"It's like I’m on human layaway" : commitment and marital decisions among long-term heteroseuxal cohabiters
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What keeps long term cohabitating couples together? I began to ask this question as I noticed more and more heterosexual people living together in long term committed relationships outside of marriage. Social commentators have decried cohabitating couples as less committed than married couples, and some research has agreed with this view, yet I personally had not seen this to be the case. As a response to this contradiction, I engage with the overall research question by exploring cohabitation and marriage decisions among ten long term heterosexual cohabitating couples as well as how the construct of commitment operates in their daily lives through a series of individual in-depth interviews. Through their stories, I situate long term heterosexual cohabitation as an outcome of a complex web of motivations, reasons, and rationales that share much in common with all cohabitating couples. I find commitment to be highly valued by these couples and produced through daily processes that bring couples closer together and heighten the cost of ending the relationship, thereby elucidating the socio-cultural factors that make long term cohabitating couples feel like they’re “already married.” By asking couples about their household division of labor and their attitudes towards marriage, I also engage with research that points to long term cohabitating couples as sites of gender egalitarianism. While these couples were more egalitarian in their housework, this was not necessarily a product of a particular affinity for gender equality. Furthermore, the ways in which they spoke about housework as well as the ways they valued marriage and weddings demonstrate that traditional gender roles still play an influential role in intercouple interactions. In the final chapter, I offer a theoretical way forward for future research on heterosexual cohabitation and identify gaps in the research that this study helps to identify.