Over the last five decades, the percentage of couples who live together before marriage has increased by nearly 900 percent.
If we think of a wedding as a coming-of-age ceremony, it merits the kind of pomp and circumstance that’s currently the norm. But a wedding isn’t a coming-of-age ceremony — at least for the vast majority of modern American couples.
Getting married used to mean Big Changes in your life, particularly if you were a woman. It meant moving out of your parents’ home. It meant combining your finances (or being financially beholden to a new person). It meant losing your virginity.
As for virginity, 75 percent of people have premarital sex by age 20, a percentage that only increases the older we get. (This isn’t really a new development; nearly nine in ten women who were born in the 1940s had sex before marriage.)
And yet we continue to celebrate marriage as the initiator of these changes. But in reality, marriage often acknowledges the life a woman has been leading for years.
The biggest change for most newly married American women? Getting a new last name, and even that isn’t as common as it once was.
What we should be celebrating is when a couple moves in together.
That, for most, is the biggest harbinger of change. It means signing a legal document (a.k.a. a lease) that makes you responsible for a key part of another person’s well-being. It means combining property, blending finances, sharing schedules, and building a life as two people rather than one. Some studies even find cohabiting before marriage a key part to couples staying satisfied in the long run.
But moving in together barely gets a nod from modern society. Heck, you’re lucky if people get you a housewarming gift.
Tell people you’re getting married, though? Well, you know what happens.
Elisabeth Kramer is a day-of wedding coordinator and writer based in the Pacific Northwest. Read more of her work about the Wedding Industrial Complex.
This originally appeared on Unwed: Not Your Typical Wedding Blog. There you’ll also find a Q&A series with women who’ve planned their weddings and a series about nontraditional wedding planning resources.