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Once upon a time, the man would give his beloved a ring.

Now he gives her a key.

Or maybe she gives him a key.

Or maybe they share keys.

Not the keys to their heart, mind you, although they might romanticize it like that.

Then again, at other times in other cultures, the woman’s family would offer the man a dowry, or the man might give the woman’s family a goat or a cow.

What’s in a key? What’s in a ring? What’s in a goat? Does it matter what’s exchanged?

Perhaps you have contemplated the “trial marriage.”

Whether you have or not, I hope you’ll be open to contemplating this post, because I’ve given quite a bit of thought to this whole cohabitation thing over the last ten years or so of my 23 years of marriage.

Speaking of, let’s first look at the relational arrangement that cohabitation is challenging for societal dominance; namely marriage. Contrary to popular opinion, marriage isn’t just some old way we used to do relationships. Instead, here’s the reality:

The exchanging of wedding rings is meant to represent a life-long, sacrificial commitment.

In a Judeo-Christian wedding ceremony, the bride and groom aren’t merely expressing their affection for one another. They are saying, “I am committing myself to look after your good until the day death makes that impossible.”

That’s pretty bold, wouldn’t you say?

Of course, many a bride and groom make that commitment and then don’t follow through, but that doesn’t change what they originally said. And what, I presume most of them originally meant. And certainly what they originally hoped for. Regardless, the failure of some to honor their vows (maybe your own parents), doesn’t change the fact that the marriage covenant is a courageous and noble declaration.

But what does the exchanging of keys represent? Beyond a shared address? And bed?

What does cohabitation say?

Whatever cohabitation may mean to you or the next person, it certainly doesn’t represent a life-long commitment to anyone.

And that’s why it breaks my heart that 9 million couples in America are cohabiting today. That’s 18 million people who either don’t feel they’re worthy of a commitment like marriage, or doubt their partner is.

I know they (maybe you) may believe the choice to cohabit has nothing to do with perceived worth. Many who choose cohabitation would say they’re simply not ready for a marriage commitment.

And if those couples were 16 I’d say, “Well, yeah you’re not ready! Duh.”

But what do you make of a 35-year-old who’s not ready to make a marriage commitment? Or for that matter, a 25-year-old? If you’re mature enough to drive, vote, drink, work and live independently. Why not marry?

There are bigger dynamics at work here. That’s why I think we need to take a sober look at what statement is made when cohabitation is chosen over marriage.

People may debate the moral, pragmatic or psychological benefits or disadvantages of cohabitation (and they do), but what is not up for debate is this:

Substituting cohabitation for marriage is to take a societal commitment which has been the bedrock of stable communities across time and cultures and replace it with a vague communal arrangement.

An arrangement that says… Ahhhh…. That says…

Well, it says something far less meaningful than marriage.

I’d like to suggest some messages I believe cohabitation represents, but if you are cohabiting or considering it, some of my thoughts might be a little hard to hear.

Wherever you’re coming from, please know I share my perspective out of love, because I believe our culture is missing something very important. For unless you are called to celibacy you are called to marriage. Which means you were made for something far greater than what cohabitation offers you.

So what are we saying by choosing to move in with someone without a marriage commitment?

Here are my ponderings. I hope you’ll take them to heart.

Cohabitation is Another Way of Saying…

“I’m not sure this relationship is worth an actual commitment.”

“I want the pleasure of marriage without the purpose.”

Cohabitation is another way of saying, “We don’t believe in promises. But we do believe in passion.”

“I’d like more of you, but not all of you.”

“We want to be close, but keep our distance.”

“I would like to have you, but not sure I want to hold onto you.”

“We’re afraid we might fail, so let’s not really try.”

“We’re ready for the excitement of marriage, but not the steadfastness.”

Cohabitation is another way of saying, “We want to share keys, but not a covenant.”

“I know I enjoy your company, but I’m not sure I can trust your character.”

“We’d rather play house than make a home.”

“We’re mature enough to share, but not enough to sacrifice.”

“Fun first. Maybe faithfulness will come later.”

“I’m keeping my options open. Or maybe my partner is.”

Cohabitation is another way of saying, “I’m not sure I can trust you, so I’ll just test you.”

“We’re not ready for commitment, but we’re ready for convenience. Like now.”

“Instead of committing, let’s just compromise.”

“I want the sex, but not the sacrifice.”

“You can have my body, but not my heart.”

Marriage may have been the foundation of society throughout time and cultures, but we’re so much smarter now.

Look, I didn’t write this post to offend anyone, but to get to the heart of the matter.

And please understand, I truly don’t believe marriage is for everyone, but if it’s not for you it’s because you’re called to celibacy. (That is life-long abstinence from sexual relations.)

If that sounds like a punitive sentence to you, then you should meet a couple celibate friends of mine who have survived 50+ years of life full of love and zero sex. But since you can’t meet them, you can read the stories and life lessons of a few folks in the Bible who made it from cradle to grave without having “their sexual needs met.” (You’ve probably heard of two of them: Jesus and Paul.)

Actually, if life-long abstinence sounds like cruel and unusual punishment, it’s probably because you’re not called to celibacy. And so that brings us back to this reality:

If you’re not called to celibacy, it can only mean one thing. You are called to marriage, a relationship where you not only get to live together, but where you commit to love, honor, and cherish each other as long as you both shall live.

It’s truly a fabulous idea. If you know anyone who has actually learned to thrive in it, not just for years, but decades, they’ll back me up.

Now you can’t fault a guy for wanting that for you instead of just moving in together. Can you?

DNA: It’s What’s For Dating

Dug this weekend’s DNA? Be a good friend and share with your friends on the social media platform of choice: Instagram, Youtube, Facebook, or Twitter.

The LoveEd discipleship series, Beyond Sex & Salvation, will empower you to prepare for relational success when it counts: BEFORE you fall in love!

It’s NOT for couples, but for any wise individual who thinks they might want to get married sometime before they die. And would like to learn how to better build healthy relationships in the meantime.

Check out all three study guides in our store. You can walk through them on your own, but it’s more fun with friends (that and it kinda makes sense to grow in relational success in actual relationships with others), so consider putting together an FMU LoveEd small group study.

Even better?  And ask a rock star married couple you respect to lead it!