You're crazy about someone. Butterflies in your stomach, stars your eyes -- the whole bit. You want to spend every possible moment together, but for emotional or financial reasons, you're not ready to get married. So, what do you do?
If you're like 3.1 million other U.S. couples, you decide to live together in hopes of one day marrying for life. Unfortunately, if you're like 2 million of those couples, you fail.
Despite the odds, more couples are cohabiting than ever before. From 1990 to 1997, for instance, the number of couples living together shot up 46 percent. At least half of today's marriages are preceded by cohabitation.
And the numbers continue to rise as young romantics try to prevent divorce by getting to know their future life-partners as well as possible. In the meantime, they're also trying to save money by sharing rents or mortgages.
Those theories both make sense, said Maggie Gallagher, co-author of The Case for Marriage. Too bad they don't work.
"The research is very clear," she said from her home in New York. "The longer you're married, the more wealth you build. But, there is no evidence that the length of cohabitation is correlated with wealth-acquisition."
Gallagher said the research is also clear about cohabitation's influence on marital success.
"If the question is 'Will this help you avoid divorce?' the answer is 'No, it will not.' "
She could be pulling her data from UCLA scholar Judith Seltzer's study this year that says "Marriages preceded by cohabitation are more likely to end in separation or divorce than marriages in which the couple did not live together previously." Of course, she could also be using information from studies in 1992, 1994 and 1995, all of which came to the same conclusion.
According to University of Michigan associate professor of sociology Pamela Smock, a demographer and research scientist at the Institute for Social Research, about 44 percent of cohabiting marriage-hopefuls never even make it to the altar.
For the roughly 1 million cohabitors who live together with no plans to marry, that's not such a big issue. Same-sex cohabitors, denied marriage rights in most states, also factor out. Those numbers are truly ominous, however, for the 3.1 million male-female couples optimistic about a future wedding.
Nevertheless, Smock reminds us that, "The cohabitors of today are the marriers of tomorrow." Studies may foretell breakup for most, but some former cohabitors do get married and stay married.
Kristine and Keith Smith did it. So did Joel and Cindy Youngs. Dan McConnell and Athena Lazarides are living together now, hoping to be another success story. So are Stevie Floyd and Mark Wright. But of course it can't always work. Alyssa Key thought she'd be with her new boyfriend forever, until she moved in with him and discovered his temper.
These Jacksonville residents have had different cohabitation experiences, but they share one common thread: a willingness to buck tradition and stare down imposing sociological data, all in the name of love.
The two-year relationship between 18-year-old Stevie Floyd and 21-year-old Mark Wright is split right in half -- one year in separate residences and one year cohabiting. Today, the couple work together in a local Pizza Palace and share a home in Riverside.
"We definitely plan on getting married," Floyd said. "We just don't have the money right now to do it. I'm not the type of person who wants to just go down to the courthouse. I want to have a real wedding."
Ideally, Floyd would have preferred marriage to just living together. But she was spooked by her own parents' divorce, which prompted her to live with her boyfriend before getting married.
"I want to get married once and stay married," she said.
She knows the experts warn against living together. …