These arrangements have varying degrees of vulnerability and commitment, but each seeks an independent togetherness.

Captive Hook. Hook-up relationships often begin and end with a sex-without-strings mentality. No self-sacrifice required. Despite this obvious pseudo-relationship arrangement, somehow hook-up relationships have been defined by American culture as legitimate relationships. They aren’t. They are no-cost, shallow, empty-calorie thrills that have no nutritional value whatsoever. More to my point here, people who engage in hook-ups rely on taking their clothes off to keep them from having to be emotionally naked. It’s a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” collusion between two people that ultimately leaves both of them hungry, malnourished, and for most part pathetically looking for the next hook-up high hoping that one day they will finally discover something nourishing.

Living Together. Somehow cohabitation—the half-way house to commitment—is now viewed as real commitment. (If so, why does the press make such a big deal of Hollywood cohabiting partners announcing that they’re finally getting married? Instinctively we know there’s something special about marriage that cohabitation doesn’t offer.) Many people intuitively know what a decade of research has confirmed—that cohabitation is light-beer marriage: it tastes great, but comes at a great cost—it is less filling. Even kids know this. Long-time cohabiting partners Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, who said they wouldn’t marry until everyone had the right to marry (referring to same-sex marriages), have decided to marry after seven years because their children pressured them to and questioned why they weren’t married. “We didn’t realize how much it means to them,” Pitt shared. “We didn’t realize how much it means to ourselves.”

Despite the popularity of cohabitation, and eagerness of pop culture to glamorize it, marriage is still the ultimate “you’ve arrived” relationship. And yet to many in our divorce fearful society, it is better to have “less filling” than more vulnerability to rejection, sadness, and heart-break. Really? I frequently tell cohabiting couples who justify their trial-marriage as a process to help them decide if a real marriage would work that trial-marriages have trial-commitments. You really don’t know how much you could love or what you would be willing to give (read risk), and therefore, how intimate your relationship could be unless both of you jump into the deep end of the commitment pool with both feet. Sitting on the side and dipping one toe into the water to test the temperature isn’t swimming!

I Stay, You Stay. A more recent trend on the rise is stayover relationships. This risk management strategy allows each person to maintain their separate residences to go home to if they choose, but typically one partner will stay over at the others a few nights a week or they may take turns. I think this is the half-way house to the  half-way house of cohabitation (which, if my math is correct, makes it about one-fourth of the way to commitment!). Again, another independent togetherness arrangement meant to protect the self-interests of each person and reduce their risk.

Married Without the Blend. Another recent trend among married blended family couples is maintaining separate residences even after marriage and not even attempting to “blend” the family. As one man asked me, “Most people only think there are two options: marry and blend or stay single and break up. Can’t there be an option C where couples marry but don’t try to merge their households until the children are older?” Merging households, children, parenting styles, traditions, etc., etc., is a significant adjustment for most blended families and brings a great deal of stress, but trying to avoid togetherness is not a solution. I would much prefer you just stayed single until the kids were launched from the home and then marry, than pretend like you’re blending.