by Jay Johansen | Dec 8, 2013
Living together is not a "trial marriage".
I'm sure you've heard the thinking: We're going to live together for a while before we get married to see if things work out. If it works, then we can go ahead and get married. If it doesn't work, we can go our separate ways without all the heartache and legal complications of a divorce. You wouldn't buy a car without first taking it for a test drive. It's foolish to take a huge step like getting married without first living with the person for a while.
But there's a serious flaw to this idea. There are many things that you can try out without making a long-term commitment. Like, if you are thinking about becoming a plumber, you could try working as a plumber for a while to see how it goes, whether you can handle the work and enjoy doing it, without making a long-term commitment. Oh, someone might say that too short a trial would not be meaningful. If you only plumbing for a few weaks, maybe you won't realize how fast you'll get bored with the job. But the issue there is just the detail of how long a trial is necessary.
But there is one thing that you cannot practice or try out without making a life-time commitment. That thing is: making a life-time commitment. To say that you are going to practice making a life-time commitment, but that you are only going to do it for a few months, is like saying that you are going to practice being a plumber, but you are not going to touch any pipes or plumbing tools during this trial. It simply makes no sense.
People who are living together as practice for marriage may indeed live in the same house, share some of the household chores, and of course, share a bed. Yes, these are all things that married people normally do. But they are not what defines marriage. Any serious definition of marriage includes the idea of a life-time commitment to another human being. Marriage without a life-time commitment is not marriage at all. You may call a relationship with no commitment a marriage, but that is like saying "Bob is married to his job". It is not a literal marriage; it's either a metaphor or a joke.
Suppose someone said that he is not sure if he wants to go to college, and so he is going to make a trial run at college. He will sleep in a dorm, eat at the cafeteria, and attend some fraternity parties. But he won't take any classes, because that's just too much work for this trial run. Would this give him a good picture of what college life is like? Of course not. He is leaving out the most important part, the whole purpose of college. College students do not live in dorms and eat at the cafeteria because they love that style of accomodations and dining. They live in dorms and eat at the cafeteria because this is a practical way to live while they are doing the thing they went to college for: taking classes and studying. Likewise, married couples do not wash dishes together because they love washing dishes. They wash dishes together because it is a practial matter that comes up when two people act out a life-time commitment to each other.
Sharing a bed outside of marriage is a very different thing from sharing a bed within marriage. There is a vast difference between taking a girl to bed as a test drive to evaluate your compatibility, and taking her to bed in the context of a life-time commitment to love, honor, and cherish. Tell me girls, if your boyfriend said that he wants to take you for a test drive so that he can see if you perform well enough to make finalizing the deal worth his while, or whether he'd prefer to shop around some more -- wouldn't that just make you feel loved and special? Okay, when he asked you to move in with him, he probably didn't use those words. What did he say? Did the real meaning differ from what I just said?
I tried to find some statistics that would indicate the level of commitment in living-together relationships. One indicator I thought of would be: Does the couple have a joint checking account? Ultimately I couldn't find any such statistics, but I did find lots of advice articles on why having a joint checking account is a bad idea. They mostly came down to three points: (1) it creates problems dividing assets if you separate; (2) it would mean giving up your independence; and (3) the other person may be less responsible about money than you are.
All of these indicate a distinct lack of long-term commitment. Number 1: If you're making plans about how you will manage your separation, then you must not have much of a commitment to stay together. Number 2: The whole point of marriage is supposed to be "two become one". If you're carefully planning how to maintain your independence, you're missing the point. And number 3 is just funny. You love this person desperately. You want to share your whole life with her. You are anxious to share your body as an expression of your deep, abiding love. But you don't trust her enough to share your money. Sex is one thing, but give you the password to my Facebook account? Wait just a minute there!
Living together with no long-term commitment is not "practice for marriage" or a "trial marriage". It is an entirely different relationship. All it is practice for is taking advantage of another human being without promising anything in return.
© 2013 by Jay Johansen
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