First comes love, then comes a decade of being “a little bit married,” then comes marriage.

A Little Bit Married uncovers and spotlights a major trend in dating today: the long-term unmarried relationship. Journalist Hannah Seligson sheds light on a phenomenon that everyone does, knows someone who does, or is related to someone who does, but no one has named. In this sui generis type of relationship book, Seligson doesn’t just tell readers how to handle a guy dawdling to propose – she blends advice with the context of why young people are delaying marriage.

Today, the long-term relationship has become a rite of passage. A quarter of unmarried Americans (23 millions adults) say they are in committed romantic relationships. Through interviews with current and former “A Little Bit Marrieds” and numerous experts – drawing on material that ranges from Charles Darwin to President Obama – Seligson distills information and provides advice for a generation of daters struggling to understand the emotional and practical realities of relationships that are post-“Let’s Do It!” and the pre-“I Do!”

From making marriage-like commitments such as moving in together to handling the doubts that naturally percolate about tying the knot, A Little Bit Married is a roadmap to successfully navigating the long-term relationship years for this generation of daters who are wondering, “I do. Or do I?”

A television adaptation of the book was recently picked up by CBS. For more on the deal, click here.

» Buy on Amazon
» Buy on Barnes & Noble
» Read Chapter 1: First Comes Love, then Comes A Little Bit Married (PDF)
» Read Chapter 4: Playing House (PDF)

Read Hannah's reporting on the "A Little Bit Married" trend:

» "Acting Like You're Married When You're Not"
» "Put a Ring On It"
» "Why We're Not Getting Married" The Daily Beast

Read and watch press coverage of the book:

» NBC's "The Today Show"
» CBS News "Early Show"
» Forbes
» Huffington Post
» Maclean's
» New Hampshire Public Radio
» CanadaAM
» Psychology Today
» Sundance Channel Blog
» Tucson Citizen
» DoubleX
» Madison (pdf)

Q&A with Hannah

What does it mean to be ALBM?

The baseline definition is that you’ve been in a monogamous non-matrimonial relationship for at least twelve months. In practice, however, what being A Little Bit Married means varies dramatically. Maybe you and your boyfriend or girlfriend have lived together long enough to reach what many states would deem a legitimate common law marriage. Or maybe you’re not living together, but are fielding questions from relatives about where you two would like to eventually settle down. Perhaps you’ve talked about honeymoons, or made geographical adjustments to accommodate the other’s career.

If A Little Bit Married had an avatar, it would be Prince William, heir to the British throne, and his girlfriend, Kate Middleton, who have been dating for over six years. Although Britain’s betting shops put the odds on a 2009 marriage at 2:1, there has been no official royal press release about an upcoming engagement, bucketing them in with the millions of other couples who are just “A Little Bit Married.”

How is it different for men and women?

The most salient difference is that men and women’s lives don’t arc the same way. Women have an expiration date on fertility, a biological difference that colors the ALBM years. In short, women have to think about their time differently than men do. There are also some gender differences in terms of how men and women view cohabitation. Research shows that men are more likely to enter a cohabiting arrangement with “maybe I do,” whereas women often enter with “I do.” The convergence is that both men and women in this demo want to get married, the rub often is the timeline.

Why is ALBM the new romantic rite of passage?

Marriage is no longer the big bang it was for earlier generations. ALBM has burst onto the scene at the same time the median age for a first marriage in the United States has reached its peak— 27.1 for a man and 25.3 for a woman, and it tips even higher in many cities. As people have postponed walking down the aisle, other new dating rituals—prolonged courtship and cohabitation—have become socially acceptable. The number of cohabitating couples has grown more than tenfold during the last forty years. Forty years ago, in 1970, only about 500,000 couples lived together in unwedded bliss; now, over five million opposite-sex couples in the United States live together outside of marriage.

Do people still want to get married?

A Little Bit Married is not going to become Marriage 3.0. Most young people today do want to get married, whether it’s because they see it as an ideal ordering of a society, want to express their commitment with the highest form our culture currently offers, or for the tax breaks. A Little Bit Married is just a rite of passage, not a stasis, and it is certainly not poised to become marriage’s surrogate. Most see it as ersatz to marriage—a less than ideal substitution, like NutraSweet. Whether it’s at three years or a decade into the relationship, the vast majority of couples ultimately decide to walk down the aisle. Studies suggest that, despite the rise in cohabitation, changing gender roles, and that marriage is no longer the main event of adult life, the great majority of young adults in the United States not only have positive views of marriage, but they also wish to marry one day.

What are some of the staples of being ALBM?

You spend holidays together. You live together. You have joint custody of a pet. You talk on the phone with his/her relatives. You go each other’s family vacations. You wonder, “Where is this going?” You’ve made geographic or career adjustments for the other person.

Is living together a good way to test drive a marriage or a bad idea?

Research shows that if you’ve only lived with one person, you have no greater chance of getting divorced than someone who hasn’t. However, many couples who move in together do it haphazardly, without discussing gender roles, household responsibilities, and other issues that regulate quality of life. Taking the laissez-faireapproach to cohabitation is not a recipe for success. But if couples don’t just tumble into living arrangements, communicate without each other why they are doing it, and can plot a future together, cohabitation can be good training wheels for marriage. That said, the only way to test drive a marriage is a marriage.

What are the cohabitation commandments?

Thou shall be on the same page about why you are moving in.

Thou shall truly like the person with whom you move in.

Thou shall expect the first six months to be rocky.

Thou shall know to whom the couch belongs.

Thou shall not sweep things under the carpet.

Thou shall not just become roommates who have sex occasionally.

Thou shall discuss finances and come up with a budget.

Thou shall not move in together to save money.

Thou shall not merge.

How can you tell if a relationship is headed down the aisle or out the door?

Not telepathically or by reading signs. The arch nemesis of this relationship stage is ambiguity. The only way you can tell if your relationship is headed down the aisle or out the door is by communicating with your partner.

Why do people stay in long-term relationships if they know there isn’t a future?

The pull of inertia is quite powerful. After years of dating (and particularly if you live together), couples have bonded deeply, often making it quite difficult to disentangle and divvy up the circle of friends, belongings, and restaurants you’ve accumulated over the years. Plus, people often employ the relationship math of three years invested + fear of being single = trying to stay together.

Do you have any tips for moving on after a long-term relationship ends?

Start dating again when you feel ready, not when you think you should.

Although his/her friends and family might have adored you, after a breakup, the troops realign with their leader. It’s painful to acknowledge that some of the people you have forged close bonds with over the past few years are now out of your inner circle, but there is little to be gained by calling on his/her college roommate or sister-in-law to coach you through the breakup.

Don’t get caught in the “dating sucks” and “I’ll never meet anyone” mental loop.