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Marriage Vs Living Together:

It's a Matter of Commitment

By Erma Bombeck

One of the hardest things in the world to explain is the difference between being married and living with someone.

As an advocate of orange blossoms and long mortgages, I usually end up throwing around a couple of high-class words like "commitment" and "responsibility to offspring," and then when my opponent tosses back phrases like, "Love doesn't need a piece of paper" or "Look how many people get stuck in unhappy relationships," I crumble. I don’t have a good answer for it.

Somehow, I can’t seem to put my finger on that elusive bit of intimacy that makes marriage "different." In both relationships, one shares the same bathroom, feeds the collective dog, eats together, shops together, sleeps side by side, and yet...

Recently on a TV show called "A Year in the Life," the widowed father no longer wanted to continue his relationship to a contemporary without marriage. She couldn't understand it. They were doing just fine the way they were, going to dinner, sleeping together, and still hanging on to their own independence and careers. He looked at her and said sadly, "But we don't worry about things together."

You have to be married to understand that line. Anyone can play house, but a couple struggling to pay for one is something else. A philosopher once said, "Marriage is our last...our best chance to grow up." He could be right. Everything up until the time you walk down the aisle has been polite, guarded and a little superficial. Returning from the altar is a different feeling altogether. You have not contracted for a temporary position...this is a permanent career. You have just bet all your chips on the biggest crapshoot of your life.

But there is something else. You have agreed to legal rights to share equally in belongings, debts, closets, fidelity and children.

We've gone through three wars, two miscarriages, five houses, three children, 17 cars, 23 funerals, seven camping trips, 12 jobs, 19 banks and three credit unions. I stopped counting slammed doors after 3,009. What do I have to show for it? A feeling of pride and contentment for having done something that isn't easy. A realization that there is someone outside of myself without whom I do not feel whole. Maybe the difference between living together and being married is the former is a spectator sport and the latter is playing the game by all the rules.