God's great cosmic joke on the human race was requiring that men and women live together in marriage.
- Mark Twain
I'm 33 years old. I've been married for almost eight years. I met my wife in 5th grade. When I was eleven, I gave her a $1 ring in a paper bag because I wanted to marry her. Wise beyond her years, she kindly gave the ring back. 15 years later, I would be looking at her in the middle of a redwood forest in front of family and friends on the day of our wedding. The new ring didn't cost $1, and luckily, she didn't give it back. In 2014, I witnessed the birth of our daughter, Elsie Grace and in a flash, I saw all that my wife and I had been through from age ten to 33 and I was weightless under the power of how I could receive a gift so divine.
My story may force you to roll your eyes or soften your heart. In either case, it does not change the fact that marriage is a relationship completely unique to the human experience. The journey toward marriage is as varied as each of our lives are, but do we see marriage with reverence today? With wonder? C.S. Lewis wrote a book called The Four Loves. In this book, he reveals that the English language doesn't provide the depth required of the word "love." In fact, we use love quite liberally in our culture. We love friends, cars, dogs and phones, but Lewis describes how the Greeks defined love.
The Four Loves according to the Greeks:
- Phileo - Brotherly love or friendship
- Eros - Sexual love
- Storge - Parental love
- Agape - Godly love
Marriage is the only relationship of it's kind, in all the world, where all four loves merge. You can have one of the first three, but you can't have them all without the last one. The reason being is that Agape or Godly love is the very essence or reason for the first three. What the Greeks knew to be true is friendship, sexuality and parenthood are cosmic gifts. The reason they are cosmic is the resulting sense of gratitude that comes with each one. Have you asked where you received the capacity to be a friend, a lover or a parent? From a book? From your upbringing?
I'm not talking about the traditions or routines you've seen in your family or neighborhood. I'm talking about where you got the capacity to experience those loves. If we stop at Agape, then what reason would we have to call our love a gift? There would be no gratitude, it would simply be a result of your own doing. "I made this happen, good for me. I deserve this love." Anyone who has really been in love, is overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude. That wonder is what I'm arguing is in jeopardy with the Millenial trend of playing house.
The widespread trend of cohabitation (living together before marriage) or "playing house" as I like to call it, has provided two schools of results during research. The older school believes it leads to divorce: the notion of "test driving" the car before you buy is a sure fire way to have buyer's remorse. The second (and more modern school) believes that divorce has little, if anything, to do with cohabitation and a person's age has more to do with a marriage's success. The idea being that older people are more suited for what is required in a marriage relationship. Just for context, only 11% of women who first married between 1965 and 1974 cohabited prior to marriage. From 2005-2009, 66% of women were cohabitating before marriage according to sociologist Wendy Manning. There has been a 900% increase in living together before marriage in the last 50 years. To further strengthen the second school's belief, the divorce rate is also decreasing. This would leave us to believe that since cohabitation is at an all-time high and divorce is at a 20-year low, all you have to do is be over age 25 and live together and you'll avoid divorce. Nothing is that simple. Here are my 5 arguments against these schools of research and why Millenials should rethink playing house.
- Millenials are too young to know playing house works
First, if we look at Millennials who are born from 1980 to 1999, the oldest person in this generation is 35. If that person married at age 18, the maximum age of a marriage for any Millennial is 17 years. Despite this being over the infamous "seven-year itch" where most divorces occur, 17 years is hardly an accurate data point to claim that "playing house" is an antidote for divorce. In 1894, Mark Twain said in his notebook, "No man or woman knows what perfect love is until they have been married a quarter of a century." If that doesn't convince you, a relatively new study found that people who are married for 65 years or more have more sex then a single person does. That means your 80-year old grandparents have more sex than you do! Why is this so important and not gross? Dr. Samuel Stroope, lead author and sociologist at L.S.U. was interviewed in The New York Times in February of last year. Stroope describes this phenomenon with long-time marriage relationships as“relationship capital." "In good marriages," he said, “you’re building up something, accumulating experience and knowledge about your intimate partner over time that builds on itself.” What he's saying is that the four loves compound one another. Sex is an expression of that compounding. How can we say that playing house for one or two years provides a window into the deep connection that is only attained over 5-6 decades?
- Playing house is based on conditional love
One of the biggest excuses people make for living together is economical. One rent check makes more sense than two right? Although, people who live together prior to marriage seldom combine bank accounts. The other excuse is, "I want to see how they live, so I know I'm not making a mistake." The not so public excuse is about sex. Now before you think I'm being socially regressive please consider this. How much would you want to be married to a person who, at any moment, can leave if they aren't pleased with your sexual, economic or domestic performance? The entire point of marriage is that it is a legal declaration that I am no longer married to what I want. Imagine saying this to your current long-time relationship.
"The love I have for you is an expression of what I'm willing to give up and change for your love. I love you so much that I don't want what I used to want. That means, even though it makes economic sense to live together, I don't want to live with you in a conditional environment. I don't want to leave if you pass gas randomly or fail to pay a bill on time. I don't want to leave because you tell me to clean up my mess when I don't want to. I love you unconditionally. I love you so much that I don't want to have sex with you simply to know that you'll make a great mate for me in the future. I want sex to be an expression of all other aspects of our love together. When we are ready for that, we shouldn't hesitate to get married, move in together and start a new adventure, idiosyncrasies and all."
