The Nearlyweds: Couples cohabiting without marriage a growing trend — for blacks, too?

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It should come as no surprise that a lot of people are cynical about marriage. For the past four decades, marriage rates steadily have decreased, and in June, USA Today reported that the marriage rate had hit “its lowest point in more than a century.”

With so many Americans being children of divorce, or afraid of falling on the wrong side of the popular statistic about one in two marriages ending in divorce — then throwing in the financial insecurity of the recession — it’s no surprise that so many people are choosing to stay away from the altar—but not necessarily commitment.

Enter the “nearlyweds”

Enter the “nearlywed” couples, which a recent feature in Glamour magazine describes as “couples with all the trappings of marriage—the home, the in-laws, the shared Labradoodle, maybe even the kids—but no actual marriage certificate.” Declaring “nearlyweds” as the latest leaders in relationship trends, Glamour interviewed several (white) couples who extolled the virtues of this commitment-like, but not-all-the-way committed, phenomenon.

Like the “nearlyweds” mentioned in Glamour, Kimora Lee Simmon’s ex-boyfriend, actor Djimon Hounsou, is all for commitment, but perhaps without “the papers.” While promoting his latest film Baggage Claim, Hounsou, who shares a son with Lee Simmons from their nearlywed relationship, weighed in on marriage, versus the lack thereof.

“The idea of marrying somebody can actually ruin the union,” the actor said. “Some people are happily together for decades and they get this fantasy idea to go and get married when it’s just about papers basically… eventually it just goes sour.”

The no-commitment commitment

I totally get that marriage isn’t for everyone — for years I was one of those people — but it’s curious to me why a couple would decide to take on all the headaches of the most committed union, but sidestep the benefits, the most obvious one being a secure commitment that you just can’t walk away from (or at least a reasonable expectation of one).

But that, according to the experts interviewed by Glamour, is part of the point.

“Some people have a kind of moral contract where they’ll stay in the relationship, married or not,” psychoanalyst Gail Saltz, M.D. told Glamour. “Others, however, deep down, do want an escape hatch, and this seems like a way to have your cake and eat it too. But the truth is, anytime you have financial troubles, anytime someone passes by who looks a bit better than your other half, there’s that thought: I can get out.”

Just for non-black women?

I can’t help but to notice the serious inquiry that Glamour gives to this topic. Maybe that’s because this Glamour-documented trend works for single white women who, according to statistics have a median income of $42,000, versus single black women whose median income is five dollars. These white women have a better chance at supporting a child on their own, if the father were to leave. And for wealthy black couples like Lee Simmons and Hounsou, this also may be an ideal arrangement.

But, despite the boasts of the couples interviewed by Glamour and Hounsou’s ambivalence about marriage, I’m not buying into this.

I’ve spent the last decade reading books, essays, blogs, and Twitter comments about black relationships and marriages, and never — ever — have I seen a “marriage-like,” but not actually married relationship, extolled as an ideal.

Benefits versus risks for blacks

When black, unmarried couples with children are discussed, they are always scapegoated, as in, “See, this is what is wrong with The Community!” Then the oft-quoted statistic about 70 percent of black children being born out of wedlock is unleashed.

There is an entire movement — No Wedding, No Womb — dedicated to shaming/convincing black women not to adopt the lifestyle that Glamour discusses cutely as a “trend.”

Maybe this is a “trend” for non-black women, and for black women it is a social crime? Either way, this isn’t a lifestyle that the average black woman should try in her personal life. Unless you are wealthy, the benefits do not outweigh the risks.

Demetria L. Lucas is a life coach and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. Follow her on Twitter at @abelleinbk.