Cohabitation and Engagement

This week’s guest writer, James Rooney is proof that the Holy Spirit is intimately involved with the inner workings of your life and will do anything, and use anyone to bring you closer to him.  I am so honored that this blog was chosen by God to play a role in building a stronger marriage for James and Alyssa.  Their story is an inspirational example that it is never too late to begin following God’s will in your relationship. James and Alyssa were married November 2013.

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The Holy Spirit has taken me for a spiritual roller coaster ride these last couple months and for that I would like to thank the Holy Ghost and blame Janelle!! J Seriously though, I am so grateful for my sister in Christ having tasked me with the writing of this blog. It has forced me to take a long hard look at my spiritual life and remedy the sinful nature of my relationship. When I was initially asked to write this blog on chastity and engagement I thought Janelle knew my fiancé and I were living together. I proceeded to write a draft of my blog and sent it to her. She informed me she couldn’t post anything condoning cohabitation, which in turn motivated me to contemplate even more about the state in which I was living and the damage I was causing to my relationship by continuing to live contrary to what I believed was right. I figured it would be ok for my fiancé and I to live together so long as we weren’t engaging in sexual activity. Long story short, I called off the engagement and we separated shortly thereafter. The following couple months would be full of heartache and spiritual growth, both for myself and my fiancé Alyssa.

  I think it is important to first understand how the Catholic Church defines cohabitation, which is exactly how it is defined in the dictionary. Cohabitation is living in a sexual relationship with your significant other as if married without legal or religious sanction. I justified living with my fiancé because we were not having sex. However, there are two parts of that definition. Though we weren’t having sex, we were still living ‘as if married.’ I’m not even going to begin making excuses for why Alyssa and I decided to move in together. It was a whole series of events and circumstances that led us to make that decision and I admit it could have been avoided if we had been willing to live with those events and circumstances. Now that hindsight is 20/20, we gave up certain hardships to take on a monumentally more difficult one. Remaining chaste while living under the same roof was far more difficult than I had anticipated.  

Why is it so difficult? Why is remaining chaste so important if you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you will be marrying this person? If we started fooling around, there is no sense in stopping now right? The damage has been done hasn’t it? And there is no way either one of us is moving out now that we have a place together, which would be ridiculous. Well that’s what I used to think. And with the permission of my ever loving fiancé, she has allowed me certain liberties so that I may share a little about her life as well as my own.

We had both previously been in sexually active relationships throughout our high school careers and college. I had only been with one person ever, in a relationship that spanned the better part of 6 years. I had been raised Catholic and I guess I harbored some good old fashioned Catholic guilt so for the longest time my girlfriend and I refrained from actual intercourse and just did everything else as if that was better in some way. I also convinced myself that it didn’t matter if my girlfriend and I were sexually active because we “KNEW” beyond the shadow of a doubt that we would be married one day. HA! As the years went on our relationship became nothing more than hanging out and fooling around. About a year before our relationship would come to a close, a night of heavy drinking led to the “actual” deed being done. And since the damage had been done, why not just keep doing it? So from that point on our relationship took a nosedive and finally we went our separate ways. I spent that next three years remaining celibate and swore that I would not make the same mistakes in any future relationships.

I felt much guilt and regret over the course of those years. And looking back on it I felt that way because of what I was doing to her, not necessarily myself. I should have been her rock and not taken advantage as I did. You can nit-pick a relationship to death trying to figure out what went wrong, but I promise you that if you are sexually active with your significant other outside of marriage THAT is what’s wrong. If you love someone enough to have sex with him or her, then why aren’t you married? We come up with all sorts of creative and seemingly believable excuses as to why we won’t marry someone, yet we will continue to selfishly take advantage of that person’s body while possessing no respect for our own as well. It is important to understand that when you have sex with someone out of wedlock, you are consummating a marriage that doesn’t exist!! You are telling that person that they can have all of you, except your hand in marriage. When we realize that marriage is far more than a couple signatures on a piece of paper, is when we can truly start to understand why this no having sex before marriage thing is so important.

            My fiancé had also been sexually active in the past and had no real intentions of saving herself until marriage. I remember when we were first talking I had mentioned that I would not be engaging in sexual activity until I was married. She later admitted to not taking my claims seriously and entered into our relationship with expectations of sex before marriage. When she realized I was being serious she was somewhat intrigued as to why I held those beliefs so firmly. I explained to her my past experiences and gave her a brief overview of Catholic theology on the matter and she began to see the parallels between her past relationships and my own. Having come from sexually active relationships, living together was definitely a difficult task and ultimately led to our separation.  

My advice to couples who are cohabiting, whether engaged or not, is to respect each other as children of God. Furthermore, the need to live separately should be seriously discussed and followed through with. If your marriage date is close, maybe someone lives with a friend or family for the time being. If not, someone needs to move out and find a place of their own. The sacrifice may seem extreme but your relationship will benefit from it greatly. Know that marriage is more than the signing of documents and moving into the same building as the other. If you are sexually active with your future spouse, please consider learning more about the Theology of the Body and abstaining till you are both bound in marriage. Understand that marriage is a beautiful way that God channels his grace through two individuals and it is not until then that we can truly be open to life and love. I would ask that you and your significant other pray about your current sexual state and consider a life of loving sacrifice over a life of selfish desires.

