Upon Feministing's recommendation, I read Hannah Seligson's A Little Bit Married, a book about the phenomenon of today's 20-somethings moving into long-term relationships with cohabitation without marriage in sight. I had picked up this book hoping to better understand questions like what it means to live together, how and when to get out of cohabitation situations, and how to make decisions based on a significant other you're not married to. This book was quite educational with respect to each of these questions.
Seligson writes that along with the courting phenomena of the hook-up and the college marriage is "a little bit married," there is the situation where a couple will be practically married (cohabitating, sharing vacations, sharing family holidays, sharing pets, etc.) for several years without being actually married. These relationships may end in marriage, but they may also end with one person getting a new job and moving away. Seligson states a few reasons for this phenomenon. The biggest seems to be that the twenties have become the "Odyssey years"--people tend to go through several jobs and travel before they settle down in their thirties. Because people are hesitant to settle down and commit before they have "made it" career-wise/financially, there is now this extra 10-year period where people are looking for companionship and ultimately a life partner but this may not be the biggest priority. Seligson calls us the "Facebook generation"--people used to a certain amount of physical isolation, connected through social networks, and used to getting what we want (and hence picky about partners). According to Seligson, to be married in your twenties now puts you in the minority and people of our generation will probably be in several long-term relationships before marrying.
There are many questions that arise in an "a little bit married" (ALBM) situation. (While the cover of the book suggests that it is about how to get the guy to propose to you, this is not the case!) Besides describing "case studies" in ALBM, Seligson discusses how to navigate career commitments and relationships with the significant other's family, how to decide whether to live together, how to negotiate the logistics of living together, how to decide whether to break up, how to break up (when you live together), how to move things along if you want to know where it's going, how to decide whether to get married, and how to view compromise/sacrifice in relationships. She also gives some thoughts on how women can balance the competing forces of "I can't let marriage get in the way of having a career" and "my eggs are drying up." Since most of these issues were not relevant to people who I know of my parents' generation and I haven't had enough friends my age go through this kind of thing, this book gives the best advice I've seen about these sorts of things.
I highly recommend this book, especially to people who are a little bit married (which many of my college friends now are) and to people at transitional stages in their lives (ahem, college seniors) trying to figure out how much to base their decisions on the decisions of their significant others. This book provides a lot of the perspective I haven't gotten from peers and people of the older generation.