Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Premarital Cohabitation: Pros, Cons, and Stats.

I almost never post about my wedding on this blog, mostly because Kim Kardashian and Mark Wahlberg and guys named "Wiener" keep doing dumb enough stuff to keep me otherwise occupied.  But, in order to be considered legally married in this country, a young bride is required to show proof that she has read at least 2,000 wedding blogs, etiquette books, shallow advice columns, and intimidating do-it-yourself project guides (DIYs!!!!!!) that make you feel like your inability to conjure a creative use for recycled organic burlap sacks as centerpieces just goes to prove you never deserved that ring in the first place.

I love stock photos!
Personal bridal bitterness aside, while reading my requisite "perfect wedding" blogs (and the conspicuously less ubiquitous "successful happy marriage" blogs), I keep stumbling across one particular subject of heated controversy: the issue of pre-marital cohabitation.  If you're a woman in her 20s, married or not, you have probably had numerous conversations with your female friends over the benefits and detriments of living together before marriage.  And,  remarkably, cohabitation is an extremely polarizing, almost political issue.  The discussion is almost never about what our personal, immediate choices are, but whether living together is fundamentally "right" or "wrong" for hypothetical couples everywhere.  Further,  both sides bolster their viewpoints with concepts like "morality" and preface our statements with words like "believe."  ("I just don't believe in living together," we girls will say, as if the fact of two people living together is preposterous and inconceivable.)

I, on many occasions, have been guilty of this behavior.  And to contextualize what I'm about to tell you, I should say that I was always on the "don't believe" end of the absurdly binary spectrum, even before anyone had ever offered or desired to cohabitate with me.  It's true, I didn't "believe" in this practice in the abstract; however, I cannot say with certainty what decision I would actually make as a 27-year-old engaged woman because I have never had the occasion to make that decision.  You see, my fiance and I have lived in different cities for our entire relationship, which will change the week after our wedding, so we never had the opportunity to realistically discuss the choice to "move in together" either before or during our engagement.  So, despite my previously espoused "disbelief" in the concept, the truth is, I don't know what I would've done given the autonomy of choice. 

Disbelievers in premartial cohabitation are not the only ones guilty of asserting the "right" choice though; since getting engaged and explaining my circumstances, I've gotten a barrage of everything from subtle raised eyebrows to the more direct "that's a bad idea, you should really live together first" commentary on my personal life.  Especially because my situation is exacerbated by distance, girlfriends, acquaintances, and strangers have all ventured opinions about how wise or unwise it is to get married without shacking up.  So, this running real-life commentary, combined with reading a bunch of misquoted statistics on wedding blogs prompted this blog post.  I'd like to set the record straight about what the cohabitation studies really say, and talk a little bit about marriage and its potential success -- at least as measured by statistics.

The first major key to understanding the following statistics -- and the core source of most misquotes and misinterpretation -- is the difference between "correlation" and "causality."  These terms may seem rudimentary (and forgive me if they are to you), but they are so often misunderstood in the world of interpreting scientific studies.  For a clear, entertaining, totally readable treatment of this concept, I recommend the book Freakonomics and its sequel SuperFreakonomics, which you can devour entirely on a mid-distance flight and looks way better when brandished in front of your in-flight neighbor than your suspiciously worn copy of 50 Shades of Grey. (I'm so topical, y'all! Finger on the PULSE!) Here's a short video by the authors on the concept if I'm too dry and lame for you:

Reduced to its simplest core, many events can correlate with one another without one necessarily causing the other.

The actual statistics on cohabitation come from this study by the CDC, and what they show is that couples who live together before marriage are indeed more likely to get divorced.  What they do not show is that living together before marriage causes divorce.  Rather, some of the factors that correlate with a couple's likelihood to live together unmarried also correlate with their likelihood to never marry or not stay married.   The factors are annoyingly predictable: education levels, race, family history of marriage, age of first marriage, timing of first childbirth, importance of religion, etc.  All of these factors are discussed in depth (with charts and everything!) in the study.  (It's surprisingly readable if you're interested.)

