Catholic Husband

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Cohabitation: Not A Test Drive

When my wife and I got engaged, we were living in two different cities. She was studying in Detroit and I was working in Pittsburgh. We got engaged at a crossroads of her medical school career in which she had to move. When my transfer at work was approved, people started asking questions about our wedding and life plans. Invariably they assumed that since we were moving to a new city, a few months before our wedding, we’d go ahead and move in together. False.

It is indisputable, even with just my anecdotal evidence, that cohabitation is a social norm, a social expectation before a couple gets married. The oldest analogy that I can think of is that, “You wouldn’t buy a car without test driving it.” For most, that seems like a logical argument, and they follow it. Yet, even though I got a “C” in Logic, I have gained enough knowledge of logic to know that it simply does not follow. Let’s play with the analogy for a bit though.

When you test drive a car, you don’t own it. In fact, you have no skin in the game at all. Before buying a car, you might even “test drive” dozen of cars. At the end of the day, you end up not buying any of them. When you are on a test drive, you do not treat the car like you own it. You are overly careful, making sure to not get a scratch on it. You, after all, don’t want the guy from the dealership in the car with you to get upset.

If you’re driving and then engine quits or you get a flat tire, what do you do? You hand the keys back to the dealer and walk away. You aren’t committed to the car. You didn’t pay the taxes and registration, you haven’t paid any insurance towards it, no gas, no repairs. It isn’t yours.

As soon as you buy a car, however, you treat it completely different. Suddenly, you are much more yourself with the car. You drive it in a way that is comfortable to you, and you take care of it. You take risks, and some don’t pay off. Then any damage comes out of your pocket, not to mention if you total it and you financed the car, you’ll be making payments on a car that doesn’t exist any more. Do you see the problem?

Cohabitation is much the same. You think it will prepare you for marriage, you think this is the way to get a sneak preview, but cohabitation can’t do any of those things. The fact is, any adverse action you take could end the relationship, and you don’t want that to happen. So, you defensively put up a false front, you “walk on egg shells,” you make sure you don’t get a scratch on the relationship. Then, when you do get married, you’re more comfortable and you become you again. The only problem is, since you lived together, you gave your fiancé/fiancee the wrong impression of what living with you would be like. You leave a mess, chew with your mouth open, and never help with the shopping. Yet, the fake you is the reason why your fiancé/fiancee decided to tie the knot in the first place.

The sad fact is, there is no experience you can have that will fully prepare you for the covenant of Marriage. You can pull together all of the elements that you think make a marriage (I.e. living together, paying household expenses together), but you cannot factor in a substitute to the beautiful finality of the Marriage Covenant. All you are doing is setting the wrong expectation.

If my anecdotal evidence is not enough to convince you, check out this article from ZENIT based on a
study published in 2005 by the Vanier Institute of the Family.

Lastly, you’re forgetting one thing when you move in together before marriage; you lose an amazing experience. One of the best parts of my Wedding Day was bringing my new Bride under my roof. It was something that words cannot describe. There was great symbolism of bringing her into our new home. It communicated that she was now under my protection. It was something in life that is truly worth experiencing. Believe it or not, the wait made it that much sweeter.

Do not rely on the illusion of cohabitation as a necessary preparation for marriage. There is no substitute. Instead, pray, read, study, and grow in love, and let the grace of the Sacrament be your strength.