I love kids, but I’m not ready to have babies yet. If it happens, so be it, but I’m doing what I can to make sure it’s a timely event. And what I mean by “timely” is that I would like to be married first, because that’s just what I envision for myself – even if it ends up being a shot-gun wedding (Che is aware of this shot-gun wedding mandate should a baby Che come unexpectedly). Basically, I’m in no rush right now.
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.
The Ex Files: Are There New Rules of Engagement?
Originally published on March 14, 2011 on SexReally.com.
“The only time you should contact your ex is if you get engaged or you get a STD.” – Paul
My friend Jackie found out about her ex’s engagement in a very theatrical way: she read about it in The New York Times. She happened to be browsing online and stumbled upon Brian’s picture with his soon-to-be wife.
When Jackie relayed this information to me I was surprised. She’d ended her relationship with Brian only a year before and since then he’d managed to a) recover from their breakup; b) start dating someone else; c) become engaged to that someone; and d) marry her. My, what a difference a year makes. But, sometimes I guess that’s how love works. One year you’re ending a relationship and the next year you’re saying, “I do”.
Statistics show that women are waiting till later in life to marry. In the United States in the 1960s, the average age a woman got married was 20. As of 2007, that age was 26. With all that extra time, it makes sense that we’d be experiencing more relationships in our 20s. Getting married later means we have more time to date a variety of people and, hopefully, learn about love.
Yet more exes also means new questions about behavior and etiquette. For example, should we expect a phone call, email, or conversation over coffee when an ex gets engaged? Do they owe us one? Or, if you have an engagement ring on your finger, is there a need to call up the guy who you thought might be “the one” until things went sour?
I came up with four working theories on why an ex might be in touch about upcoming nuptials:
- 1. Out of courtesy. The advent of social media has changed the playing field in terms of how news gets around. Now all it takes is a change in relationship status on Facebook – one click of a button – and the whole world knows. Your ex wants to make sure you hear it from the source, rather than in such an impersonal way.
2. To rub it in. This scenario is likely to play out if the relationship didn’t end well. It’s the I’m-doing-so-freakin’-well-without-you call.
3. To see how you react to the news. Your reaction could be an indicator of how much the relationship meant to you. Or, it could be a way to gauge whether you still have any romantic feelings.
4. S/he is crazy happy and just couldn’t resist. Your ex is calling everyone s/he can think of because the joy cannot be contained.
In my own experience, I’ve received two phone calls about engagement. Jackie’s story made me think back to those conversations. Was I glad they told me? What exactly were my exes hoping to accomplish by letting me know? Is it better that I found out from the source rather than through the grapevine?
I had many questions about exes and engagement etiquette, so I decided to do something crazy. I called up one of my exes to ask why he’d called me about his engagement. Our conversation went like this:
Me: Thank you for letting me call to ask you questions about our past! I know it must be weird to know that it will be in a column for Sex Really.
Paul: (Laughing) That’s okay!
Me: When you got engaged you called to tell me your news. Why did you decide to call?
Paul: Part of it was because I thought it was something you were supposed to do. I was contacting people that I really liked and were friends. It would feel weird to tell everyone else and not let you know.
Me: Did you call any of your other exes? If so, what were the reactions you received?
Paul: Yes, I called two other people. Those two were married and I thought I would get a reaction like, “that’s great to hear.” But with you I wasn’t sure what kind of reaction I was going to get.
Me: How would you describe my reaction?
Paul: Upbeat, positive, excited.
Me: What did you think of that reaction?
Paul: I wasn’t sure if you were putting on a brave face or not. Not that it would ultimately matter anyway. When I hung up with you I thought to myself, “I hope that is how she really feels, because that would be great.”
Me: I have some theories on why people call their exes to tell them about an upcoming engagement. Can you respond to each one?
Me: First – people call to let their exes know out of courtesy.
Paul: Yes, that was part of it. I really thought it was a thing you were supposed to do. Like, a social norm that had popped up around weddings. I’m not sure where I picked up that social clue. Maybe it was movies, or TV, or just having other friends do it.
Me: Next theory – people call to rub it in.
Paul: (Laughing) Well, for us that wasn’t part of the phone call. But, one of my friends, Tom, did call his ex to tell her that he was getting married. There was a bragging aspect of it. In his mind I think he got an emotional high from showing his ex how great his life turned out.
Me: Next theory – people do it to see how their ex would react to the news. Meaning, to see if they get upset.