But what the study says about cohabitation is this:
"Previous cohabitation experience was significantly associated with marriage survival probabilities for men. In general, men who cohabited prior to their first marriage had lower probabilities of the marriage surviving to the 10th anniversary than those who did not cohabit prior to their first marriage."
However, if a couple was engaged at the time they cohabitated, the statistics on marriage success were nearly identical to couples who never cohabitated before marriage. (The New York Times also did a piece on this.)  "The likelihood that a marriage would last 10 years was 71% for men who were engaged at cohabitation and 69% for men who had never cohabited before their first marriage." Women had similar statistics.

So, it's true that people who are more likely to live together before marriage have a lower chance, statistically, of being married in 10 years.  But it's also true that people who live together before marriage are less likely to get married at all.  And, it's also true that, though there is a correlation between premarital cohabitation and 10 year divorce rates, there's a larger correlation between other factors and divorce:
 "While there was a 9% difference in the ten-year divorce rate between couples who cohabited and those who didn't, the difference was 30% by family income (couples with an income of $50,000 or more are much less likely to get divorced), 24% by age at marriage (women who marry when they're 25 or older are less likely to divorce), 14% by religion (religious women are less likely to divorce), and 13% by education (women with education beyond high school are less likely to divorce)." (Source: unmarried.org)
One thing is for sure, more people are doing it.  This comprehensive study is a decade old now, and who knows how the numbers might have changed, but the basic principles -- especially as far as age, education, and delaying childbirth are concerned -- likely still hold true (not least because these three factors also influence the big marriage divider: household income).  My basic, imploring point, though, is aimed at all you wedding blog commentators: don't use statistics to bolster moral arguments unless you're sure you understand what the statistics are saying.  Moving in together won't make you get a divorce, just as putting a ring on it before you live in the same house won't make you stay married forever.  But having an intelligent and respectful conversation about marriage rates in our country? That's hot.  Hot like biscuits.  Dance biscuits.

Oh and P.S.: I'm getting married on Saturday.  'Til then, Boomstickers!

Friday, June 15, 2012

U SUCK @ GRAMMAR: Was vs. Were Subjunctive

U SUCK @ GRAMMER* is a column I write (with editing help from my friend Ashley because you guys are super critical) that teaches a basic grammar lesson.  It's usually based on recent blunders and personal pet peeves.  Previously,  we've looked at what the hell "biweekly" means, the tricky difference between "affect" and "effect," where to put "I" instead of "me," and how the hell to use apostrophes.  Today, we're going to tackle:

U SUCK @ GRAMMER: "Were" vs. "Was" in the Subjunctive

My first true love was Paul Simon.  I owned every album, knew every word, read every liner note, rewound and re-watched his scene in Annie Hall over and over again.  I, along with approximately 15 other people in the world, actually purchased (with money) a VHS copy of his directorial debut, One Trick Pony. (I'll sell it to you for $10 or best offer.)  Obviously, Paul Simon is one of the greatest poets and lyricists of our or any age.  But in one sad instance, he betrayed me.

This is the chorus from the 1966, #5 Billboard hit off the double-platinum Parsley Sage Rosemary and Thyme album, "Homeward Bound:"

Homeward bound
I wish I was
Homeward bound
Home, where my thought's escaping
Home, where my music's playing
Home, where my love lies waiting
Silently for me

But it's not "I wish I was," Paul, it's "I wish I were," because you're using the subjunctive tense!  And I sing it that way over Paul's voice every time it comes on the radio because I truly am an asshole.
The subjunctive is a grammatical mood that indicates "unreality," i.e., a wish, desire, hypothetical, possibility, etc.  The background is a little complicated, but the rule of thumb is largely that whenever you say that you "wish" something, you should use the verb form "were" instead of "was."  This seems counterintuitive until you learn it and then it grates on you all day long because people never say it correctly.

Grammar Girl recommends thinking of the song "If I Were a Rich Man," from the musical Fiddler on the Roof to remember the correct version (and to prove that gay songwriters are way better at grammar than straight ones). Michael Leddy reminds us that it's always "If I were you," and never "If I was you," because I'll never be you.

However, like the mistake we sometimes make defaulting to "so and so and I" instead of "so and so and me" no matter what the context, this rule isn't quite as simple as "if you use 'if,' you use 'were.'"  There's an annoying caveat that might, at first, make you want to throw up your hands and just go with Paul Simon, but makes more sense with some examples.  This rule requires you to use that old English class favorite, context clues. 
No, you idiot, I wish she WERE grammatically correct!

