The entertainment industry does exceptionally well in highlighting the advantages and thrills of falling in love. What it doesn’t do so well is to give people clues as to how to stay in love. This shouldn’t surprise us because falling in love is a lot of fun and it doesn’t take a lot of work. But this one-sided emphasis on the hormonal and emotional phase of love- while overlooking the sacrifices and graces necessary to sustain a relationship -is a recipe for disaster; both for couples and society at large. Perhaps, this is why more people in recent years are giving up on marriage altogether.
Anne-Marie Ambert, in her article “Cohabitation and Marriage: How are they related?” reviewed several Canadian and American studies on cohabitation and marriage rates. She wrote, “While cohabitation rates have shot up in the past decade or so, marriage rates have come down substantially.” “More recent trends,” she continues, “indicate that perhaps a higher proportion of cohabitors than in the past simply drift into cohabitation because it is more convenient than dating. That is, it makes it easier to be with each other sexually than when living separately.” Surprisingly, cohabitation is not only becoming an attractive alternative to marriage, but it is slowly becoming a form of dating.
This shouldn’t surprise us because Hollywood and public education- two very powerful forces in America –do not hold up, for imitation, those virtues and beliefs that make for a lifelong marriage. Yet, it is undeniably true that people who are married and are in it for the long haul, are much happier than cohabitators who transition from partner to partner. The latter party is like a bird in flight without a nest. They accumulate many falling-in-love experiences, but they never reach the purpose for which the phenomenon of falling-in-love exists. For many, the falling-in-love experience and the sexual thrills that accompany it, exists for its own sake. That is why they feel the need to reproduce as many of these experiences as possible. But this is nothing new.
In the first century, the Samaritan woman at the well was a cohabitator. St. Paul, too, spoke about those restless souls who never settle down in marriage. He even cautioned St. Timothy about narcissists and lovers of the flesh and explained that in the latter days women will be especially vulnerable to the sexual exploits of men. Specifically, he said, “For some of these slip into homes and make captives of women weighed down by sins, led by various desires, always trying to learn but never able to reach a knowledge of the truth.” (II Timothy 3:6-7) The truth about what, you might ask: the truth about how relationships and sexuality can build us up or tear us down.
Cohabitation plays right into the Hollywood narrative that the only thing worth pursuing is the experience or the falling-in-love process, not the person. It fosters an entitlement mentality because, by its very nature, shacking-up seeks to obtain the perks or the fruits of marriage (i.e. living together and sex) without the labor. Not too long ago, the man was expected to court the woman; to earn her affection and self-disclosure. He was to “put in his time” before she rewarded him with herself. And it wasn’t until he made a public and sacred commitment to her before God and the community that he would enjoy her intimacy.
However, with cohabitation, no such chivalry is warranted. In fact, earning the love of the beloved is discouraged. It is like saying the wage-earner no longer has to earn his wages; or the med student being permitted to practice medicine before he graduates from med school; or it is like an NFL franchise conducting try-outs for their football team after the season is over. To put it simply, cohabitation turns the natural order of love and marriage on its head.
What is more, just when a man and a woman ought to be discerning if they are compatible with one another, they cloud their own judgment by strengthening their sexual ties. In order to detect red flags or problem spots in the relationship there has to be a sense of detachment and objectivity. It just so happens that sexual purity occasions the needed clarity and objectivity. As such, the prospective spouse is much more likely to be seen for what he or she really is. It is for this reason that sexual purity or chastity better serves the purpose of dating than does cohabitation.