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    Thursday, December 01, 2005

    Intimate Strangers

    The Voice takes on the economics of cohabitation in their "Generation Debt" series:

    When I reach James, 32, he's on the way home to the two- bedroom condo in Spanish Harlem that he purchased in November with his partner, Dean, 34. They've been registered as domestic partners with the state of New York for four years and cohabiting for the same amount of time. "We're at the same level as any of our siblings who are married," says James—meaning, for example, that when they go home to visit, they share a room.

    For James, who works in advertising, and his partner, an architect, their relationship provides both emotional and financial stability. "We have each other for support financially. We have a joint savings account. We put our names on the mortgage together, so the taxes are a lot better." In fact, they're just about as economically secure as an unmarried couple can be. And therein lies the problem.

    While cohabitants, gay or straight, save on rent, they miss out on many of the financial benefits that come with an official union. ...

    Dorian Solot of the Alternatives to Marriage Project. Together with her unmarried partner, Marshall Miller, Solot advocates for a "more accurate definition of family." "Unmarried couples are often considered legal strangers. This has a huge impact on their ability to get certain kinds of benefits," such as health care, hospital visitation rights, or even housing.

    Yet that lack of official ties, Solot says, can work the other way too. "I've heard couples say they decided to delay marriage because one partner has a lousy credit rating. The one with good credit can then buy a car or house. ...

    Studies indicate that married couples save more, invest more, and wind up more financially secure on average than those without that explicitly long-term commitment. This is, of course, more of a concern for unmarried couples closer to 30. They face obstacles not only because of society but also the way they themselves see their relationships.

    Conly and Gimber, like James and Dean, do contribute to a joint savings account and help each other control their spending. But many other couples don't, like Aisha Burnes and Lanka Tattersall, who lived together in Long Island City before Tattersall began her Ph.D. at Harvard. Burnes, 30, is an artist and self-employed graphic designer with about $5,000 in credit card debt, while her girlfriend, 27, lives on loans. They have kept their finances separate, but they share a weakness for good food and wine. "It's a problem. We have to be like, OK, we can't go out for any more nice dinners. I actually think she's worse about it than I am."

    I can relate to the last bit. Somehow, when you live alone, eating ramen or popcorn every meal doesn't seem so bad, but, when you live with someone, they can bring out these desires for pleasures that cost you. Plus, you don't want to work as much if you have someone you love to come home to.

    Studies showing that married couples save more, invest more, and are more financially secure seem automatically biased to me. Cohabitation for same-sex and opposite-sex couples is getting more and more common all the time, so it's hard to really believe anything on the subject that goes back more than a couple of years. Also, it's entirely possible that people with more conventional lifestyle choices are alsomore likely to make more conventional career choices, which offer them 401Ks, retirement plans, stock and investment options, etc.

    Alternatives to Marriage Project is awesome. Sections on Cohabitation; Living Single; Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans; Marriagefree; Polyamory; Domestic Partnership; Legal Issues; Common Law Marriage; Commitment Ceremonies; and Unmarried Parenting.


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