We’re going to a wedding this weekend for two friends who began dating right before our wedding two years ago. At a party last weekend, I asked the groom-to-be how he feels about getting married.
“I’m ready,” he confidently said. “It feels weird, though, as if we should have gotten married earlier,” he continued. “I mean, we were living together after only two months of dating. I bought our house almost a year before were were even engaged. We’re doing our relationship the opposite of how most people do it.”
“We’re doing it wrong.”
. . . Really?
Yes, they moved forward emotionally and physically at a very fast pace. They’ve been “living in sin” as some older Christians would put it. They haven’t followed the rules of “dating well” that are often unspoken (and unenforced) but still observed, at least symbolically, by many younger Christians.
But is it wrong if you and your beloved are taking a path that’s right for you, and for your relationship? Is it wrong to live in such a way that you two firmly establish a foundation of respect, communication, patience, perseverance, and that all-important element of a solid relationship, trust?
I can hear my grandmother saying, “Sure, all those things are necessary for a good marriage. You better have practice with all of them before you get married. But you don’t have to give away the milk to get the whole cow.”
Maybe, but your spouse will possess traits and habits that can remain “udderly” hidden until you two are living together and intimately dealing with life on a daily basis.
Husband and I didn’t live together before we got married. I wanted to preserve the sanctity of our engagement, and our last precious moments of singlehood. Once engaged, we spent a lot of time at each other’s homes, set up joint checking and savings accounts, and started sharing things like gas money and refrigerator space, but I drew the line at living together. I don’t regret this decision, but within a few months of being married and having nearly every aspect of our lives twined together, we both discovered major flaws and habits in each other that we couldn’t have known living apart. Things like:
Carefree financial accounting that wasn’t an issue before another opinion became tied to that checking account.
Excuses that tried to mask large chunks of previously free time spent in ways the other wasn’t comfortable with now that they were waiting at home.
A tendency to fly off the handle in anger when personal space was invaded too many times because 1,000 square feet, while big enough for one, felt way too small for two.
I felt sucker punched by all the personal revelations about my spouse. How could I have not known these things about him? We had been together for two years. We completed pre-marriage counseling. We claimed to strive to be our best self for each other. I felt so much shame for being a college-educated woman but not knowing before the wedding what I was getting into with my husband; at the same time, I felt tricked by Christian culture for being restricted from knowing more about him because living together before the wedding would have been “inappropriate.”
Maybe “tricked” is how the Samaritan woman at the well felt when Jesus approached her. Tricked, and exasperated. Five husbands into her life, maybe she was thinking, “Solid idea” when her current partner suggested living together before committing to marriage. More than 65 percent of my generation cohabitates before getting married, a point a dear friend brought up when I heaved a sigh into the phone after she asked me how married life was going 6 months in.
“You’re not failing. You guys didn’t live together before getting married, so of course you’re just now finding out about each other’s hidden negatives,” she explained in response to my wailing that we seemed to be fighting much more than other newlyweds our age. “If you had shared a space and finances and cars and household responsibilities already, you would be past all that by now. Give it time. You’re simply a few steps behind other newlyweds who lived together and dealt with these issues before getting married.”
Maybe it’s okay to take your own path to marriage, despite what Christian society says is right. Maybe our focus shouldn’t be so much on rules but on Jesus and how to reflect His love back at our partner.
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.
Colossians 2:6-8 NIV
Besides, marriage isn’t meant to make you holy in the eyes of others. It’s meant to make you holy in the eyes of God, and set apart for each other.
We worked hard to iron our cohabitation issues out. It took time, a lot of prayer, and a lot of slammed doors. We dropped several opportunities to do fun things together because we were so angry at each other in the moment. But we worked on ourselves and showed so much grace to each other – probably the same grace Jesus knew He needed to show that woman at the well: “It’s fine. You’re a few steps behind other couples. But you’re right where you should be in My eyes.”
I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs. I will put in the desert the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive. I will set junipers in the wasteland, the fir and the cypress together.
Isaiah 41:18-19 NIV
I still don’t regret our decision to enter into marriage by Christian society’s rules. However, I no longer look down on those who flaunt the rules and cohabitate, or get the milk without buying the cow, or buy a house before buying a ring. Marriage is hard. Commitment is hard. Hats off to anyone whose hearts are committed to each other and who are working toward a life together that honors each other and honors God. He makes streams out of deserts, especially when those deserts are our own creation or perception. He brings new life to situations in which humans don’t see the good. He’s making a marriage out of my friends’ relationship that, by the Church’s standard, has so far existed in a desert of sin.
God saw the hearts of my groom-to-be friend and his fiancée way before anyone else did, including them. He planned their marriage. And even though it hasn’t followed the norms of our culture, their path to marriage has still been paved with love, respect, and growing commitment that everyone important to them will witness this weekend.
Surely that’s ordained by our good Father.