You see, sometimes you can use "if" or "could" to introduce phrases that are NOT in the subjunctive mood.  Sometimes, "if" can still be part of an indicative phrase, which requires "was."

Basically,  the realistic potential of the possibility you're discussing informs whether you use "was" or "were."  In circumstances where you believe the thing you're referencing reasonably will happen, or reasonably could have happened, the sentence is indicative and you can use plan old "was."  In circumstances where you're referencing something "contrary to fact" as this blogger succinctly put it, you use "were."

That's why "If I were a rich man..." uses "were," because Tevya in Fiddler is not a rich man, nor does he reasonably believe he will become one. And Paul Simon is wishing he were going home, while knowing that he is not going home, and is therefore expressing a statement contrary to fact.

However, if you're trying to explain a friend arriving late to a party, you could say, "if Joe was still at work when I left at 7:00, he might have missed the bus."  Since Joe was at work when you left at 7:00, that statement is not obviously false, and in fact may actually be exactly what happened, it's not subjunctive. And it just sounds right, doesn't it? 

How about this: what if you're talking about your dumb, hot friend Roger.  You could say "if Roger was to keep working out like he has been, he'll look smokin' hot by the end of the summer." Because Roger is working out and it's not contrary to fact to assume he'll continue, this is indicative. But you could follow up by saying "I just wish Roger were not such a dumbass."   Because, of course, Roger will never not be a dumbass, and to posit anything else is just wishful thinking.

*Grammar is intentionally spelled incorrectly as "grammer" in the title to parody ironically incorrect use of the word. Don't be a douchenozzle and try to point out that we spelled it wrong.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Flicky Friday (ft. Robert Redford)

I'm reading Robert Redford: The Biography by Michael Feeny Callan (read Vanity Fair's substantial excerpt here), so lately I've been a little more obsessed than usual with Robert Redford.  (I'm also working on a longer blog piece about the collaborations of Robert Redford and William Goldman [The Princess Bride] which should excite approximately three of you.)  I've been re-watching some of my favorite Redford films, so I wanted to feature him on today's Flicky Friday. If you don't know/love/obsess over Robert Redford because you're not mentally 65 years-old like I am, here's a rundown on his best films for you to peruse.

And here's the excerpt from the screenplay for true Goldman fans.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

WTF Wednesday: Jillian Michaels is Underwater

I have a love/hate relationship with Jillian Michaels -- some days I feel super motivated and proud of myself when I get my "30 Day Shred" on, some days I hope that one of her precariously-sports-bra'd boobs swings out and slaps her in the damn face if I have to do one more one-legged burpee.

On one of the days when I wasn't wishing Jillian Michaels would squat herself to death while I forced her to use increasingly heavy hand-weights, I found a new DVD of hers at Target.  I do her "30 Day Shred" and her "Yoga Meltdown" (hint: the only thing "yoga" about that video is that you do it barefoot), some others with varying degrees of success and loathing, so I thought I might try her "Kickbox FastFix" because I look super sexy doing donkey kicks (hint: it's more fun if you yell "Don't Rape Me!" while you donkey-kick in your living room). 

So I picked up the DVD box, and was really confused:

Is Jillian Michaels underwater in this picture?  Is that a shipwreck behind her?  Is she kick-box scuba diving?  Is she going to pivot-kick some 15th century Spanish mariner's relics? Does she have to roundhouse-kick sea creatures in order to return to the surface?  DO I HAVE TO DO THIS WORKOUT HOLDING MY BREATH?

I mean, what IS this?  Who came up with that background?  For a kickboxing DVD, the most decidedly NOT underwater workout ever?  At least go with something classic like the 90's ubiquitous laser background from every elementary school photo:

If it was good enough for Jane Fonda, it should be good enough for Jillian. (You can check out more of these at We Have Lasers!!!!!)

Or even the excellent Microsoft Windows 3.1 Screensaver background would've been a superior choice:

Well, I'm off to go swimming with Jillian.  Cross your fingers that one of her conspicuously loose boobs doesn't fall out while she's lunging.