to postpone or forgo marriage.
Among the many transformations of the meaning of marriage and intimacy is the de-romanticization of heterosexual marriage. Recognizing that heterosexual marriage is no longer compulsory, Ortyl sought to explore the rationales given by LTHCs about decisions to say “We do” or “We don’t.” In conducting 48 in-depth interviews with different-sex couples who lived together (unmarried) for at least 4 years, Ortyl reveals how marital attitudes are rooted in life experiences and social location. Ortyl classifies different groups of LTHCs under 6 themes, including “Risk Aversion” and “American Dreamer.” Results show that attitudinal differences vary mostly by social class and less by race and gender differences. For example, the only group that endorsed marital aspirations was the American Dreamers. Members of this category viewed marriage as a financial investment toward membership in the middle class.
Given that the five other categories of LTHCs expressed reservations about conventional notions of marriage, Ortyl sheds light on why some consider “marriagefree” the way to be. More importantly, Ortyl challenges us to think more critically about the application of concepts that privilege heterosexuality as the norm, rather than understanding the rationales behind alternative relationship decisions. While love and marriage are still pretty compatible, the findings of this innovative research suggest you certainly can—and many do—have one without the other.