It’s been a very busy past few months that have kept me from keeping the posts a’comin’. In April, my husband accepted a job offer that took us from sunny Arizona to tornadoey Oklahoma! What a transition it has been but absolutely worthwhile. After living in a hotel-esque apartment through our first year of marriage, we are now official house-renters! We purchased our first major appliances, we now mow our own lawns, and we’re the proud “parents” of two way-too-big dogs that, as I’m learning, require almost as much care as children! That is, if children slept 18 hours a day on the floor, required almost no attention and licked your face to show affection.
It really has been wonderful creating a home together. And with all that we’ve been investing in doing so, I’ve been thinking about an unfortunate phenomenon that is plaguing my generation: cohabitation.
In just the last 20 years, the number of women who have lived with a significant other outside of marriage has risen 75%… 75%! What was once a hidden and rare arrangement is now the trend, and it’s no less common among Catholic couples.
A number of times, I’ve scripted letters in my head, to be sent to this or that friend who has succumbed to cohabiting. But in wary anticipation of any response I could imagine receiving, my ambitions dissipated before they ever took root. However, I find that in this occasion of writing on such a topic that has impacted so many of my personal relationships, I think it is a letter that’s called for.
It’s easy to see what great things come with sharing a life with your significant other. Living under the same roof, you’ve grown closer than ever. You’ve seen each other at your best and worst, enjoyed the pleasures of homemaking together, and shared more wonderful experiences as a couple than you ever could have living apart. It seemed convenient and functional when you moved in together, and it’s become so much more. More, I bet, than you’re even able to recognize.
What may be not so easy to see are the things that really matter, the things you’ve sacrificed forever, and the things you’re living without.
It’s the smart step before marriage, you say, to see whether you’re truly compatible living together, before you commit to the long-haul. But what’s stopping you from having one child together, to see if you’re compatible parents… or from purchasing a house, to test your financial partnership? It starts to make less sense, the more “waters” you think you have to test before committing your life to your beloved. How long will it take for you to know, or don’t you already? And if you do, what’s keeping you from marriage?
You probably want to save up – your time, your money – to see the beautiful ceremony you’ve always imagined, come to be. But what’s a ceremony worth when you’ve already given yourself away? You’ve offered yourself to your significant other in total sexual intimacy, but in a relationship that will only last as long as things “work out”. Of course, you don’t like to see your relationship that way, but it’s this reality that’s keeping you from lifelong commitment. With every day of your live-in relationship contingent upon all the things that keep you from marriage, you continue compromising the vows you’ll one day promise to your spouse. If you can only promise commitment “as long as…” now, you’ll probably be saying it then… and what’s marriage worth when divorce is an option? Not a lot.
Although the economics, convenience & security of cohabiting are all seemingly uncompromised benefits, the deepest darkness of living together before marriage, which shadows any light, is sex. What God has created beautiful, the most selfless gift one can give to another, the only act which has the awesome power to create human life, you have redefined, to a greater or lesser extent, to suit your own will. To the greater extent, you may be contracepting, therefore, altogether rejecting the life-giving aspect of sex. It’s as if you’re saying to your Creator, “Thanks for this gift, but you can keep this part I don’t want,” and to your partner, “I give you myself entirely… except my fertility.” To a lesser extent, perhaps you are open to the gift of children, but rejecting the marital act as just that… marital. You take pleasure without commitment.
Blessed Pope John Paul put it simply, that “the only ‘place’ in which this self-giving in its whole truth is made possible is marriage, the covenant of conjugal love freely and consciously chosen, whereby a man and woman accept the intimate community of life and love willed by God himself.”
Friend, you are worth waiting for. You are stronger than you know and the sacrifices you could be making to reserve the gift of marriage for what it should be are so much more valuable than the sacrifices you’re making now in cohabiting. No convenience that’s offered in living together now is worth the desecration of your future marriage, which has such wonderful potential. You have an opportunity to fulfill an amazing vocation as a husband or wife. Don’t cheat yourself out of that true and holy experience by gambling with the pleasures of a knock-off version of matrimony.
Return to Christ. He is calling you to something so good, desiring your return to His friendship which has undoubtedly been betrayed. Pray and pray often and seek the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Seek reunion with God and forgiveness for your sins. He is faithful and you will find reward in following His will.
Moving out won’t be easy, but it will be so worth it. You have more support than you know. And if your beloved is truly that, he or she will gladly make the sacrifices required to preserve the gift of marriage which awaits you.
Your sister in Christ