I have been going out with my girlfriend for almost three months and thankfully all is going very well. I was filling in a friend on this news the other day and at the end of the conversation the person asked me, with a face of anticipated excitement, “Will you be moving in together”? I was initially surprised by the question as I imagined it was obvious to most people I know where I would stand on such an issue. However I guess that it is no longer ‘obvious’ why a young dating couple would decide not to pack their bags and find a place together. Let me explain then why I have decided not to share a bed with my girlfriend.
Cohabitation prior to marriage is well and truly the most popular path for young couples. Just over 75% of couples now live together prior to marriage and for many of them it is something they slide into rather than necessarily consciously deciding upon. When he or she begins to spend more nights at the other person’s house than their own, eventually it seems natural to stop paying two lots of rent.
But while cohabitation is billed as an important way to get to know the other person and ensure a more secure future marriage there is really no evidence to back that up. Social data shows cohabiting relationships last about 2.5 years before breaking up or converting to marriage but conversion rates to marriage are declining. Among couples who begin cohabiting, 50% will have married and 50% will have broken up in within five years. For those who do eventually marry though, divorce rates are double those who do not cohabit before marriage.
Why then is cohabitation the accepted norm, and at the same time completely useless in helping couples discern their future? The answer to both questions is the same: sex. When a couple moves in together it is the fruit of that fact that they have began engaging in sexual relations already. Cohabitation is about sex, let’s not be confused. The cohabiting couple make the subliminal statement to each other that “I don’t need to be married to you to have sex with you”. That is a very critical statement in the health of a relationship because sex goes from something once worthy of vows before God, to something not much bigger than deciding what one will have for lunch. The vow a cohabiting couple make is this, “I promise to have sex with you until such a time that I meet someone else who I would rather have sex with”. I watched the movie ‘The Vow’ recently, a romantic comedy/drama based on a true story. The main couple meet, begin dating and eventually the guy asks the girl to move in with him. The scene was portrayed as this special romantic moment where the man had finally stepped up and done the right thing. Rubbish! All he had really said was, “I want to have sex with you more regularly but I want the freedom to end it all in case it doesn’t work out”. How romantic is that?!
So what about the couples who do live together but eventually marry? I question the freedom with which they entered into that marriage and their real desire to be together until death. Sex by its very nature is designed to bond a couple but when a relationship gets physical before its time, important issues like character, life philosophy, and compatibility go to the wayside. Consequently, everything is romanticized and it becomes difficult to remember the important issues let alone talk about them. When a dating couple engage in sex, they disregard checking for an intellectual commitment and instead enter into an emotional and sexual one. Budding love is very fragile and can easily be crushed by lust. Just because a cohabiting couple may eventually make it to the altar (or more likely the garden) is not a sign that share a true love. Many couples who marry today do not choose marriage as freely as they might have, they often simple slide into it. It just became the next choice in a series of unwise choices. A cohabiting relationship is based on the principle that one can walk away at any time and this attitude is not easily dislodged just because a wedding certificate has been signed.
Couples who cohabit certainly desire love and they undoubtedly try their best to love one another, but the problem is their best will not be good enough because they are relying on tainted and corrupted information. They learn how to have sex with the other person but not about the person, they desire to be loved but fail to understand how to love.
If I was not interested in discerning any possible future with my girlfriend, then sure, we might as well shack up now. But my heart like every other human heart desires to find a love that will last a lifetime. I have a far diminished chance of finding that love if I take the easy option now and simply follow the social trend. Love is too precious a commodity to be is cheapened and destroyed through the social evil that is cohabitation.
This post originally appeared on Foolish Wisdom.
Bernard Toutounji is a freelance speaker and writer. He has a theological formation from both Australia and the USA, and has particular interest in questions of anthropology, morality and truth. Bernard writes a regular column, www.foolishwisdom.com, in which he takes a contemporary issue and examines it through an alternative lens. Bernard tutors in theology at a university level and speaks at conferences when requested.