Shoot the messenger. But in this case, she doesn’t care.
I’ve heard so much talk about why it’s not right or not ideal to move in with someone and be sleeping with them, cooking and eating with them, playing ‘house’ with them and basically doing ‘marital’ stuff with them before getting married. Or instead of getting married.
Well, I’m not going to offer my opinion on whether it’s right or wrong, but I’ve seen too many a marriage fail because of expectations. The man thought that after marriage, the woman would not change. And the woman thought that after marriage, the man would change. But she did; and he didn’t. And trouble came.
So, panel of judges, my fellow debaters and the accurate time keeper (for those who remember the days of class debates), I’d like to support the motion that moving in with your partner before marriage can and does have positive effects.
When we are dating someone, especially someone we really like and foresee a future with, we are the best person we can be. No one starts out wanting to show their warts, their bad habits, their imperfections. We put our best foot forward. Because we want this person to like us too. We play up our great sides and try to hide our not-so-great sides; at least until we trust the person not to judge us by our flaws.
A girl might go visit her boyfriend on a Saturday afternoon, stopping by the market on her way there, to get a few things for a meal. She cooks something that he finds finger-lickin’ good and because it’s not her house, she tidies up the kitchen and leaves it spic and span, because (a) it’s the right thing to do; you don’t mess up someone’s kitchen and leave it that way, even if you’ve just made him a meal. And (b) she doesn’t want him to think she’s untidy, even though she knows she can be sometimes.
However, the case might be that when in her own house, even though she eventually gets to tidying up after cooking, she doesn’t do it immediately. She leaves it till after she’s finished eating a mountain of the food, and after spending an hour reclining on the living room sofa (where she ate the meal, because she likes to eat in front of the television and not at a dining table), possibly even snoozing for a bit because she stuffed herself beyond what is right and proper.
Fast forward to two years later, boyfriend proposes to her for a number of reasons, including the fact that she can cook and keep home. And he expects that standard when she moves into his house – he expects her not to change.
It might be that she moves into his house and for the first few months, or even a year, she manages to keep up with that standard. But one day, when she’s gotten comfortable, when she feels like this is her home too, when she considers the fact that he married her and he loves her (at least that’s what he said when he decided to marry her); one day when she’s had a really tiring day at work and has barely managed to actually cook the meal, she slips back into her old habit. She reclines on the living room sofa, lazily channel-surfing, her empty plate still sitting on the coffee table, waiting to be taken to the kitchen. And she snoozes. I know I’m telling a long story, but stay with me for another minute.
Her husband sees her. He probably looks on her with pity, thinking she must be really tired. And so, he picks up the plate, tidies up the kitchen because he doesn’t like untidy places and coaxes her to go get changed and head to bed. Then it happens again. And again. After all, he doesn’t really mind, since he’s tidied up after her the few times it’s happened. Or so she thinks.
Imagine the scene the day he decides to voice his pent up irritation. Or even imagine a scenario where he doesn’t voice out; where he keeps it all bottled up, getting more irritated with her by the day and starting to notice all her other flaws; then he starts to let that affect the way he treats her. He starts to scold her a little more, snaps at every little thing she does ‘wrong’, and might even stay out longer than he used to because somewhere along the line, the atmosphere in the house changed; It became a not-so-pleasant one.
At this point, one or both of them is wondering why they got married to the other; or how their lives might have been different if they had married someone else; they might remember the ‘warnings’ of their friends and family, which they refused to heed then, when the love was shacking them; they might start to feel like they had been deceived and they might want out. But it’s late. They’re married now.
But what if they had lived together for a year before they got married?
I can already see the conservative folk with traditional values spitting to the side. I can hear them judging, using religion and tradition as justification for why it’s not right. I can see them bristling in anger at the effrontery of the suggestion.
But again, I ask. What if they had lived together for a year before they took those vows?
One of two things would have happened. They would have learned some of the not-so-great things about each other, argued about them, found that they couldn’t live with them and decided not to get married. Or, they would have learned some of the not-so-great things about each other, talked about them, worked towards fixing them or even learned to tolerate them and still ended up together.
