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For seniors, the cow or the milk? Five women expound on cohabitation vs. marriage-a senior dilemma. For seniors, getting remarried may not be wise.

By Tom P Blake - Finding Love after 50

Jennifer, Orange County, California, stated, "Marriage is a personal and economic unit whose main goal is to provide a stable home in which to raise children. Two people can do a better job of this than one. Older people who often have grown children have already completed this task. They do not need to nail down a reproductive agreement.


"Older people have often spent a lifetime working and accumulating assets and they frequently like to keep their finances separate. Many want their children or grandchildren to be their sole heirs. Marriage or re-marriage can interfere with this inheritance plan or complicate it. Sometimes, it's simpler to remain single, even while living together.


"Older couples who live together benefit from the closeness and companionship of a live-in partner, and probably live longer too. They can pool their money and talents, which means they will probably enjoy an enhanced lifestyle together.


"Those who, for religious or other reasons, are uncomfortable with this arrangement can still get married."  


Billie, not her true name by her request, said people who cohabitate endure the disapproval of others. She said, "I believe women are especially treated awful by society, relatives, and friends with snide comments like, why would he buy the cow when he can get the milk for free. Also, they will come straight out and tell you that you are being used, and if your man really loved you he would make it legal. Women who are not married are treated like second class citizens, and are judged harshly. A common thought is that they don't have what it takes to keep a man; no one wants them, etc.


"When it comes to family, if there are young children or even older children, you can't introduce the person as a husband or wife, and the young children wonder, just what are you then? This is especially a problem if the extended family has faith beliefs that do not condone cohabitation.


"So you might really care about these children, but in the eyes of the family, you are not the aunt, and you are not called Aunt Maggie, you are just awkwardly referred to as Jack's friend Maggie, when you are much, much more than a friend. You cannot build a close relationship because they don't recognize you as are just that woman that lives or shacks up with Uncle Jack."


Comment from Tom: As a columnist, I'm supposed to present both sides of issues and keep my opinions to myself (at least that's what Greta tells me). But, I have to mention that I strongly disagree with several of Billie's assumptions.


I smile, however, remembering that a few years back, a caller to the Dr. Laura show asked Dr. Laura her opinion about me, the love-after-50-columnist, living with Greta without being married. Dr. Laura said "She's his shack-up honey." I couldn't thank Dr. Laura enough; I sold 53 extra copies of my "Finding Love After 50" book on Amazon that week.


Billie continued, "Introductions are also awkward, and I have found people don't get it, they look kind of blank and married women quickly move away, suspicious.


Comment from Tom: Perhaps Billie meant "jealous," instead of "suspicious."


She ended with: "If a man and woman really love each other, no matter what age, they should get married. It's a matter of respect for each other. Why in the world, if you meet your soul mate, wouldn't you say YES, let's get married! I don't get it."


Judith, Santa Fe, New Mexico, is another cow/milk advocate: "I'm 71, and still tend to go with, "Don't give away the milk for free until he buys the cow," Personally, I would never cohabitate."


Maybe Kim, Dana Point, California, has the marriage vs. cohab answer: "Eleven and a half years ago, mutual friends set up Chuck and me on a blind date. The date went well; he asked if he could call me. I said yes. But he never called.


"A year later, our mutual friend got married and both of us were invited to the wedding at the Hotel Laguna. At the reception (assigned tables), I saw him sitting at my table. My first thought was to sit at a different table but then I thought 'Be a good sport.'


I gave him a little punch on the shoulder and said 'Hey, you never called me!' He pulled out the chair next to him and said 'sit down.' Then he said 'I'm sorry I never called but it just wasn't a good time for me' and I said, 'Come to think of it, it wasn't for me either." We spent the night dancing and we've been together ever since. We will celebrate our 11th anniversary next July 27th!


"The secret to our success: We don't want to get married and we don't want to live together! We live about five minutes apart so we see each other often in just the right doses!"


Dr. Kelly Musick, a Cornell University Associate Professor, published a six-year study on marriage vs. cohabitation in the Journal of Marriage and Family in 2011. One of her conclusions: "...while married couples experienced health gains-likely linked to the formal benefits of marriage such as shared healthcare plans-cohabitating couples experienced greater gains in happiness and self-esteem. For some, cohabitation may come with fewer unwanted obligations than marriage and allow for more flexibility, autonomy, and personal growth.'"


So that's it. Do you want the cow, or just the milk?


Would love your opinions.

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