Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Wasting time in relationships that lead nowhere

[Not for very young readers]

Once again, I got an idea for another post from something Tracy said in her comment to "Pickiness".
Tracy wrote: "I think today, women waste too much time with the wrong man. They somehow know that he isn't right, but continue dating him anyway. This, I fear, leads to delayed marriage as much as anything else."

Well, what can I say? Bingo!
These days, people spend much more time dating, "getting to know each other" and "deciding if this is the perfect person" than was common 50 and even 20 years ago. When my mother was young, a man who dated a woman for a couple of months and didn't bring up marriage wasn't considered a serious, mature person. A man who dated a woman and avoided meeting her family was untrustworthy. Now both are common and generally accepted.

"Me"-oriented upbringing, unwillingness to commit, deterioration of traditional morals and family values – all those create a situation when even two mature adults, who know they can probably make a great couple, go through an extended period of hesitation and dillydalling before they finally decide it's time for marriage. People date for years, something that was unheard of a couple of generations ago. It is now considered "unwise" to get married without "trying what it will really be like" by living together. This is something I heard from many sensible and intelligent adults. When I asked them how come divorce rates are higher among people who live together prior to marriage, none of them could give a satisfactory answer.

Now look at the paradox: dating for such a long period of time and living together before deciding on marriage is supposed to allow us to "get to know each other better" and "know what to expect in marriage", thus it's supposed to lower divorce rates. In fact, it works the opposite way. Why? Let's get back to that later.

Our culture pressures us to start relationships early, and date aimlessly. A 16-year-old girl is pressured by her peers and encouraged by her parents to have a boyfriend, when it's clear to everyone it will probably not lead to marriage. This is supposed to give us "valuable experience". She is supposed to "practice" the sacred relationship she will have with her husband, knowing it's not for real and won't last, then throw it away and begin new "practice" with someone else! I don't know anything more senseless and ridiculous. Yet this is so common nowadays people don't even think about it anymore.

When we get older, we are even more pressured to have "someone". The problem is, women aren't equipped with knowledge of what to look for in a man; focusing on chemistry, superficial pleasure and immediate gratification often leads to choosing the wrong person, and premature sexual contact with that person creates unhealthy emotional glue that attaches a woman to a man who might be anything but a suitable potential husband.

Sexual relationships create an emotional bond? Nonsense, feminists will say. We use men just as much as men use us. No strings attached!
What a dirty great lie.

Another thing that makes me wonder how come educated, intelligent people seem to lose their logic when it comes to relationships: it is common to start dating without thinking where it might lead. Yes, people spend time together, bond with each other, build physical and emotional contact for many months before asking themselves – where is this going? Is this person a potential spouse? What do I know about this person at all?
They wouldn't think of going to college or starting a career without having any plan. But while making the most important decision – choosing a lifelong mate – this is the common practice.

Usually, the woman is the first to become concerned. She has a conversation with her boyfriend, and too late, much too late, finds out she's dating Peter Pan. He mumbles about "not being ready for marriage" and "well, I never told you I'm going to marry you when we started dating!" Reluctantly, he agrees to "try living together".

Eager to show him how much he will benefit from marriage, the woman does everything she can to "prove herself". She is patient, tolerant, she never says no. She cooks and cleans and shops and does everything to please her boyfriend; he realizes he gets unlimited sexual gratification and free housekeeping without having to commit to marriage and family. And guess what, he is perfectly content with the present situation. He doesn't want to make a change.

In the best case, such a man might marry his girlfriend in a couple of years, after realizing he became attached to her and doesn't want to lose her. I know a man who had two children with his girlfriend before she could convince him to marry her, and he made the "noble sacrifice" for his children's sake, even though he "didn't feel ready yet"!

In the worst case, when the cohabitating couple encounters a conflict or a tough period (and folks, don't we know they are bound to happen sometimes when people live together?), the man might decide this is just too inconvenient. Since he hasn't made any commitment, there is nothing easier for him that to pack his suitcase and disappear forever.

