Are Stayover Relationships the Wave of the Future?
Originally published on SexReally.com on September 29, 2011.
When my friend started dating a new dude this past summer, he didn’t think things would get serious. My pal’s a law student; the new dude studied fashion. The two made a seemingly unlikely match, yet before long, they were dating exclusively and spending every other night together. It felt natural and convenient, especially since they only lived a mile apart. But while a traditional dating book might tell you that the next stop on their road to commitment would be to move in together, neither is even interested in approaching the topic of cohabitation. For now, they’re happy enjoying each other’s company while maintaining their own apartments, where they each live with friends.
What the two of them have isn’t just a fling, but it definitely doesn’t follow the linear model we’ve come to expect of relationships. So what do you call it when you really like someone, spend the night together all the time, but don’t necessarily want to shack up? According to a team of University of Missouri researchers, that’s a “stayover relationship,” and it’s becoming a popular dating model for young adults. After interviewing 22 students and recent graduates who keep separate residences while sleeping together several times a week, the researchers concluded that the stayover relationship is “a stopgap measure between casual dating and making more formal commitments.” Some couples do later move on to cohabitation and marriage; for those who don’t, however, there’s no need to split silverware or negotiate joint custody of the dog upon break-up.
When I asked a female friend if I could talk to her about her thoughts on her own stayover relationship, she told me, “I’ve never heard of this term … i thought that’s just what couples did.” And indeed, plenty of people—not just young folks—do use the stayover model today with no fanfare. A couple generations ago, however, it never would have existed, at least not without some serious controversy. What changed in between? For one, women nowadays enjoy greater economic equality and no longer have to choose between living with their parents and moving in with their husband. It’s socially acceptable and economically feasible for them to live on their own, while simultaneously, the taboo against premarital sex have loosened. Young people today are also getting married later, in part because of higher education. That’s why those aged 18 to 29 are being referred to as “emerging adults”. As one University of Missouri researcher put it, many “are students who will soon be facing a transition point in their lives,” just like my friend and his fashion-major boyfriend. Given their inability to predict what the future might hold, long-term planning is infeasible and short-term compromises appealing.
Though we’re used to judging relationships based on when the “big question” is popped, don’t be fooled into thinking that commitment can’t coexist with the stayover model. Folks may not be getting married as early or as quickly as they used to, but even non-cohabitating couples exhibit all the traditional signs of commitment. Many regularly spend time together, share emotional intimacy, and more often than not practice sexual exclusivity. They might not share bank accounts or grocery lists, but they undoubtedly care for the other party—otherwise, why would they go through the trouble of leaving or opening up their own home for another person night after night?
Besides, while most people do view the decision to get married as the next logical step in adulthood, there are many folks who like their alone time, their own physical space, and their independence. Relieved of economic pressure and social stigma, young adults now have greater freedom to explore their relationships, their sexuality, and their own goals and interests. And some of them might very well decide that they like life better as singletons. The institution of marriage isn’t for everyone (just look at the divorce rate!), but it’s also not in danger of going away. Though the marriage rate has been declining since the 1970s, the majority of American adults still choose to get hitched. Perhaps it’s a sign of progress that those who don’t now have a few more options.
“Love” image by Daniel Dale.
Lena Chen is a blogger, writer and speaker on sex, gender and feminism. As a Harvard undergrad, she authored the blog Sex and the Ivy and her writing has been featured in The New York Times and Newsweek. She currently blogs at The Chicktionary.