Tuesday 26 March 2013

The perils of prolonged dating (and cohabitation)


I tend not to give lifestyle advice in this blog - but here is a subject which I am pretty sure about...

For this post I will leave aside the Christian perspective, and simply use the the mainstream secular hedonic/ utilitarian calculus about 'what makes people happy'.


It is nearly always a mistake to have long term and sexual relationships outside of marriage if you ever hope or intend to become married - especially for women.

This is because a prolonged close relationship induces psychological dependency (yes, it does); and this dependency is exacerbated when the relationship is sexual; and this dependency is further exacerbated when there is cohabitation.


(Plus, the gratification of a sexual relationship makes it easier to delay and delay a decision to split; but if there no sexual relationship outwith marriage, then there would be a greater and increasing pressure either to get on with it and marry, or split ASAP.)


So it may prove difficult/ impossible/ or take a prolonged and miserable period for a person to extricate themselves from a long term dating relationship.

Yet the very fact of a long term dating/ cohabiting relationship is de facto evidence that the other person is not suitable for marriage, that the couple are not suitable marriage partners.


So people get stuck, sometimes for ages, in a relationship that is 'going nowhere' because on the one hand they do not want to marry (to 'commit') to their partner, but on the other hand they have become dependent (psychologically, perhaps sexually) - and find it extremely hard to break away.

(Plus, being in a relationship going nowhere, or especially cohabiting, will at least deter much more suitable potential marriage partners from dating you - and may mean that you altogether miss the chance of marriage to a real soulmate due to the complications and compromises of being in a semi-detached situation.)

This situation of 'cannot commit but cannot split' can persist for many years, especially through the careerist twenties; and (especially for women) may continue until it is 'too late' for marriage and/or family.


So, my advice is, if possible, to date people from your 'circle', so you already know their reputation (and what they are like) before you start dating; then swiftly evaluate whether they are suitable to marry (to make a permanent commitment with) - and this process should take a few months at most.

(Therefore do not, except in exceptional circumstances, let the dating drag-on past 6 months-a year.)

You will soon know either to get engaged with a fixed plan to marry at such and such a time, or else to split-up.


(The above almost always applies except where the person involved is a psychopath, and is immune to dependency (or rather, is unable to love); and is simply using their partner as a supplier of sexual gratification. But there is also a sense in which prolonged dating relationships tend to make people into exploitative psychopaths: to develop psychopathic habits.) 


Matthew C. said...

It really quite boggles the mind, how anyone could ever think our culture could manage without the guidance of religion. . .

MC said...

"but if there no sexual relationship outwith marriage, then there would be a greater and increasing pressure either to get on with it and marry, or split ASAP"

In retrospect, it is utterly amazing just how many beneficent social phenomena were underpinned entirely by the expectation chastity before marriage.

We Mormons are mocked (not least by our own) for out lightning-fast dating practices. But it's only rational...

George Goerlich said...

I lived "prolonged dating" and my life improved immensely after marrying. It seems the cornerstone to life development.

The inverse case would be as a sex addict, life development is a means to acquire sex and commitment would be an ending, leaving life purposeless.

Bruce Charlton said...

@MC - As so often my ideas are stolen from Mormons! - this point was clarified from me when I read an empirical research article about Mormon dating (Mormon fertility has been for five years an academic interest of mine, in a small and amateurish fashion); and my surprise at the fact that successful Temple marriages (in which the couple swear to be faithful partners for Time and *Eternity*) were so often decided-upon within two or three months. This contrasted with the 'conventional wisdom' of my youth, in which you were supposed to 'road test' your marriage partner in a long term sexual and probably cohabiting relationship before making a lifetime (not eternal!) commitment - yet seeing that this pattern demonstrably did not work and had obviously (on average) weakened marriage.

Bruce Charlton said...

@GG - What I wanted to get at here is that - because the power of sex is trivialized - it is all too easy for people to get-into seriously-sub-optimal relationship which they then find themselves unable to get out of.

In modern slang, a lot of people obviously 'cannot handle' long-term sexual relationships; and consequently have their lives wrecked by them.

(By wrecked, I mean they fail to experience a solid marriage and family life which otherwise they might reasonably have expected).

But, in a sex addicted society, without religion, where sex is the primary motivator and giver of meaning; people fear that any serious attempt to remedy this problem and reverse the 'perverse incentives' (in an economic sense) will deprive them personally of the sexual possibilities (possibilities is all they are) which are the only thing that keeps them going.

Jonathan C said...

Seems like good advice...for women.

But the divorce culture for men in the West has become so vicious, it seems insuperable. If I marry I am reasonably certain that I will be divorced five years later, with all her friends/relatives/lawyers/counsellors telling her I am scum and she is a moral role model for taking most of my savings and 2/3 my future income, for never allowing me to speak to my children again, for falsely accusing me of molesting them and beating her, and I will wind up in jail because I am no longer able to earn the salary I earned before the Great Worldwide Financial Crash of 2015, and my child support alone is 160% of my current gross earnings.