Suppose the woman was around 25 when this relationship started. That's around the normative age these days to start "seriously thinking" about marriage. She spent 3 years dating this man and 2 years living with him. She is now 30, and has to start all over again with someone new.

So why didn't it work for that couple? Living together is not like marriage. Neither is it preparation for marriage. The man who lived together with this woman never became committed to her; his entire attitude said plainly enough "we're just playing house; whenever I'm tired of this game, I'm leaving". If that's the attitude, why work things out when times get tough, if he can so easily leave and start a new romance? And he did. A disagreement which the average married couple would have worked out, made this overgrown Peter Pan run as fast as his legs could carry him.

But what about getting to know each other? Isn't this essential when you look for a spouse? Yes, but you know what – it doesn't have to take years to decide. If both of the young people are marriage-minded, and focus on finding out about the qualities that will be important in marriage, it really doesn't have to take this long to make the decision! I'm convinced that the correct dating strategy can allow a much shorter courtship.

Going to movies or clubs together, or just "hanging out" might be fun, but how will it help in getting to know each other better? Same goes for physical contact. It might be fun, but it clouds people's minds and doesn't allow them to focus on finding out about the potential spouse's personality. That's why it should only come after we have answers to the essential questions we need to ask. After we decide whether to make a commitment or not. In the sacred and blessed bond of marriage.

Young people could spare themselves lots of heartache and wasted time if they kept focus on what really matters, and talked seriously about marriage from the beginning of their courtship.

First, of course, it is essential to find out whether both of you are, indeed, looking for a spouse. If one is serious about this and the other one isn't, it's a deal-breaker (or it can become a heart-breaker!). Do you share common life goals? How do you see your future family? Do you feel safe with this person? How does your date treat his or her family – or, if you don't have a chance to meet his family, other people? Is he patient and respectful with them? If yes, consider yourself blessed. If he's nice to you but shouts at the waitress because his pizza got cold, he will shout at you too, once he's tired of putting on his best appearance. Are you fine with the way this person is now, or is there something about them you can't imagine living with and plan to change?

Sure, you can never find out "everything" about the other person. Married people still find out new things about each other after 10, 20 and 30 years of marriage! Neither can you have insurance on your marriage. The only way is commitment, and patience, and love. Is a mother concerned she might "fall out of love" with her baby, or that she doesn't know her baby well enough to make a lifetime commitment?! Of course not! So why not take some of that brave and selfless love and apply it to marriage?

You might decide it won't work out for the two of you. But you can do it without wasting so much precious time. And there are different situations in life. I'm not saying everyone should run off and marry after three dates. The important part is the direction your courtship is taking from the very beginning.

Relationships that go nowhere drain time and energy like nothing else. This is not God's design. This is not what He has in plan for us. We are not called to become one flesh and one soul with many different people, but with only one person: our spouse. I talk from experience – before I was blessed by seeing how evil and senseless the paths of this world might be, I made every possible mistake. That's why, even though I'm not married yet, I feel I can and should talk about it and warn others.

25 comments:

Tracy said...

Great post, Anna. You are right on with all of your points. Well said!

Anna S said...

Thanks, Tracy. This problem has many sides, and I could write on and on about it.

AnneK said...

Hi Anna,

I started reading your blog recently and I always thought your posts to be very thought provoking. This one especially, I agree with you completely. I made mistakes too, so I understand how important it is to speak out about it. God bless you!

Candy said...

Another great post :)

Anna S said...

Annek: thank you! I was afraid I made this post a bit too long, but I needed to say these things.

Candy: thanks for dropping by!

Emily said...

Well done Anna, excellent post, I wholeheartedly agree! This is something I am greatly passionate about as well as, like you, I have made many mistakes and have learnt from them how far I was from God's design with regards to romantic relationships.

Thank you for posting, I hope a lot of people benefit from it.

In His care,

Emily

Jordin said...

Excellent post, once again! "Thought-provoking" and "challenging" are overused words, but they describe your posts perfectly. Thank you for taking the time to share with us!

