Cohabitation: Not A Test Drive
April 08, 2013
Filed In: Church and Culture
When Alison and I got engaged, we lived in two different cities. She was studying in Detroit, and I was working in Pittsburgh. Our engagement coincided with a scheduled transfer between campuses in her medical education. Thankfully, my job transferred me simultaneously, but 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.
Cohabitation is the norm, a socially-expected milestone before marriage. It fits, sort of, with the conventional wisdom, "You don't buy a car without test driving it." That seems like a logical argument for most, so they follow it. But it's a broken logic, and here's why.
When you test drive a car, you don't own it. You have no skin in the game. Before buying a car, you might even test drive a dozen vehicles. You may end up not buying any of them. You don't treat the car like you own it when you're on a test drive. You're overly careful, making sure to not get a scratch on it.
What do you do if you're on the test drive and the engine quits, or you get a flat tire? You hand the keys back to the dealer and walk away. You aren't committed to the car; it isn't yours.
However, as soon as you buy a car, you treat it entirely differently. You drive it comfortably, and you take care of it. You take risks, and some don't pay off. Any expenses, like taxes, maintenance, and fuel, come out of your pocket.
Do you see the problem?
Cohabitation is much the same. You think it will prepare you for marriage. It seems like a sneak preview, but cohabitation can't accomplish any preparation. The fact is, any single adverse action you take could end the relationship, and you don't want that to happen. So, defensively, you put up a false front. Everyone walks on eggshells, making sure the relationship doesn't get a scratch. Then, when you get married, you're more comfortable and become you again. You gave your fiancé/fiancee the wrong impression of living with you, and now the truth comes out. 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.
When you move in together before marriage, you lose an incredible experience. One of my wedding day's best parts was bringing Alison under my roof. There was great symbolism, signaling to both of us that we hold everything now in common, even our address. It was worth the wait.
No experience will prepare you for the daily reality 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 can't factor in a substitute to the beautiful finality of marriage.
Don't rely on the false logic of cohabitation as a preparation for marriage. There's no substitute. Instead, pray, read, study, and grow in love, and let the grace of the Sacrament be your strength.