Paul: For us I think it was more about gauging feelings. It’s about curiosity and how that person feels about you. But the reaction that you gave was one that I hoped for. With Tom he was hoping that it wouldn’t go over well. He was hoping that she would feel like she blew it with him.
Me: Final theory – that people do it because they are so happy that they can’t contain themselves.
Paul: I could really see that as being a reason why an ex would reach out, especially if things ended on good terms. When it comes down to it, I think you should only contact an ex if you get engaged or get an STD.
I’m glad Paul called and told me about his engagement. But it would have been okay if he hadn’t, too. It did make me laugh a little when he said that he hoped I wasn’t putting on a brave face. I expected him to get involved and get married at some point and, by the time his engagement happened, everything between us was water under the bridge.
Does etiquette revolve around timing, then? Paul and I had been out of a relationship for two years when he got engaged. Maybe that one-year mark that Jackie experienced makes the difference. Perhaps the new rule of etiquette should be that if you get out of a relationship and engaged to someone else within the same year, a phone call is in order?
The curious thing about relationships and breakups is going from knowing every nuance about someone’s day to knowing nothing at all. Maybe contacting an ex about your engagement is a way of harkening back, or paying your respects, to an era when your lives were tied together.
As for me, I don’t know if I would do it. My past is in my past for a reason. It’s not that those other relationships didn’t have their time and place, but when you are looking toward the future with a partner, all the other stuff tends to go fuzzy and the road ahead is the only one that matters. The visibility of exes on that road? That probably depends.
What do you think?
Kaarin Moore is the owner of Closet Caucus, a fashion consulting company located in Washington, DC. Her goal is to help clients express who they are through the medium of clothing. You can reach her at www.closetcaucus.com or on twitter (@closetcaucus).
One More Thing to Do Before Moving In Together
Originally published on SexReally.com on November 9, 2010.
A CNN post by Wendy Atterberry of The Frisky about “Things to do before moving in together,” had some pretty solid advice for couples who are thinking about taking their relationship to the cohabiting (or, possibly, married) level. The list includes talking about money, meeting important people in your partner’s life, sharing experiences, and even deciding how you’d handle an unplanned pregnancy (in the #2 spot, no less!). I propose one, IMHO, very important addendum, though: if we’re talking about pregnancy in terms of unplanned, shouldn’t we talk about how we’re preventing unplanned pregnancy, too?
Don’t get me wrong—I think deciding how you would handle an unplanned pregnancy is absolutely necessary. If you’re living together, you’re probably having sex and no method of contraception is 100% effective (unless you’re planning on foregoing sex completely), so it’s good to have a back-up plan. I just want to add that it’s at least as important to have discussed how you, as a couple, are going to work together, tirelessly, every day (or get a long-acting method that does the heavy-lifting for you), to ensure you’re taking all necessary precautions to avoid having to employ the aforementioned back-up plan. While it’s true that no method of contraception is 100%, there are some pretty darn effective methods to choose from, nonetheless. Using one (or several) of these methods carefully and consistently can seriously reduce the likelihood that you’ll need to resort to plan #2.
If you’ll allow me to nerd out for just a moment, cohabiting couples are at particularly high risk for unplanned pregnancy. More than two-thirds of pregnancies to cohabiting women (69%) are unplanned according to The National Campaign’s DCR Report.And according to a 2009 Guttmacher policy review, “About 10% of women in their 20s are cohabiting, the largest proportion of any age-group. Cohabiting women use contraceptives at rates similar to those of married women, but, because cohabiting women typically have sex more often than married women, their rate of unintended pregnancy is more than twice that of married women or of unmarried women who are not cohabiting. It may also be that cohabiting women are not as motivated as other women to use contraceptives consistently over time, perhaps because they are more ambivalent about pregnancy.”
Indeed, The National Campaign’s Fog Zone report explored some of these themes and found that almost two-thirds (65%) of cohabiting respondents thought it likely that they would marry and have a baby with their current partner eventually. Research suggests that’s a lot less likely than they think—for example, The DCR Report shows that more than one-third (35%) of cohabiting women who had a child with their partner as a result of an unplanned pregnancy broke up with their partner by the baby’s second birthday.
