Within the past year, both my older brother and I have entered into serious relationships. I’ve been with my boyfriend for the past sixteen months, while my brother has been with his girlfriend for almost five. Our parents are incredibly happy for the both of us, as my brother and I haven’t exactly had a ton of luck in the romantic spheres of our lives in the past. Finally, though, he and I feel like we may have found our “person.” The only problem? Our family members absolutely abhor even the idea of us living with or spending the night with our significant other.
My brother, who I’ll call “Charlie” from here on in, is twenty-three years old; he’s dating a twenty-seven year old woman with a stable career, a beagle and an apartment of her own. I am also dating someone older and financially independent. I am still living in a college dorm and Charlie, as a graduate student, now lives in a shared apartment with some other guys. Now that I’ve sort of explained the scenarios Charlie and I find ourselves in, it’s important to recognize that he and I value the opinions of our parents highly, even though we do not agree with them. Our parents are deeply religious–they’re southern Baptists who believe in getting married only in churches and in living with a spouse, not a girlfriend/boyfriend, or even a fiance.
Recently, Charlie brought his girlfriend home to meet the family. She stayed with us for the better part of week, bringing along her dog and her chinchilla. After she and Charlie had left to return to Georgia, where they both live, my brother called to ask me for help: “Do you think you could give mom a hypothetical? Just ask her what she and dad would think about me moving in with her in the fall. I’m already over there all the time,” he said.
“Yeah,” I said, “But they don’t know that. Or, they’re trying not to think about it and are ignoring it.”
I was right. When I presented the hypothetical and the rationale behind the idea to my mom, the more gentle figure of our parental unit, she admitted that she actively banished the idea of Charlie essentially living with his girlfriend already. She explained to me that she believes cohabitation ought to be more sacred–she and my father did not live together until they had officially tied the knot, and it worked out for them. They understood, she said, that their commitment to one another had nothing to do with the other’s living habits. She said she knew my father well enough and loved him deeply enough to accept him without having first witnessed his living habits. Statistically speaking, the practice of waiting to live with someone until after marriage has more long-term success for the relationship. According to a 2014 article in The Atlantic, “On average, researchers concluded that couples who lived together before they tied the knot saw a 33 percent higher rate of divorce than those who waited to live together until after they were married. Part of the problem was that cohabiters, studies suggested, “slid into” marriage without much consideration.”
Long story short, the “hypothetical” Charlie asked me to pose was quickly squashed. He and I may be legal adults, but we certainly are not total independents of our parents. We regularly rely on them for advice, financial assistance, and more. The idea of moving in with our significant other secretly, or despite our parents’ wishes, hurts Charlie and I. The last thing we want to do is disappoint our parents; at the same time, however, Charlie and I grew up in a different generation with different expectations in relationships. He and I do not have any moral qualms related to cohabitation before marriage. In fact, he and I believe that living with the one you love will likely strengthen the relationship. At the very least, living with someone may reveal deal-breakers for the relationship that would not have come up otherwise. I can’t speak for my brother, but I know that no amount of convincing by morality, religious practice, or statistics can convince me not to spend the night with my boyfriend. Maybe that’s a huge character flaw of mine, or maybe it illustrates how much I love spending time with my boyfriend. I’m not totally sure.
What I know is that I do not want such a decision to alienate me from the rest of my family. My politically liberal, but morally strict grandmother, has already communicated to me her disdain for my cohabitative practices. As much as she likes my boyfriend, she cannot turn a blind eye to our immoral behavior. I understand and respect her beliefs, but I have to argue that what a couple does, whether they live together or not, does not change their relationship drastically (at least not in my experience). People will do what they want regardless of the status of their leases. For now, neither Charlie or I can fully move in with our significant others. At this juncture, a diamond ring may be the only way to secure that next step.