Hannah Seligson – A little bit married

We recently spoke with Hannah Seligson about her new book “A Little Bit Married: How to Know When It’s Time to Walk Down the Aisle or Out the Door”:

Why did you write this book? Personal experience?

Of course! I’m my own guinea pig. After my first round of being A Little Bit Married, I became intrigued by this new dating pattern that I saw practically every 20-something friend of mine ebb in and out of. Here were these relationship that fifty or sixty years ago would have most likely culminated in marriage, but today often do not. So the book is an attempt to understand why that’s the case.

(And this may be the same question): What are your qualifications for writing it?

While the book was inspired by personal experience, it’s all based on reporting I did (I’m a journalist), interviewing A Little Bit Marrieds and a wide-range of experts.

How did what you call “the new romantic rite of passage” (the long term relationship) come about? Why now?

The confluence of marrying for love, easy access to birth control, and the slower (and more arduous) march to reach the milestones that once marked adulthood means that many young people are delaying marriage and lingering in this gray area before marriage.

Do you think people waiting to get married until later in life (in their 30s as opposed to 20s) is a good thing for relationships?

Two family law scholars, Naomi Cahn at George Washington University and June Carbone at the University of Missouri at Kansas City, studied marriage rates in blue states (defined as those that voted Democratic in 2004) and red states (voted Republican in 2004). They looked at five states with the highest median age for marriage (all blue states) and those with lowest median age (all red states). They found that marrying younger puts couples at greater risk for divorce. The reason? Couples did much better in marriage after they had gained some emotional and financial maturity.

When so many marriages end in divorce anyway, why is getting married such a big deal — especially if you already have a successful, functional, committed, exclusive relationship? (Did you ever see that awesome movie starring Goldie Hawn and Burt Reynolds called “Best Friends” — them getting married ruins their relationship!)

Despite all the treacheries of marriage, young people, even A Little Bit Marrieds, want to get married. Marriage, plain and simple, is still a big deal to people in this country. The majority of A Little Bit Marrieds I interviewed said they want to be married when they have children. Then there are the tax benefits, and many just want to want to express their commitment to each other with the highest form our society currently offers.

There’s two camps of thought: don’t live together until you get married because that just ruins things and makes each partner take the other for granted AND definitely live together before you get married to see if you’re truly compatible. Where do you stand?

I stand with what the research shows, which says that if you only live with one person before you get married, you have no greater chance of getting divorced than someone who hasn’t.  The reality today is the vast majority of people will live together before they get married. My soapbox is more about how couples prepare to move in together.

What’s your stance on women who want to get married just coming out and proposing?

Well, this happens quite often, as I discovered researching A Little Bit Married. Many male proposals are precipitated by a female proposal that sounds something like: “I want to marry you, but I can’t wait around forever.” Women, typically, are a bit ahead of guys on the marriage timetable. So I’m all in favor of the female proposal. If women stopped “proposing,” I’m convinced the birth rate would stagnate.

Isn’t a guy saying “I’m not ready to get married” just code for “I’m not ready to get married to you and probably never will”?

According to books like “He’s Just Not That Into You.”  Sometimes it means he never will, and sometimes it’s more complicated. I interviewed many guys in long-term relationships who weren’t ready to get married, but not because they didn’t love or want to marry their girlfriend. They were stalling because they hadn’t set themselves on a career path and felt they weren’t financially secure enough for marriage. Many of these guys, when they felt more more “grown-up,” did propose.

This is a book for women, but did you come across any instances where the guys wanted to tie the knot and the women were resisting?

A few, but in most cases it was the other way around. But the irony! Marriage gives men so many sweetners that I’m shocked I don’t see a man on one knee on every street corner.