I'm on a couple of "query" loops in which writers can make queries of anyone who can provide information for an article or book. I've seen so many of these queries come across my computer screen that I seldom blink at the occasional odd one.
So as oddness goes, this one was pretty light, and I didn't pay it much attention. Yet the more I thought about it, the more it bugged me. The query went as follows:
I'm looking to interview men and women age 20-60 anywhere in the country who are dating someone but not living together. Why, in these tough economic times where it makes financial sense to move in together, do you prefer to live in separate abodes? Do you think it's better for the long-term health of your relationship to take things slow? Or is there some other reason? Respondents can remain anonymous, although if you’re OK with it I’d like your first name, last initial, age, profession, and city/state of residence—or just whatever you’re comfortable telling me.
The reason I found this query troubling was the genuine puzzlement the writer expresses. I mean, he or she seems honestly confused that anyone could possess a moral code that would not allow for them to live with a man or a woman outside of marriage.
When Don and I were married in 1990, I was renting a house with a yard (I had a dog) and he was renting an apartment in a nearby town. It never -- not in a million years -- occurred to us to move in together until after the vows were said. There was something thrilling about the idea of setting up housekeeping together once we returned from our honeymoon.
He moved in with me since my rental house was larger than his apartment. A few weeks into our new arrangement, I stepped onto the porch just as the mailman walked up. "Lewis and Smith?" he asked, shuffling letters.
"No," I replied proudly. "Lewis and Lewis." I wanted no misconceptions whatever that Don and I were not husband and wife.
Back to the query. Why, in these tough economic times where it makes financial sense to move in together, do you prefer to live in separate abodes?
Well, maybe people who don't live together before marriage want marriage to actually mean something. Statistics have shown that people who live together before marriage are more likely to divorce. Perhaps those who approach marriage as the sacred covenant that it is view it differently than those who move in together merely for economic convenience (and free sex).
If someone "practices" setting up house together with any number of partners, how will this be any different when they settle for one person permanently? It won't. The new spouse will be just like an endless list of ex-partners with whom you've set up house. There will be no sparkle, no novelty, no fun of moving furniture around until both parties are satisfied. Instead it will just be another tedious time of moving furniture around until both parties are satisfied.
And deep down in their heart, they no doubt wonder if this housekeeping setup will last any longer than any of the others.
The obvious thing that sets marriage apart from merely living together are the vows. (Whether people really mean those vows is a whole 'nother blog post.) But marriage is more than just vows. It's the fun of setting up a life together. It's getting used to another person's idiosyncrasies while still wearing the rose-colored glasses of newlyweds (which makes those idiosyncrasies easier to live with). It's the planning for the future -- the house you'll want to buy someday, the children you'll bear together, the job prospects you'll entertain...
Yes, marriage is a whole different mindset than merely living together for (cough) economic reasons.
But I won't bother explaining any of this to the writer who sent that query. I see it as one of those "if you have to ask, you wouldn't understand moments."