Living Single

The truth about singles in our society.

Why Remarry? The Best and Worst Answers and the Set-Up in the Question

Cohabitation is not the only alternative to marriage

The question for a recent "Room for Debate" feature in the New York Times was "Why remarry?" Six experts were invited to weigh in, including our friend Nicky Grist, Executive Director of the Alternatives to Marriage Project (AtMP).

Each "Room for Debate" feature begins with an introduction that sets up the question to be debated. Here's the last paragraph of the introduction to the "why remarry" debate:

"More second marriages fail than first marriages. With the increasing acceptance of cohabitation, why remarry? Why risk that nightmare all over again?"

That's not a fairy-tale rendering of the institution of marriage, so score one point for the Times for foregoing the usual prince and princess myth. But do you see the problem? The question the Times asks is, why should you remarry when you can just cohabit? What's left out of that formulation is the possibility of choosing an option other than remarrying or cohabiting.

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Nicky Grist, happily, wasn't buying it. Her essay made the case that policies should be based on the assumptions that "caring goes beyond coupledom" and that "diverse relationships are good for people and good for society." If we acted on those values, then "Employers would extend health benefits to any household member... [and] Hospitals would let patients have any visitors they want..."

Carrying the flag for the "marriage wins - everybody get married!" contingent was Bradford Wilcox. He took the tired old myth about how the kids of single parents are doomed and gave it a new little tweak: The kids of cohabiting couples are doomed!

Andrew Cherlin's take was different: "What children need after experiencing their parents' break-up is a stable living arrangement." Americans, he notes, "tend to form new partnerships after a divorce faster than people in most other wealthy nations." The parading of new partners in and out of children's lives (whether as spouses or cohabiters) is what children find disruptive and sometimes distressing.

The other essays are worth a look, too. But as Natalya asked when she sent me the link to the debate (thanks!), what's with all these features on marriage?

Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., is author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After. She is a visiting professor at UCSB.

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