April 02, 2005

Living in Sin

To move right in and make a lifestyle of your dirty weekending? Miss Flynny wants to know. As the first topic in her portable round-table style quest for the truth, she asks all bloggers to discuss our thoughts on living together before marriage.

I was brought up in the rural south, with the clear understanding that if I ever moved in with a man before I married him, I would be forced to commit ritual suicide to cleanse my family of the shame. Like seppuku, but with Methodists. In that light, you must see that my answer to this question will be somewhat tinged with the overtones of a belief system that largely expired in the sixties, but that I am aware of this bias and therefore I'd never seek to judge others on my fucked-up rubric.

It depends on who it is you're trying to please, I guess - the "Good of Society" or yourself. Fundamentally, waiting until marriage to live together supports the idea of committed families; the understanding being that once a legal and spiritual bond is in place, any children with which the couple might be blessed have a better chance at a more stable home, therefore assuring that Society is provided with Good Citizens to shepherd It along in a positive direction, generation after generation. That being said, as a modern woman I totally understand and embrace the idea that two people have a better chance of making a marriage viable - of personal happiness - if they know what the hell they're getting into when they walk down the aisle. In 2005, it's six in one, half dozen in the other, because if a couple doesn't feel the personal happiness, it is likely - even probable - that they will divorce, regardless of children...but it hasn't always been this way, and thus the prohibition on premarital cohabitation.

I guess it was different, really, when marriage as a concept was still widely considered as binding for life, when divorce and desertion were rare simply by force of societal disapproval. In days of yore, when two people married, that concept of personal happiness that we modern Americans have was somewhat different, I think; divorce was rarely an option, so you married in good faith and hoped for the best. A divorced woman was looked down upon, divorce courts were not so sympathetic to "taking that bastard to the cleaners" - women put up with more to stay married. Men were raised to believe that they owed certain things to their wives and mothers of their children, regardless of whatever women they might cavort with on the side - a man who treated his family like shit was looked down upon, too, as a right bastard. People had incentives to stay married that just don't exist now. I'm not saying this was a good thing or a bad thing, it's just the way it was.

Since the sexual revolution, since the desire for personal happiness has subsumed, largely, the desire for marriage as a truly binding contract (i.e., feeling personal unhappiness is, in the mainstream, a good enough reason to divorce) people shop around. Call it sexual E-bay or serial monogamy, now that the walls around premarital sex and the negative connotations associated with divorce have tumbled away, people want a look at the goods before they buy, and everything comes with a return receipt, just in case.

The benefits of living together before marriage are many - you get to know your partner, how they live, whether you can stand them in the mornings or when they're drunk or on their high-horse. You start to see if there are little things about your partner that drive you crazy, that you just can't live with. You're forced to see the person more than the sex object, or the angel of love to worship - you see their hairs in the bathtub, smell their body-smells, see if they pick their nose or bite their toenails. Also, pre-marital personality charades are much harder to pull off on a live-in basis. You know what I'm talking about - the psycho bitch who finds out what your ideal woman is and pretends to be it - until she's got you and can turn on you like a rabid dog. The asshole abusive stalker husband who is a perfect prince - until the wedding night. Shit like that doesn't happen as often when two people live together before jumping into the contractual aspects of a permanent relationship.

However, it is also my experience that a great number of people, especially women, enter into live-in relationships and are eventually badly hurt when the relationship doesn't lead to marriage. Although I believe that this kind of thing usually happens to women when they are deliberately blind to the fact that they are acting as a sort of fucking-roommate to someone who will never marry them, the fact is that there are users of both sexes out there who will use "moving in" as more of an economic and domestic cushion than a prelude to something more formally committed. People fall in love and see with rose-colored glasses - moving in together requires a pragmatism that some folks will never possess, thus hearts are broken.

One stipulation: I personally believe that if you are going to have kids, you should marry, or, if that's not an option for some reason, take the trouble to sit down with a lawyer and hammer out a legal arrangement that provides for their care in the event you break up with your partner. You may think it will never happen, and it may not...but again, let's be pragmatic. It's the least that any parent can do for their child, so that your precious ones are cared for in the event that something happens to your live-in, or you, yourself.

