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updated 7/29/2011 10:58:10 AM ET 2011-07-29T14:58:10

If you’re concerned about wasting money because you and your mate spend almost every night together but maintain your own separate homes, don’t sweat it. You’re simply engaging in America’s “stayover relationship” trend.

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University of Missouri researcher Tyler Jamison says she noticed that most of her college friends were “shacking up,” but had not formally moved in together. Instead, they spent three or more nights together a week and still kept their own places. She conducted a research study among college students and found that committed couples in their 20s are redefining dating and breaking social norms with this new relationship model.

Her study of committed couples who engage in the stayover lifestyle is published in the current issue of the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

“This seems to be a pretty stable and convenient middle ground between casual dating and more formal commitments like living together and getting married,” says Jamison, a University of Missouri doctoral candidate and researcher in the department of human development and family studies in Columbia, Mo.

“It’s a comfortable thing people are doing when they are not totally sure they want to end up in a permanent situation with a person or don’t want to end up living together and having to find another place to live if they are break or decide who gets the dog."

Jamison believes stayover relationships represent a general trend that young people want to delay permanent relationships because they want to finish their education and pursue other goals. She’s expanding her research to examine unmarried parents, and suspects that people of all ages enjoy stayover relationships.

“Stayover is something they can do that doesn’t have a lot of consequences, but it has a lot of benefits,” she says.

Until a year ago, Michael Bless Jr., of Auburn Hills, Mich., enjoyed the benefits of a four-year stayover relationship. He liked the option of staying over or staying at home.

“Sometimes, you want your own space, and the next room may not be far enough,” says the 30-year-old engineering student at Oakland Community College. “I can love you and be with you almost every night, but there are times when I want to be alone.”

The couple parted ways when his former girlfriend graduated from the University of Detroit and took an accounting job in Miami. Wanting to fulfill his own goals, Bless says, “When she left, my commitment left.”

That's not surprising, says Aaron Turpeau, a licensed professional counselor and relationship expert in Atlanta. America’s obsession with independence is driving these stayover relationships, he explains.

“We don’t want anyone hindering us from doing our thing,” he says. “You hear people say it all the time: ‘You do you, and I’ll do me.’ Unfortunately, this obsession with independence leads to unhealthy human relationships.”

The consequence is people continue living on the fence, never committing one way or the other, says Turpeau, author of "The Harmonious Way: A Success Guide Guide to Selecting a Compatible Mate."

“We don’t value what we don’t need, and we don’t love what we don’t value,” he says. “I can say I want a relationship, but I don’t need a relationship. I want a man, but I don’t need a man. So we play house; we play marriage and as soon as we get tired, we go back to our own places.”

Nevertheless, Jamison is not convinced of any long-term consequences of stayover relationships.

“Without data, it’s hard to make a statement about it,” she says. “I doubt it has major implications for later commitments or marriages.”

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