Friday, August 24, 2018

I Lived With My Boyfriend and I Regret It

The man I was engaged to for two years and friends with for six years left me a few weeks before our wedding.

I had already sent out invitations, bought my dress, and booked a church. We had gone through intensive (and expensive) marriage prep together. And we were living together  in an apartment that I had spent hundreds of dollars to furnish and make our home.

Miraculously, though we came close, we never had sex, though we often shared a bed and committed various sins of impurity that I shall not mention here. I am a Catholic. I try to take my faith seriously. And I am here to warn you that living with your significant other before marriage is a death knell for your relationship. I know; I went through it all.

Now, I am sure there are some couples out there who live together, make it work somehow, and eventually get married. And I’m sure that most couples who cohabitate before marriage intend to get married eventually. But there are many more couples out there—I’m sure you know a few yourself—who are just living together with no clear goal of marriage. Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free? 

Cohabitation was the most efficient and easiest option we had at the time. We didn’t have to pay rent for two separate places, I could get away from my annoying housemates, and we could both start preparing for our future married life together. It made so much sense then, and I knew I was going to marry him anyway, so why not? Not to mention that everybody else was doing it. Which doesn’t make it necessarily right, but it does make you wonder sometimes if you’re the only fool missing out on something.

So why not live together? What’s stopping you? That damn Catholic church, that’s what. Spoiling all our fun. Trying to suppress our healthy sexual desires with rules and regulations. Forcing God into my bedroom where He doesn’t belong.

Yes, it’s hard to be a Catholic today in a world that is so open to everything but Christian morality. It’s hard to see couples have all the sex they want, whenever and however they want it, like some kind of 50 Shades of Grey Buffet. So why not just shack up, Catholic or not? We’re adults, we can make our own decisions.

Well, the answer to this question is complicated, and the world doesn’t like complicated answers. In fact, it doesn’t like answers at all, because it likes to pretend that there are never consequences for an individual’s actions. If you get pregnant and don't want the baby, get an abortion. If you live beyond your means, declare bankruptcy. If you want to cheat on your spouse or significant other, it’s your right to be happy at any cost. In our age of convenience, where computers and slave laborers in China take care of everything, we demand a lifestyle of instant gratification with zero consequences.

Our generation sadly forgets that a life without consequences in itself begets consequences. We can never avoid suffering, and even if we do temporarily, someone else always suffers instead.
I thought that me and my ex were fully committed to each other, but he left, and everything fell apart seemingly overnight. Many encouraged us to “test drive” our marriage before it even began, and that’s just what we did, but we destroyed our marriage before we even got to the altar. For one thing, marriage is not a car, nor is it something you can pull out of its context and examine before it actually happens. After a couple is fully and legally committed to living together, a whole host of different opportunities and challenges arise that can’t be found when a couple is just sharing a bed and a bathroom.

The problem with cohabitation is that it offers an escape, an out, a second route if the couple realizes that they really weren’t meant for each other. If the sex becomes boring, if the finances become tight, if the future in-laws become too overbearing, someone can book out at any time. Is this good practice for marriage? Hell no. Marriage is for better or for worse, through sickness and health, in good times and in bad. When the couple exchanges vows, they don’t say “I will love you and honor you only as long as it feels good and is convenient for me.”

That’s exactly what happened to me. Once the going got tough, once we were fighting all the time and barely speaking to each other, there was no incentive to work things out. The door to escape was open, and he took it.

But a failed relationship is better than a failed marriage, right? This is the excuse many couples use: “we’re just trying to see if we’re compatible before marriage so we won’t have to go through a messy divorce later.” But like I mentioned before, cohabitation is NOT an accurate reflection of what marriage will actually be like. Why? Because it offers the tantalizing prospect of sex without commitment. Because it allows the option of parting ways if someone better comes along. It’s kind of like teenagers who never want to fully commit to an event on a Friday night in case something more exciting pops up. Ask if them if they’re coming to your party and they’ll respond with “maybe.” Cohabitation is the “maybe” of marriage.

Of course, all of this is coming from a Catholic perspective of marriage, where you don’t just get divorced when you feel like you don’t love each other anymore. Christian marriage draws on the sacrificial example of Christ. Secular marriages have no such inspiration to stick together. In truth, secular marriages survive only as long as the happiness and convenience are present. Once things go downhill (and they will) there’s no reason to stick around and suffer. Why waste time with someone who won’t make you happy? You deserve to be happy no matter what. You are the only one that matters. So you divorce and move on to the next person who makes you happy, and leave them once they, too, become inadequate. It’s a vicious cycle. You may as well not get married at all, and that is why so many couples today don’t even bother to.

You see, the commitment of a Christian marriage rooted in the sacrificial teachings of Christ gives you the strength to put up with your partner’s weaknesses. It doesn’t give you the option of backing out if you suddenly realize that your spouse’s bad habits and body odor are unbearable. Marriage gives you the perfect environment to work through your problems together rather than hitting the road to avoid them.