As of about two weeks ago Alyssa and I decided to continue with our engagement. We are living separately until the wedding and couldn’t be happier. We have both grown so much in such a short period of time. I realized that the Lord had a plan amidst all the heartache and now I feel we are better because of it. Know that if you claim to love your significant other you will do anything to preserve your relationship. I avoided weighing this blog down with statistics and percentages because I believe that these matters, and whether they are right or wrong, are written on our hearts. Know that if you are living together before marriage the odds of your marriage lasting, or even making it to your wedding day, are not in your favor. Remember, Christ didn’t say it would be easy. He said it would be worth it!!!  

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Princeton Mom is Still Wrong.

This is an email I received in response to my blog on “Princeton Mom” the other day.  I wanted to share it and my response to her because many people do not understand the difference between finding a husband, and being open to the Lord’s will for your life. I hope I clarify my position. For what its worth, I agree with much of what “Mom of Seven” says below, and admire her for doing what is best for her family despite the economic impact.

(Disclaimer: Email below has been edited for privacy)

“… She does not at all say that the purpose of college for a woman is to find a husband.  She merely points out that during your college years, you are surrounded by eligible young men and she doesn’t say, but should, that you also have more free time than you ever will after graduation.  It behooves a young women (sic) to not squander that opportunity.  After graduation, typically, a new grad finds employment with multiple age groups.  She might not even work with many adults, or with eligible bachelors.  So her time in which to find a man to marry is now restricted to those hours that she isn’t working.  If finding a husband is truly important, it needs to be at the top of your priority list.  I am not saying that you need to be married by 22 or 23 or risk spinsterhood.  I am saying that the success of achieving one’s life goals is maximized when one takes advantage of the available resources. 

When I was in college, the great lie was that a woman could have it all – career AND motherhood.  I did date my future husband all through college, and we married when I was 24.  I earned an engineering degree and had a very nice career.  I earned even more money than my husband.  I didn’t want to wait until I was 30 to have children, but we were in debt, having gone to expensive private schools.  I had my first child, and returned to work.  I hated it.  We worked so hard for the next 2 years to pay off the school loans so I could stay home when my 2nd child was born.  We weren’t quite there, but I did stop working, and we lost half our income.  Money was tight for many years, but it was worth it to be home.  I learned that we can’t have it all.

It is easy to think when you are young that finding a good husband won’t take much effort.  It is easy to think when you are young that men will always find you attractive.  The older you get, the greater the chances that the men who are available have already had sex, and may have already been married, and may even have children.  You may even find men who fail to mention the reality of still being married while beginning a relationship with you.  This is just life in the big bad world. 

I have 3 daughters.  I also have 4 sons.  They are all under the age of 18.  I stress that right now is the time to focus on your education and sports and other recreational pursuits.  We do not permit dating before adulthood.  But I will tell them all, when they head off to college, that although an education is the primary reason to go to college, they need to keep their eyes open for a special someone.  Would I want my 20 yo getting married?  Probably not.  But I will not lie to my girls and encourage them to pursue a career first and a husband second.  I don’t use that engineering degree much, and probably never will again.  But I use my brain daily in the management of my home, I have several small business endeavors, and I have plenty of ideas about what to do when I really grow up and have no children to tend.  Careers can be pursued at any age.  But a woman can only bear children during a particular window of her lifetime.

-Mom of Seven

My Response:

I completely agree with your position, except for the phrase “find a husband”. I made this clear in the following quote from my blog, “What I am NOT all for, however, is the phrase “finding a husband”.’ This is what I took contest with when I read about “Princeton Mom”.

I am so blessed to be a Christian, to experience the peace of a life that is found with Jesus Christ. I thank my parents for raising me with these values.  As a Christian woman, I know that I do not need to find a husband. If I want to get married, I can certainly place myself in the position of meeting men, be open to men my friends recommend for me, and I can live a healthy lifestyle to ensure that I am at the peak of my attractiveness, but most importantly I need to cultivate a relationship with the Lord and trust in him to send a man my way, and I need to be open to receive him.

I did not, “find” my boyfriend Michael, a good friend introduced him to me. I have set friends up over the years. This is usually how these things go. I am certain you did not “find” your husband, I am sure the good Lord placed him in your path at the opportune time, you both felt attraction, and things blossomed from there, and the only thing you had to do was be open to the Lord’s will!

I am certainly not of the camp that believes you need to have a career and travel and buy a house before you get married…  However, the mindset of having to “find” a husband is similar to the mindset of having to “build” a career and a life before you get married. Both involve having a timeline for our lives that is man made, not God made. Yes, I agree that college is a unique time where we are surrounded by people of our age, but it is also apt to remember that a significant portion of the population has only recently started attending college immediately after high school. Somehow, all those generations before us managed to get married, and far more successfully, as the current, dismal divorce rates would suggest.

I am glad you do not let your children date before adulthood. I also like the phrase you used in closing, “Keep their eyes open for that special someone”. I feel this is much closer to the Christian worldview. Keep your eyes open, but also, “… do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6: 31-33)

I hope this helps clarify my opinion, thank you for writing!

Readers, please feel free to comment with your thoughts below!