In last year's October 19th Parade Magazine the following question was discussed with teenagers: "You Can Really Get to Know Someone By Living Together--Yes Or No?" Probably one would be overly-optimistic to expect an answer, such as: "You mean commit fornication? God has always forbidden that kind of behavior. It was defined as sin under the Law of Moses; Jesus likewise condemned it, and His apostles consistently listed it among the works of the flesh. Of course it would be wrong to cohabitate in order to 'really get to know someone.'"
Instead, most of the teenagers in the group thought it made sense. Chris (all of these teens were from Parkersburg, West Virgina) responded as follows:
Do you think you will ever have more, emotionally, than your parents do now? Look, half of us have parents who are divorced. And many parents stay married but have a lot of arguments. I think if they'd gotten to know each other better, they probably wouldn't have married. I think you have to be really sure.
Now ordinarily we would not criticize so severely one who is only 18, but this was hyped as a "provocative question" in the lead-in to the article.
It is true that some people get married without knowing each other very well. All of us have seen the person who sets forth a rosy disposition for a certain period of time or toward a particular individual. Then, when pretense is no longer needed, the prickly-pear, real self emerges. The shrewish woman or the abusive man takes over so effectively that those who did not know this couple at the time of their marriage scratch their heads and say, "I wonder what he/she ever saw in her/him."
But to think that living with someone for a period of time will solve all those problems is naive. How long is long enough to know the person you are living with? Long enough for the "fake" husband to lose his job and not be able to find another one for months? Long enough to know how having children will affect the "pretend" wife? How will she be affected if she miscarries? What will be the "couple's" attitude toward child discipline? Oh, sure, they can discuss it intellectually ahead of time, but how will it work out in practicality?
How long should a couple live together before marriage before he finds out how she will react to a teenage son being arrested and put in jail? Or before she discovers how he would react if their teenage daughter became pregnant? Some pairs are still learning things about each other at retirement age.
The point of all these questions is that people do change. Sure, he was a nice guy when she married him, but happily-ever-after got cut short by his turning to alcohol and gambling. He thought he had found a pearl until he discovered she was "having an affair" with another man.
Someone ought to point these things out to Chris rather than encouraging him by saying he asked a "provocative question." Furthermore, according to some studies, those who "lived together" first actually had a higher divorce rate than those who did not. So besides the fact that it is morally wrong to do so, the idea has failed anyway.
Furthermore, if Chris thinks the toothpaste cap is the big issue in marriage, he needs to do a little more studying. In most polls that deal with problems in marriage, the big three points of contention are sex, money, and in-laws. There are other issues, but the toothpaste cap very seldom makes the top ten list. At this juncture, the interviewer asked: "Are those things important?"
Another student chimed in: "They're agitations. People don't like living with agitations," to which Chris added, "And how you deal with little problems is how you'll deal with the big problems in the future."
People don't like living with agitations? Well, excuse the world!! Anyone who thinks that marriage is supposed to be agitation-free is obviously not ready yet. Are there agitations in school? Students confide that many of their professors are unsympathetic as to whether they learn anything or not; some refuse to even answer questions.
Do people ever become agitated at work? Are they ever passed over for promotion? Do they ever have to share an office with someone who cracks his knuckles or wears too much perfume? Do they have to do other people's work and cover for their ineptness?
Do people become agitated just driving down the road when the person in front of them stops for no apparent reason or has no clue as to what an accelerator is for and what the color green means? Do people get agitated when someone crosses three lanes of traffic just to cut in front of them when there was not enough room for a surfboarder? And what about the agitation that results from waiting patiently to make a turn, and another vehicle waits until two feet before the intersection to turn on his signal light?
We may not like living with agitations, but we do so for a lack of meaningful options. There is no greater opportunity to find irritations than at home. Periodically, a wife writes in to an advice column about how to handle her husband who just throws his clothes on the floor rather than putting them in a hamper. People get on each other's nerves at times. Living with someone will not eliminate such problems.
The manner in which one deals with little problems is no index as to the way larger ones will be dealt with. Some will compromise on big issues but remain inflexible on minor matters, and vice versa.
In years gone by the girls would probably have been outraged by the question in this survey, but they proved to be just as immoral, if not more so, than the guys. Cara commented (to the one male who took exception to the proposed arrangement): "You don't think living together will help them work things out?" Ashley asserted: "I don't see the harm in living together. You can learn more about the other person that way." But Sarah was just plain bold:
I'm not totally against premarital sex. You need to find out if that person can satisfy you or not. What if this person just doesn't do anything for you? You're going to be stuck the rest of your life.
What kind of emphasis has produced this type of thinking? Doesn't this kind of hype come from magazines which accent the material world, songs with lurid lyrics, and movies/television that glorify the flesh--in other words, the realm of fantasy? Does Sarah know multitudes of young couples who have gotten married and are dissatisfied in the bedroom? No evidence has been offered of such an epidemic.
That is not to say that everyone is a natural-born expert, but two people who are committed to one another, and are willing to communicate, can grow in this aspect of married life, just as in any other. Sexual problems within marriage do not generally occur on day one. Some are introduced by infidelity; others may arise from unrealistic expectations sparked by pornography (magazines or videos). Still others may reflect a change in attitude on the part of one mate.
Perhaps she did not intend to do so, but Sarah implies that love varies in direct proportion to sexual satisfaction. If that were the case, perhaps one should try as many partners as possible to decide who would make the best husband for her (assuming she can remain free from all sorts of diseases). And then, once married, how will she know she is not missing out on someone even better? What a grotesque philosophy!
It is amazing how marriage, as God designed it, eliminates so many problems--if those who enter into it will honor their commitments. Sarah thinks of marriage as being "stuck for the rest of your life." Yet obviously people do not really feel "stuck" (remember Chris said that half the parents in this group were divorced). Instead, marriage partners enjoy an exclusive privilege. It is a privilege and a challenge to begin, develop, and maintain an intimate relationship with another human being (of the opposite sex) in God's Divine institution.
*Send comments or questions concerning this article to Gary Summers. Please refer to this article as: "WHY DO YOUNG PEOPLE NEED GUIDANCE (1/11/98)."