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Desire for Descendants May Lure Longtime Live-Ins to the Altar

July 29, 1988|SUSAN CHRISTIAN | Susan Christian is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

Joe Savage and April Ford are thinking about getting hitched, but they don't want to rush into anything. After all, they've known each other for just 17 years--and lived together for just 13.

"In the era we grew up--the late '60s and early '70s--everyone 'shacked up,' as we called it back then," said Savage, 34. "Marriage wasn't really fashionable.

"And then you just kind of forget about it after a while. But we feel we're more married than most married people."

"We have a better relationship than any of our married friends," agreed Ford, 31. "I'm with Joe because I want to be, not because of a marriage certificate. We've already signed enough documents: for our house, for our business, for our cars."

The Anaheim couple set up shop together a few years after setting up house. They own and operate Shear Progress, a hair salon on South Brookhurst Street in Anaheim.

"Over the last few years, I've been considering what to say when my clients ask, 'Why aren't you two married?' " Ford said. "I haven't come up with a good answer yet. I just tell them that marriage isn't important to me. I was never the girl who dreamed about having a big, white wedding."

Both Savage and Ford come from broken homes, which at least on the surface explains their indifference toward matrimony.

"Mom and dad divorced when I was 5, and dad's been married three times since," Ford said. "But I probably just use that as an excuse; it's not the only reason I've never been in a hurry to get married.

"The other day a friend of mine said to me, 'You've been "going steady" for 17 years? You guys ought to be in the Guinness Book of World Records.' "

"We're so happy together as it is," Savage said, "I've always been afraid marriage would mess things up."

It's the "if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it" philosophy, he said: "I've seen couples who have lived together for a while, then they get married, and suddenly everything changes for the worse. They start treating each other like possessions. They say 'my wife' or 'my husband,' rather than using the person's name."

In his younger and more foolish days, when one is susceptible to such impetuous acts, Savage popped the question after having dated Ford for a scant five years.

Alas, she turned him down. "I was too young," Ford said. "Even though I felt very committed to Joe, I still had a commitment problem. I viewed marriage as an end rather than as a beginning."

She met her first and, in all likelihood, last "real boyfriend" back when he was an older man--rather than the "thirtysomething" age peer that time and maturity would make him. Ford was a 14-year-old freshman and Savage a 17-year-old senior when they happened upon each other at Loara High School in Anaheim.

On Ford's 16th birthday, Savage presented his sweetheart a "promise ring"--the only diamond ring he has yet to give her. Now that marriage appears on the horizon, however, Ford expects something slightly more grandiose than a crudely cut chip.

"Every year, the diamond that she wants gets bigger," Savage said. "It would have been a lot cheaper to marry her a few years ago."

Marriage has entered into the couple's plans as of late more out of practicality than romanticism. Savage and Ford hope to have a baby in the near future and would prefer to approach parenthood the old-fashioned way.

Besides, there's that little matter of health insurance. "We don't have maternity coverage right now," Savage said. "I'm about to get a new job (outside his salon). We're going to marry so that April will be on my health plan."

Also, they want to go on a trip to Mexico in November, a few months before Savage will have accrued vacation time at his new place of employment. "The only way they'll let him take a vacation is if he says it's for his honeymoon," Ford said.

When the big day comes, they'll skip the white gown, bridesmaids and rehearsal dinner, thank you very much.

"We're getting married in a chapel in Tahoe," Ford said. "That way, we're guaranteed to keep it small. Our parents will be there, and we're telling our friends, 'You're welcome to come if you want to make the drive.' "

"April's dad pulled us aside at her sister's wedding and said, 'When you're ready, I'll give you what a wedding would have cost; just take the money and run,' " Savage recalled. "Even with a small wedding, you're looking at $3,000. And after 17 years, you feel silly asking your parents to chip in."

"I love going to weddings for the party, but I don't care about the actual ceremony," Ford said.

Their families have never accused Savage and Ford of "living in sin."

"My parents put more pressure on us to have kids than to get married," Ford said. Both she and her mate are close to their quasi in-laws: "My parents will stand up for him before they'll stand up for me, and his parents will take my side before they'll take his side."

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