Either they don’t really feel ready for commitment or they feel they need more time or money to pull off a nice wedding or they feel they need more money to start their married life “right” or they want to wait until a date that all of their family and friends can be there.
This is how I explained why Mildred and Maurice might be delaying marriage in my previous post, Loving Cohabiters. In this post, I’d like to address some of these issues, as well as other questions that might come up regarding my approach to addressing cohabitation from a Christian perspective.
What if Mildred and Maurice really want those twelve extra months?
I would start by asking why. There might be some more practical reasons that need to be addressed… or it might be that they really aren’t certain they want to make that commitment to each other yet.
What if they aren’t certain they want to make that commitment to each other yet?
Well, I think it’s important to know how close they are to being able to. It’s one thing to need a couple months to mentally adjust to something so big. It’s another thing entirely to be truly ambivalent about it.
What if they are very ambivalent about commitment?
I would say that it’s very odd, then, for them to be engaged and rather inappropriate for them to be living together. If they have an interest in adapting their relationship to Christian teaching on sex (which they may or may not), the pacing of the various elements of their relationship (physical, emotional, commitment level, etc.) should be reevaluated. Either they should back down the intimacy to match where they feel their commitment can be, or they need to work through the issues they might have with commitment in order to be able to move their relationship forward.
People often become sexually involved very early in a relationship, making the “back down” option appropriate for many who are not as serious. But for Maurice and Mildred, I think their true problem is more likely that they have absorbed a lot of fear of commitment from our individualistic culture. This is likely to be an issue even among Christians who are not sexually involved, as well. If they truly aren’t ready to commit, they shouldn’t… but I would suspect Maurice and Mildred are actually in a good place to make this kind of decision, just a little slow with their pacing based on cultural norms and their personal anxieties.
What if they just need a bit more time to mentally adjust?
As long as they are rapidly moving towards a psychological place in which they can make that commitment, I think this is normal and deserves some grace. They should not be encouraged to rush into marriage if they have not fully processed what this means, of course, but I think that with the right counsel and support, certain fears might be eased and they might find peace about making that last step sooner than they expect. (I think anticipating having twelve months to adjust to the idea is part of what makes it take longer for some people!)
What if that’s not the problem? They really are almost-married in terms of their commitment, already. The commitment itself doesn’t scare them, and they feel more and more permanently united every day.
Then I think it’s usually a more practical concern which has delayed the wedding.
What if it’s about saving up for a wedding? Or having time to plan?
The brief answer: Christians should be encouraging a culture of simpler weddings, as well as helping the very poor afford to have at least a few special things for their ceremony. Or one should have a party a bit later down the road—to celebrate a one-year anniversary, perhaps. It is very sad, I think, that the money or time needed for a “nice” wedding keeps people from being able to marry as early as they would otherwise prefer.
What if it’s about saving up or gaining stability, generally?
The brief answer: Total financial stability is overrated. Yes, money issues can hurt marriages, but going through tough times together can also bond people. Mildred and Maurice have already pooled their resources by living together, so there’s no reason not to extend their sharing, anyway. Having the ideal job or being able to buy a house are not requirements for marriage. In fact, there is no reason why one shouldn’t go ahead and get married even if one’s a student.
A student? What if parents are helping with school? Surely, they can’t get married until they graduate!
It is a strange sense of priorities that drives a parent to threaten to withdraw financial support for one’s studies on the basis of one’s marital status. It makes no logical sense why one should have to be completely self-supporting to be married. If one is lucky enough to have parents paying tuition and one wants to get married senior year of college or during grad school, I don’t think parents should stop helping, assuming everyone is responsible and productive, no one is a “leech,” etc. This support is as appropriate as for a non-leech single student of the same age.
Christian parents should have the extra motivation of being able to know they’re also supporting Christian ideals relating to marriage. In our culture, the necessity of higher education should not mandate decade-long chaste dating relationships nor a rejection of Christian ideas about sex. Of course, many Christian parents will not be convinced of this, and I don’t know if anything can be done if one has non-Christian parents… but at least over time, perhaps we can change the norms surrounding this so they everyone receives the support they need to succeed in life.
What if it’s about trying to allow certain people to be at the wedding?
This is really the hardest question for me to answer. I feel I cannot really fault someone for trying to include special family members or friends, especially if these people might be offended to not be there on “the” day. However, I do think that unless there are extenuating circumstances (such as someone overseas with the military), most people are fine if they make travel plans three months or so in advance. At the very least, then, perhaps those twelve months could be reduced to three. And ideally, Christian relatives and friends would show their support for the couple beginning their marriage whether or not they could be there, planning to celebrate together at a later date.
My advice here would be to Mildred and Maurice to begin with life as a married couple as soon as possible, even if they want to hold a special ceremony and/or party with others at a later date. It would be interesting, actually, for liturgies to be written for this particular purpose—celebrating a marriage which has already started but is inviting those dear to celebrate with and support them.
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