That is how marriage works in America now. I know from experience that I am not "alpha" enough to avoid this outcome. So as much as I like the pictures you paint, Bruce, I do not see them as a realistic choice for me.

Perhaps there is some country in Southeast Asia where the law still favors men and I could find a bride and make a reasonable life.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JC - Or you could get killed by a car tomorrow, or by cancer next year.

Statistics can be misleading when you only need to find the *one* woman to marry.

(But maybe the root problem is that you are not sufficiently religious; and a suitable woman would not marry you?)

And if it all goes horribly wrong, despite you doing your best and doing the right thing, then that would be terrible; but life can be like that in innumerable ways, alas alas - because the happier we are or have been, the sharper the contrast of misery; and we should try our best not to allow this fact to prevent us from doing what is right.

JP said...

If I marry I am reasonably certain that I will be divorced five years later

If you and your spouse are intelligent, educated, and not of low social class, then in fact it is very likely that you will NOT be divorced -- ever!

Now go forth, marry and reproduce!

Nate said...

First time commenter here.

My life is a classic example of the blessings of chastity before marriage.

I'm a mormon-and a true believer-my wife and I dated for about a month before we got engaged. We were married within 6 months of meeting. I was married at age 23. 23 years and many children later, I'm still quite happily married to a woman that I still find quite attractive.

I'd do it all the same way if I had to do it again. I've had a very happy, productive, wonderful life.

As I look back, though, I know that it is because of religious faith-and its requirement of chastity before marriage-that it has been possible.

George Goerlich said...

I didn't mean to state "I did prolonged dating", but that from personal experience it was a very large and regrettable mistake. Even though I believe she was a great marriage choice, the prolonged-dating lead to me to treat my future wife very poorly (i.e. testing, dismissively, selfishly, neglectful).

I agree, either we should have not dated for long, or should have gotten married much, much sooner.

Because we prolonged things so long, it took eight (!!!) years to have our first child. I think this is a sad.

B.Shelley said...

Good article, Mr. Charlton.

When the marriage laws (ie. divorce laws) start becoming healthy again, we will be on the road to a sustainable society.

Bruce Charlton said...

@BSh - I don't think serious Christians can wait for divorce laws to become healthy again - indeed I expect they will get a lot worse before then.

This is yet another reason why Christians will have to marry (and live) *by our own rules*, as all Christians did for the first couple of hundred years of Christianity and have done in many places around the world since (and as devout adherents of other religions - such as ultra-Orthodox Jews - always have done).

The strongest sanction for breaking these Christian rules would not be legal, but would be banishment and exile from the Christian culture - which, of course, means that the culture must be something of which we want to be a part, and from which exile would be painful.

AlexT said...

"The strongest sanction for breaking these Christian rules would not be legal, but would be banishment and exile from the Christian culture - which, of course, means that the culture must be something of which we want to be a part, and from which exile would be painful."

Syrian jews in New York have a rule known as 'the edict' that forbids marriage outside of the community. Not legally enforcable, but apparently very effective.
Also the patriarchy movement in the US has been attacked by other christians for their abandonment of missionary work and instead accentuating a high birth rate, homeschoolin, and retention of their children in their community. They are demonized for this, but i think their approach is the right one in the long run. What's the point of converting peasants in the Andes if your own children turn into leftists?

C. said...

@Jonathan C

I wonder if Mr. Charlton's idea about people interpreting media as reality apply here.

I know 2 or 3 men who have been through the nightmare scenario you describe - cheating wives who leave them after a few years of marriage and then try to claim property/access to children/etc.

I also know a couple where the husband cheated during a military deployment, and he and the wife decided to stick it out. I know a couple where the wife ended up disabled (thankfully not permanently) barely a year into the marriage. I know a couple that is struggling with infertility, another who had a baby with a skull malformation that requires multiple surgeries. I know a couple married for 20 years who are going through an awful time because a daughter was sexually assaulted. And I know maybe 3 dozen couples who are just "couples" with no particular drama in their lives, and who therefore don't come to mind easily.

My point is, there's a lot of stuff that can happen in a marriage. I can't help but wondering if your exposure to certain types of blogs has blown the chances of one type of misfortune out of all proportion and has made it seem much more common than it actually is. Just like watching television can make entire populations assume that gay people are 25% of the population, reading the wrong type of blog can make you assume that every woman on earth is a soul-sucking sociopathic harpy.

Could I suggest giving internet reading on the subject a break, and instead focusing on finding out about happy long-term couples you know? Look at what the women in those couples have in common, and then try to seek that out in a potential wife.

Jonathan C said...

Thank you to everyone who replied to my comment.

I don't really have a response--I think it will be a few years before I have a conclusion--but I am thinking hard about what you've all written.