If you want to see more about why even couples who are ready to live together should put some major effort into avoiding pregnancy till both partners are totally ready to be three instead of two, check out the sections of The DCR Report on mental health (Section I), relationship quality (Section H), and relationship stability (Section G). If you just want to take my word for it, please add “Talk about how to prevent unplanned pregnancy” to your checklist of things to do before moving in together, okay? Please? Even if you (or your girlfriend) use a long-acting, low-maintenance method, both partners should be knowledgeable and enthusiastic about prevention—science says that helps, too.
Liz Sabatiuk is Social Media Manager for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. When she’s not blogging about birth control and relationships, she dances and teaches Argentine tango and spends a little too much time on Facebook.
Words to Scrap: Chastity
Originally published on SexReally.com on November 23, 2009.
I’m about to toss another word into my trash bin. It can rest nicely there alongside “wedlock” (marriage is not necessarily a prison); “lost my virginity,” (have you found it yet?) and “practicing abstinence” (let me know when you’ve got it down).
The word this time is “chaste,” defined by Webster’s New World Dictionary as “not indulging in unlawful sexual activity.”
I’m okay with chaste’s first cousin, “abstinent.” Being abstinent implies something you choose to do or not do. You decide whether or not to abstain from smoking, drinking, or sex.
The word chaste, however, describes your moral character. As Webster’s says, it implies “moral excellence manifested by forbearance from acts or thoughts that do not accord with virginity or strict marital fidelity.”
In other words, it is a label applied by others, a reputation to uphold in certain circles lest you fall from grace and become a slut (while we’re at it, let’s toss that word also).
This week’s episode of the Fox comedy “Glee” illustrated beautifully the dark side of the words “chaste” and its more common sister, “chastity”. The parents of Quinn, the pretty, blonde president of the Chastity Club at McKinley High School, learned that their daughter was pregnant - and threw her out of their house.
The alleged father of her baby (although, as viewers know, he’s not the real dad) suffered no such abuse from his mom who, in saintly fashion, took Quinn in. No surprise there. Celibacy – the guy version of chastity – is rarely expected of any man unless he wears a cassock and collar.
The word chaste means pure, the word chastity, purity. Does that make women who have sex outside marriage impure? According to model/makeup artist Jessica Hoffman (and others), it does.
Midweek.com, a news website based in Honolulu, ran a profile this week of Hoffman, 28. Hoffman recently started Pure Beauty Ministries, a business that advises 14- to 34-year-olds on fashion and abstinence. What really got to a friend who read the article, then alerted me to it, was the way Hoffman not-too-subtly described sex outside of marriage.
“The word purity means not to be contaminated with anything,” she told the reporter (my italics).
So all sex other than married sex is dirty? What would the 80% to 90% of unmarried 20-somethings who have had sex say to that? Would it change their behavior, make them feel bad, or just annoy them?
The words chaste and chastity bring to mind a several-hundred-year-old chastity belt I saw displayed in the museum of the Doge’s Palace in Venice. Academics now debate whether such belts, forged from metal and equipped with teeth and keys, were actually used during the Middle Ages and Renaissance.
But as I stood in the palace staring at this contraption I shuddered to think that someone – assuredly a man –even had the idea to clamp a large, spike-laden piece of metal around a woman’s private parts and lock away her “goods” from use by anyone but himself.
And I continue to be puzzled that couples today can and do buy similar devices of torture for sex play. A woman wrote the Ottawa Sun recently, worried about her married sister. She said her sister allowed said husband to lock her up in a chastity belt 24 hours a day. When he wanted to have sex with her, he would unlock it.
“She has no access to the keys, except when he is away,” this woman wrote. “Then he leaves a spare key in a sealed container so that he knows she tampered with it.” Read: her sexuality belongs to him, not her.
So it was as well in the Netherlands during the Renaissance. Hans Memling, an artist of that time, painted an allegory of chastity depicting an ivory-skinned, fully-clothed maiden perched on the top of a mountain, surrounded by a moat and protected by two lions. Her eyes are cast down demurely, her hands crossed in front of her strategic place.
More than 500 years later, women have made their way down that mountain to lie in bed alongside men and enjoy the same sexual freedom that men enjoy. Like men, they sometimes use that freedom wisely, at other times foolishly.
To categorize them - or their male counterparts - as pure or impure teaches them nothing about how to handle the moral complexities they will face in their lives, including their sexual lives.
Laura Sessions Stepp is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, formerly with The Washington Post, who specializes in the coverage of young people. She has written two books: “Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both,” and “Our Last Best Shot: Guiding Our Children through Early Adolescence.” She is a consultant to The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.