In the end, it all boils down to expectations. And for some reason, the expectations we have when we are in an informal (even if serious) relationship happen to be different (lower) from the expectations we have when we get married to that same person. This one deserves an article on its own because it’s a really touchy subject for me. But, I’ll head back in the direction I was going before – why I think that cohabitation is a useful thing.
The transition from dating to being married is often a sharp one, full of uncertainty and unsure moves. Both parties are wondering how to behave now that they are married – what’s out of bounds? What can they still continue with? What can they do and get away with? What are the expectations their other half has of them? What expectations do they have of their other half? It’s like one day you’re one person, and the next day you’re expected to be another person.
These pressures would be unnecessary if they were just dating or if it seemed like they were just dating. Which brings me to what I think is the most awesome thing about a live-in relationship – It’s not legally binding. And this means that instead of you feeling like you are ‘stuck’ with the person you’ve committed to, you can actually feel free knowing that you can walk out of the relationship if you feel like it’s not working. Indeed, this might even make both of you more committed to each other, because there’s no pressure of ‘together forever, till death do us part’ and your expectations are not as high. You understand the ‘impermanent’ nature of your relationship and you are a bit more tolerant towards the other person. Add that to the fact that after getting married, getting a divorce or getting separated can be a lot of trouble. So you’re best off not getting ‘stuck’ in a marriage that’s not working so that you don’t have to go to the trouble of dissolving it.
Cohabiting also gives the couple a chance to get to know each other better. And I’m not talking the “I like rice and you like beans” type of knowing. I mean getting to know each other’s living habits, financial habits, sense of responsibility (if they have one), the extent of family interference, and a host of other things which never crop up during the dating period. If your guy is the type to drop his socks wherever he takes them off and you don’t like the idea of picking up after him, chances are you’re never going to see that happen while you’re dating. If he’s one to wait until Nepa comes to cut the electricity before he pays the bills, and you don’t like to leave things to the last minute, it’s something you might easily miss during dating period. But if you lived together for a period, sort of like doing a ‘trial run’, then you both get a chance to see if your relationship can actually go the distance and survive all those seemingly small but absolutely mighty obstacles that show up in everyday life.
Cohabiting also lets you spend more time with each other, which inadvertently strengthens your bond. With work hours getting longer, and traffic adding to the amount of time one spends unproductively, many couples have to scrape the time to be together. Lots of relationships are ‘phone and weekend’ relationships, where you only really get to see each other on the weekends and the rest of the relationship is on the phone. But if each day after work, you get a chance to see this person and share the happenings of your day and have dinner together and draw strength from each other, without the legal pressure of being married, you’ll both become better friends, not to mention better lovers (*wink*) and this can form the basis for a strong marriage in the future, if you guys eventually decide to take the plunge.
Cohabiting might also make a lot of financial sense. You can both share rent for one apartment instead of paying for two apartments separately; or if the guy is unlucky, paying for two apartments at the same time. Not only will you share rent, you’ll share bills and other expenses. You’ll both get a chance to save either separately or together; that’s if y’all are not scared of doing stuff together. Again, and I must stress, this is a good opportunity to know how you both manage your finances, because money can cause serious problems. I’m not a fan of joint accounts, but I believe you can successfully go into a business venture with your partner. And working together at something that brings additional income is always a joy. It’s also helpful to know if your partner is open about how much they earn and if they believe in equal sharing of financial responsibility – this is especially useful for the men. It gives you a sense of whether you’d be left to do the ‘providing’ in the event that you get married and also lets you know if she’ll cover for you when you’re in a tight spot.
Now I’m not saying people shouldn’t get married; that’s all well and good, if that’s what you want to do. But I think that living together (at least for a period) is a much better arrangement. Because the truth is, some marriages should never have happened and if the couples had spent any ‘home’ time together before getting married, they might have realised that and not taken that disastrous step. And when you think of it really, what makes cohabiting so wrong in this society? It’s culture, and (old) values and religion and pretty much a list of things that we (the society) have put ‘in the way’.
Maybe I don’t belong here. Maybe I should be cast out to the oyinbo lands faraway, me with my ‘western’ ideas. But I certainly would choose to have a long-term partner over short lived marital bliss.
What do you think?