Just a few posts ago, I mentioned that Mister MacFarland and I leapt into marriage, by today's standards - we dated for a year, engaged for six months of the twelve. Before we married I had never consented to live with a man, simply out of respect for my parents - plus, I never had a relationship with a man that went on longer than a few months that was serious enough to move in, but not serious enough to marry. Despite what you read here about my sordid past, I was a church-wedding kind of girl. Even so, once Mister MacFarland and I were engaged, we found out that we could break his lease a month before the wedding, allowing us an extra $1500 for our honeymoon. Honey, we abandoned that lease and Mac, bold as brass, moved in, a month before we married. Gasp! I'm such a rebel!

My father was appalled. Apoplectic. But I had every assurance of being "an honest woman" in a month's time, a massive Southern nuptial to-do was in the works, I had a ring on my finger - all of which was important to me - so I felt that a little fudging was acceptable. And you know what? It was. My daddy was the only one who even noticed, and Mac and I are happy to this day.

In short - my two cents? Live together if you know what you want and you think it might be serious. Don't live together if there is any inkling that your long-term wishes and the wishes of your "roomie-in-love" are going to come into conflict, or if you're not willing to look pragmatically at why your prospective live-in might be so eager to cohabitate. If you have kids outside of wedlock, take steps to protect them legally and save yourself a paternity battle, or the heartbreak of watching your partner take them away from you.

Morally? It's none of my bidness what y'all do. But I will tell you this - if Mac were to die tonight, I'd never marry again. I might would live with a man - for the companionship and because a widder lady can even tell her apoplectic daddy to fuck off with impunity - but I'd never choose to share this state with anyone but Mac. I love him and will never leave, but being married is a shitload of work, work I don't think my selfish ass would be willing to do again, or for anybody but Mac. Living together is much, much easier.

Posted by Queenie at April 2, 2005 09:46 PM

You did no wrong. I think you and hubby did just fine. If most people would live with one another for a period of time, it would make less divorces. It's like buying a new pair of shoes, you try them on and walk in the store with both shoes on, if they feel good, look good and you think you will buy them and wear them for a long time, then buy the damn shoes if they feel funny and look funny, don't but them, try on more shoes, until you get a nice pair. This would solve a lot of problems before the wedding, Cat.

Posted by: catfish at April 2, 2005 10:51 PM

On the downside, I stay on my high horse. I am a pedantic bastard who needs constant ego-feed. On the upside, I smell exquisite. Thank Dolce & Gabbana for that.

As for the rest, nothing like a test drive. See if the parts fit, are there any recalls?

Posted by: Velociman at April 3, 2005 12:27 AM

Thanks so much for participating. I think it could be fun if we can keep this going, as I can only imagine the topics that would be tossed out by some of our fellow bloggers.

As for your experience, you did NOTHING wrong.

Posted by: jmflynny at April 3, 2005 11:54 AM

I agree with much of your stance on the "living out of wedlock". In fact I had a short post on this not long ago about my daughter.

I am from the old school of Marry before you cohabitate but found that I threw that notion right out the window when it came to my daughter. My reasons for that were, she's young (almost 19) and while she has been dating her fiancee' for a year, that she doesn't REALLY know him, not really. She doesn't know all the little nuances of his everyday life.

I don't want her to marry him and then move in and find out that there are things about him that she just can't stand and cannot live with and then file for a divorce.

I agree that when marriage was held to a higher moral connentation that it was a good idea to marry first. In this day and age though, as you pointed out, people are not held to such high beliefs in marriage and will leave them instead of investing the effort required and actually honoring the commitment that was made.

I told my daughter that I might be the first mom to ever say this to her daughter and blasphemed from many others for it but I would prefer her to know what she is getting into before she makes the commitment.

Great topic by the way.

Posted by: dawn at April 4, 2005 12:10 AM

Dittos on the "no repeat". It would be just too hard to start over and work it all out from scratch with someone new.

Posted by: Desert Cat at April 4, 2005 02:53 AM
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