Stolen Wisdom

24 03 2011

Here’s a guest post on living together before marriage that I think I agree with:

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On living with your significant other.I’m against it. What an unpopular opinion!

If two people live together for a year, and then get hitched, don’t they have a pretty good idea what living with the other person will look like? What if they decide at that point that they may find each other fabulous, but they just can’t live together? Isn’t it better for them to find that out before they get hitched and spend a lifetime in misery, or get hitched and then unhitched?

I don’t think so. I’m not a fan of the hitched-unhitched cycle, or the hitched-and-misery situation. But that’s why God gave humans compromise, communication and counseling. Of course some things about another person will be irritating. Perhaps irritating to the point of murderous rage. Some things, like night-terrors, night-walking, night-violence are intolerable. If your significant other regularly pulls down bookshelves on your sleeping form, or beats you to a pulp with a baseball bat while you’re both insentient, that is definitely a red flag. However, the Lord also invented separate bedrooms and locks.

I’m not suggesting that anyone should put up with abuse. I am suggesting that there are creative alternatives to unhitching or murder. And, that those alternatives are not always widely understood or culturally accepted.

What I am suggesting is that my grandparents (and maybe yours too) made marital cohabitation work without trying it first–for 50 years. What did they have that we do not have? A cultural value on permanence in relationships? A lower cultural value on personal happiness? A stick-to-itiveness that we don’t understand? A lack of awareness of personal misery?

Give a man freedom and wealth, and he will be unhappy. At least, according to Steinbeck. I think I agree with him in general. If life’s too easy, if we make it too easy for ourselves, we find a growing malcontent. Something will always grow; we can choose to be attentive to what is growing, or let what is there naturally flourish. I think this relates to living together… how?

Well, if we simply assume that man does not change, that how a person lives is how a person lives, and there is no hope of change or compromise, then… what will grow will grow. You may find that you cannot cohabitate well with another person. We put that on them, or simply accept it as it is and move on. I think this is akin to letting weeds grow just because we’re not willing to put in the effort to cultivate roses.

Alright, what about the practical benefits of living with a significant other? You get to split rent, have easy-access to relationship, invest in developing a relationship that has practical aspects, all before the other person has full access to things like personal finances, or full rights to personal belongings in the case of death.

Sure, there are practical benefits to living with someone you’re not ready to have for life. It is easier, in this culture that emphasizes personal convenience. Sure, it keeps finances simpler, sure, it lets you try some level of practical togetherness without complete practical togetherness. It also emphasizes autonomy while giving one the perks of relationship.

I’m completely unconvinced that maintaining practical autonomy while having the perks of relationship sets relationships up to succeed. I think autonomy in relationships is important. Don’t let yourself get consumed by your partner, have separate interests and maintain boundaries that allow each person a level of decision-making. Maintaining practical boundaries that allow easy disentangling fosters emotional boundaries that also allow easy disentangling.

One friend argued that choosing to stay in relationship, every day, is more romantic than making the decision to stay and sticking with that decision. I don’t think so. I think it does keep both parties on their toes, since either can leave at the first unwashed dish or pair of dirty chonies on the floor. Being easy to leave and choosing to stay may be exciting and give a sense of conquest. I don’t think it fosters trust and intimacy. If I trust you, I let you in. Letting you in means you have power to affect me. In healthy relationships, that power grows as the relationship grows. Building trust or intimacy is not easy. It’s hard work. I think trust and intimacy are best supported when the external trappings of trust and intimacy are intentionally cultivated, when the internals of a relationship match the externals of a relationship. If the externals don’t support the internals… the internals often eventually fail.

I’ll grant that relationships that are for now, because they work now, are appealing. I think they’re appealing because they’re easy. It’s easy to be with someone now because they fit now. It’s hard to play for a relationship that isn’t present, because the theoretical relationship is long-term, is better.

Doesn’t playing house together prepare a couple for actually having a house? …I don’t think so. I think it prepares a couple to continue playing at having a house, which is a disaster if they ever actually have a house. Skill sets are best developed with practice of the skills required, not practice of skills that are somewhat similar to what is required. If I want practical cohesiveness with another person, I need to practice cohesiveness, not autonomy. If I want trust and intimacy, I need to practice trust and intimacy, not be on my best behavior because they can pack up and disappear with no practical ramifications.

I am thankful that we as humans may choose what we grow in the gardens of our lives. We also may not. We may allow whatever will grow to grow. But me? I want roses, so I’m going to choose roses, dang it.