Going back to cohabitation, perhaps there are some of you out there who believe you have superior self-control. We can live together, you say, because it will save us so much money, but we won’t have sex. We’ll have separate bedrooms, even. I’ll sleep on the couch! But as anyone who has shared a house with other schmucks knows, it’s difficult to maintain privacy when you’re in close quarters with somebody. There is something very intimate about sharing a small apartment or house with someone that should be reserved for the ultimate commitment of marriage.

I, too, thought I had superior self control. I thought I was above the other weak fools who couldn’t control their sex drives. But I was wrong, and if not for the extraordinary grace of God, I would be pregnant now and trapped in a miserable marriage to a man who never really wanted me anyway. I committed some terrible sexual sins with that man that haunt me to this very day. I was a “good girl” who never thought I’d go beyond kissing and holding hands before marriage. I was the nice Catholic who had all the books about pure love and even posted on this very blog about how important it is to save sex for marriage. The heat of the moment makes hypocrites of us all. Innocent hugging and kissing on the couch can quickly escalate if no one is around to hold you accountable.

I once heard someone once describe cohabitation as a “trap.” I think this is indeed an accurate statement, for it shows how living together can literally ensnare you in a lifestyle that is very difficult to get out of. If the relationship ends up failing, one of you has to leave and drag all your physical and emotional baggage with you. And you’ll probably never want to look at that couch he bought for you again, much less remember all the times you had sex on it.

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened to our relationship if we had not lived together; if it would have lasted, or if it would have ended a lot sooner before it got so unbearably painful and far along. I wish that, instead of living together, we had focused on other things that would have brought us joy and satisfaction as a couple. Rather than letting the physical aspect of our relationship consume everything we did, we should have let it compliment everything we did.

When you and your future spouse have made the decision not to have sex until your wedding night, you have room to explore other fun couple things rather than just hanging around and wondering who is going to strip first. It frees you. It liberates you to explore other aspects of each other’s personalities that just don’t surface when you’re both naked and slobbering on each other. And as most of us know, it’s much harder to break out of a relationship when sex is involved. Both partners may be afraid to call things off when they have already invested so much and given all of themselves, even if the relationship is very clearly doomed to fail. I was so invested in the relationship that I was desperately afraid to end things, so I let them stagnate and progress until the last worst possible moment, mere weeks before our doomed wedding.

Yes, staying chaste and living separately is hard. Miserably hard. But nothing worth having is easy. There’s a lot of truth to the expression “easy come, easy go.” Cohabiting couples have separate names, separate bank accounts; there’s an implicit agreement that either can back out of the relationship. In brief, they are rehearsing a low-intensity commitment. But marriage involves a high-intensity commitment. Nothing worth having is easy.

If you are wavering between cohabitation or no cohabitation, consider the consequences. There are serious implications to this decision that our modern society ignores, downplays, or shoves under the rug.

I will also mention one last thing: scandal. Most people only see this word on the front cover of People magazine, announcing a new divorce/affair/breakup with so-and-so. To a Christian, scandal is something entirely different and very serious. If you identify as a Christian and seriously practice your faith, and if your friends, family, and co-workers know that you are Christian and yet shacking up with somebody, what will this say about you? What will this say about Christians in general? How will this reflect on you when someone sees the cross around your neck as you crawl out of your bae’s apartment on Saturday morning to fetch the paper? Christians have already received enough flak for being hypocrites these past few centuries. Why perpetuate the blitzkreig? “My God is OK with it” is not the appropriate response. There is only one God, and He wrote a book that specifically condemns cohabitation.

I brought terrible shame on my family by living with my ex-fiancé before marriage. I betrayed my faith and my conscience. I will pay for those decisions for the rest of my life.

But the question of the economic benefits of cohabitating still loom in the background. But this where you, as a Christian/Catholic, have to make a choice. What is more important to me: my money or my soul? Some might scoff and say that it’s not as black and white as that. But a good Catholic should prefer to wear clothes from Goodwill and restrict their eating out on the weekends than have to deal with a painful potential breakup, hauling all your belongings around multiple times, and worry about whether your boyfriend wants you for your character or your body. Let me put it another way: if you follow God’s will, no matter how impossible or even stupid it seems, He will provide. He will come through for you. The money will be taken care of. God never neglects those who faithfully follow Him even though everyone tells them that they are nuts for doing so.

In short, stay strong, and don’t do what I did. You’re not married yet, and a lot can happen between popping the question and the wedding day. Love your future spouse by doing what is truly best for them, by not endangering their soul, by giving them a chance to love you for your character and not for what you can bring to their bed. I will have to live with the guilt of my decision to cohabitate for the rest of my life. Don’t let it happen to you.

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