Now, if that's impossible for you to say, you're probably not ready to be married yet alone live with anyone and that's ok. You see, the second school of research does have a valid point that it takes time to embrace this feeling of love. For some, it takes months. For others, it takes decades. To think we can beta-test this kind of love is dangerous, ignorant and not fun.
- Playing house means nothing changes when you get married.
So your plan of testing the ground over the past few years has worked. You believe this person is compatible with you and your standards and it's time to get married. You go through the process of engagement and return to the home you both live in. You plan the wedding and after the big day, you come home to the way things always have been. There is no change. Oh, you have rings on. You have a bunch of money and donations for your honeymoon because you told your wedding guests, "We don't need toasters or sheets or furniture because we were proactive." You don't consummate the marriage, you just have sex again because "that's what we do."
Here's something that will shock you, the divorce rate for arranged marriages is 6%. According to Utpal Dholakia Ph.D., a 2013 IPSOS survey found that 74% of young Indians (18-35 years old) prefer an arranged marriage over a free-choice one. Other sources report that as many as 90% of all Indian marriages are arranged. Only 1 in 100 Indian marriages end in Divorce. And as far as satisfaction goes, a recent study by UCLA found that in 28 arranged Indian-American marriages and 30 free-choice marriages, there was no difference in their love and affection for one another. Some of these arranged marriages have only a few days to be alone together before they decide.
According to Dr. Dholakia, some reasons feeding this phenomenon is the prospects are vetted through reliable sources. The parents or family choose. This also limits the amount of options for a person. It takes two very difficult parts out of the courting process. Trying to find an attractive mate with similar values, religion, attractiveness and status is difficult. This is somewhat taken care of in an arranged marriage. Another aspect is low deliberation time. You have no opportunity to take your time, so only the most important traits get observed and valued. Finally, it means the marriage is started with lower expectations. I would say more realistic expectations. Think of the pressure you put on the marriage when you've told yourself that everything was tested and approved and then one day your proven mate does something that frustrates you. Uh oh! What then? When we remove the newness of a marriage or the transition that happens when two people become married, we put more pressure then is needed. When you both don't know how you live, you come up with your own ways of doing things. You discuss and compromise and realize that the way your parents did things may not be the best way. Anyone who is married and still saying, "Well, that's how my family does it," is still being controlled by their parents and their past. Be open to seeing marriage as a whole new aspect of your life. It is not an update to your current existence. This is a relationship that will make you something you've never seen or considered. That's what it's designed to do.
- Sex is not a transaction that you return when you're done playing house.
To be naked and have sex with someone means to be one with them literally and spiritually. If sex is a currency, we massively devalue it by having sex with someone we are not totally committed to. Marriage is the only relationship where we say, "I am totally committed to you." When you have sex with someone, you are saying, "I am yours. I am completely yours. All my love and desire are tied up in you." To do it without really feeling that, you've just used the most powerful expression or ceremony of all four loves and said, "I didn't really mean anything. It's just sex." Sex before marriage means that I want to be physically naked, but I don't want to be economically, emotionally or spiritually naked with you. Marriage is the relationship that says, "I want you for you alone." Sex is the expression of that deep desire for someone. Consider this, the next time you find yourself about to have sex with someone and you're not married to them, ask yourself this true/false question, "This person can have all that I own and all that I desire." If the answer is true, stop and ask that person to marry you. If the answer is false, just stop.
- Wise people can reverse course
The ultimate human problem is that we know what to do, but choose not to do it. We have to focus on what is at stake here. If you are living with someone that you intend to marry, have the hard discussion with them about why you can't pretend to be married. Move out because you love them enough to say, "I don't need to test the ground. I want you blemishes and all." Have the confidence in them to reciprocate. If they love you the way they are supposed to, they will come to understand. If you're thinking about moving in with someone you may want to marry, please reconsider. Let the four loves come in due time. Build a friendship that's bursting with desire and let patience be the virtue you employ. Let your love compound.
What I see in the rise of cohabitation is the desire to predict the unpredictable. We are trying to calculate and forecast the most important things in our lives. The things worth living for we are relegating to a process reserved for making a financial investment. The more we try to control how and who we love, the more blind our souls will be when real love is right in front of us. Simply because all we will say is, "I have plans and you're not in alignment with them." Isn't it more wondrous and fitting to say "I had plans and you've changed them. Let's make new plans."
Let me leave you with this: The British philosopher and known atheist, Bertrand Russell in his work The Conquest of Happiness said, "Of all cautions, caution in love is perhaps the most fatal to true happiness." If you want to throw caution to the wind and find a lasting love, love your partner for their own sake. Resist the norms and the data. Don't be sucked in by the urges. Love him/her completely and then you'll be able to enjoy him/her completely. Once that happens, you'll be a witness to the power of all four loves uniting.“You come to love not by finding the perfect person, but by seeing an imperfect person perfectly.”
- Sam Keen, American author & philosopher
About the author: Gary Xavier is the founder of The Blade Group LLC. A company that provides corporate cohesion services through visual media strategy and leadership development. Gary writes on young worker leadership and mission engagement. He is a former Marine sniper, Iraq War veteran, Ironman athlete and PGA Golf Professional. Follow Gary on Twitter @garyjxavier or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org