POSSLQ, pronounced “POSS-L-Q”, is an acronym created by the U. S. Census folks, to mean “Persons of Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters”.
Charles Osgood of CBS radio:
There’s nothing that I wouldn’t do
If you would be my POSSLQ
You live with me and I with you,
And you will be my POSSLQ.
I’ll be your friend and so much more;
That’s what a POSSLQ is for.
As I have noted in these pages, I will have been married to the same wife, my lovely Joan, for just about forty-nine years. Next year, as a matter of fact, we are contemplating a cruise with children and grandchildren (details to be arranged later). For the most part, in spite of my irrational and poor behavior on occasions, and due to Joan’s overwhelming patience and forbearing, it’s been a good marriage. If the test of a marriage is the aggregate level of character and maturity and decency of children and grandchildren, then we have done damn well indeed.Back in the day, one simply did not move in with a person with whom there was shared affection. Both my parents and Joan’s parents would have simply become apoplectic. In fact, living together was, in our respective small towns, not in our lexicon. However. . .
During the 1970’s and 1980’s, the idea of living together without marriage became more and more common. A study published by USA Today in 2005, notedthat couples who moved in together used to raise eyebrows. Living together out of wedlock, once considered “shacking up” or “living in sin,” had lost its stigma as cohabitation has become mainstream.
Things seem to be changing.
The number of unmarried, opposite-sex households overall is rising dramatically – even in those states where laws against intimate relations between unmarried partners are still on the books. All in all, the census bureau estimates 4,850,000 couples now live together without marriage. The data seems to indicate, however, that cohabitation without true commitment is not all that advantageous to either party, emotionally or legally.
The easy and most readily disposed of aspect of the situation is the legal one.
As in so may things, California is a unique place! A California “domestic partnership” a legal relationship available to couples of opposite sex in which at least one party is at least 62 years of age. It affords families a wide range of rights and responsibilities similar to marriage. (The California law also provides for same-sex relationships but that is wholly outside the scope of this article.) The advantages of a formal “civil union” or “domestic partnership” is to offer some standing to each partner to claim inheritance rights, make health-care decisions, obtain health insurance coverage, even pension rights. On the other hand, a formal arrangement may require a formal dissolution!
A number of states, including Florida, treat unmarried heterosexual sex as a crime. Recent state and U. S. Supreme Court decisions, on the other hand, would seem to indicate that these statutes are likely unconstitutional and will wither away, unlamented. There are rarely, if ever, prosecutions based on the consensual heterosexual sexual activities of adults.
In recent years the morality of premarital sex has become a politically divisive issue in the United States, since the prohibition of premarital sex is the basis of much conservative thought and positions. The policies of the Right are opposed by groups such as Planned Parenthood and most liberal members of Congress, and the debate primarily dealing with abstinence-only education has brought the issue of premarital sex to the forefront of the Culture Wars.
Some jurisdictions allow for “common law” marriage, namely a relationship wherein the parties are legally married. The essential distinctions of a common law marriage are: that the marriage is neither licensed or solemnized, there is no public record of the marriage, and the parties have had to hold themselves out as husband and wife. The parties have to be legally able to marry. By the way, there is no such thing as a “common-law divorce. The splitting parties have to go to Court. Florida is a state that does not allow non-ceremonial marriages.
The much more difficult questions arise out of considering the consequences of cohabitation without marriage. There are a plethora of them.
Generally, cohabitation is a lousy idea, from a practical, legal, emotional, and psychological point of view.
Despite changing attitudes toward sex and gender roles, the substance of the marriage vow has changed very little and uniform among nearly all mainstream faiths. Marriage is seen as a permanent union, which includes the promise of sexual and financial union and of mutual support through periods of ill health and distress. Each part of this public vow is part of marriage but the most important is probably the promise of permanence.
There are a number of commonly accepted myths about cohabitation without marriage, with being a POSSLQ.
The first myth is “Everyone is doing it.”
In studies of college-age singles, somewhere between 20 and 38 percent are not sexually active and some 60 to 70 percent of students do not cohabit. Therefore, to say “everybody’s doing it,” is a myth and does not hold up as a valid justification for cohabitation. Moreover, as a representative of the Catholic Bishops of Pennsylvania pointed out, “just because everyone does something doesn’t make it right or any less serious. A couple’s choice to live together is not simply made in isolation. It affects everyone in relationship with these two people – parents, brothers, sisters, friends, and even other members of the community”. As noted below, some of these statistics may be invalid or at least questionable. For the most part, but not exclusively, cohabiting couples are less well-educated and less affluent than the average; thus college students may not be the ideal population to study and sample.
The second myth is that cohabiting couples are more likely to eventually marry, have a longer lasting relationship and a more stable marriage.
Just the opposite appears to be true according to research, although it is sometimes difficult to determine cause and effect or, as we lawyer-types say, engaging in a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. For example, studies demonstrate that cohabiting couples have less income, statistically, than married couples. It can be argued that this is caused by a skewed sample; people of lower income and wealth tend to live together.
However, evidence on the advantages/disadvantages of cohabitation is fairly consistent.
A Columbia University study cited in New Woman magazine found that “only 26% of women surveyed and 19% of the men married the person with whom they were cohabiting.” A more comprehensive study concluded, “About 40% of cohabiting unions in the U.S. break up without the couple getting married.” One of the reasons may be that those who cohabit drift from one partner to another in search of the ‘right’ person. The average POSSLQ has several partners in a lifetime.
And, if they marry, they are more likely to divorce.
The argument is made that cohabiting couples get to know each other and, thereafter, when they marry, they are more familiar with each other’s habits and personalities. Probably not. Such knowledge comes from and as a result of a committed, permanent relationship. A transient situation is artificial, a series of dates as it were; with each party free to leave, there is no incentive for “working things out”. According to studies published in American Sociological Review, couples who marry after a period of cohabitation are at a 65% to 96% greater risk of separating and/or divorcing than marriages without prior cohabitation.
Incidents of physical and emotional abuse is more common among unmarried cohabitating couples.
Numerous studies have found that physical attacks are more common and more severe among live-in couples than among those who are married. A Justice Department report found that women are 62 times more likely to be assaulted by a live-in boyfriend than by a husband. One research study at Washington State University concluded that aggression is at least twice as common among cohabiters as it is among married partners. During a one-year period, about 35 out of every 100 cohabiting couples had experienced physical aggression, compared to 15 out of every 100 married couples. There is also evidence that child abuse occurs more frequently in a non-marriage union.
There are a number of legal matters to be considered.
If a couple enter into a relationship without marriage, there are some “housekeeping” and legal matters to be arranged. Assume that criminal action is unlikely and no common-law marriage is involved, there are still issues that the law resolves by marriage. In lieu of marriage, the parties are on their own.
If and when the parties separate, issues of the disposition of property and possible support will have to be settled. Unless additional documents are obtained, neither party may make medical, financial, end of life or other arrangements and decisions for the other. Neither party has automatic inheritance rights, and the list goes on and on. The very lack of binding arrangements that made the arrangement so attractive, suddenly is a disadvantage!
And, so. . .I have not presumed to consider the positions of the major religious faiths on this matter. I have, moreover, attempted to avoid moral judgments. This is an area to be considered by each individual.On the other hand, objectively, being a POSSLQ is probably not that great an idea.