Christie Belle said...

I am loving the points you are making. So true and well put. Thanks for being so open and honest!

Anna S said...

Emily, Jordin and Christie: thanks for the support!

Robert said...

Another good post.You make some good points.

Unlike dating,a courtship is to get to know the person for the purpose of getting married.

I read someone say that living together is just practise for divorce in a later marriage.If you tire of the person, you just leave and look for someone else.

Anna S said...

Robert, whatever term we use - courtship, dating for marriage, or anything else, the important thing is that it means a man and woman meeting and getting to know each other with the purpose of finding out if they are suitable for each other as husband and wife.

Living together is a dangerous practice. It teaches people to live looking for an escape route whenever difficulties come along. That's anything but preparation for marriage.

Melian said...

Yet another great post. (I'm catching up!) My husband and I discussed marriage before we decided to date, court, or however one would define our particular way of building a relationship. We spent that time talking seriously about what our marriage would look like: church, children, discipline, working and financial arrangements, where we would live, how we would interact with family, etc. Despite our age (we were 19) most people weren't surprised when we announced our engagement, since we were obviously working toward a longterm commitment. (He did ask my father first.) We dated for 9 months, were engaged for 7 months, and have been married for 5 years. (Our 5th anniversary is in 2 weeks!) The only thing I might change if doing it again, is that our engagement might have been shorter. By the way, neither of us ever dated anyone else! God truly blessed us with wise and godly parents who, even without realizing it, were encouraging us to take this path. There are so many heartbreaks and arguments that just haven't been part of our marriage.

Anna S said...

Melian,

Reading your comment made me so joyful! I mean, just think how much heartbreak could be avoided if more young people followed the path of courtship like you, in wisdom, purity, and chastity. I wish you a very happy anniversary and hope you will be further blessed in your marriage!

Sarah, UK said...

Anna,

Thank you for another insightful post.

Some men are 'stringers'. They date or even live with women for anything from a few months to a few years, and then move on to the next one. They don't want to marry, commit or have children. They may not think they are doing anything immoral - but if a woman dates a few stringers she may well never marry or be above the age of fertility when she does.

I've made mistakes in the past, but when I met my (now) husband, I was clear about what was important to me (marriage and children) and made sure he knew that too.

And the experience that is most helpful to me now in my relationship with my husband is not any experience I have with previous boyfriends, but the example of my parents' marriage.

Lily H. said...

Good post, Anna. My life somewhat reflected your view in that I married
my first serious boyfriend thirty years ago, and though my marriage didn't last, our friendship has endured over the years.
Our daughter seems to have followed in my footsteps where she has maintained a long-term relationship with HER first serious boyfriend and though they are not officially engaged, I have little doubt they will marry.

I don't feel I missed out on that terribly much by not having "dated around", and neither does my daughter. I predict HER marriage, when she and he get around to it, will most likely endure longer than her dad's and mine did.

Mrs. Pilgrim said...

Good post, Anna!

When I was young and single, people used to ask me why I wasn't always dating. My response: "Nobody ever asks."

The follow-up question: "You're [insert good but irrelevant quality here]; I don't know why you don't have dozens of guys lined up."

The follow-up answer: "Probably because I'm screening applicants for a permanent husband, not looking for a temporary playmate."

They thought I was nuts. Now I'm married, and 90% of those who would ask me are still single and beginning to despair.

Anonymous said...

Hi Anna,

I love your page. This comment really spoke to me because my husband and I only dated 6 months before we got married almost 20 years ago. We took that time to learn about our values, beliefs, and priorities. My friends all thought I was crazy marrying so young (20)and so quickly but I have never regretted it. My sons have followed our lead and have not been a part of the dating scene as teens. Thank you for your inspiration! Anna R.

Anna S said...

Anna R.,

I certainly don't think 20 is too young to marry - or that 6 months is too short a time to get to know a person, if you really set your mind to find out the important things about each other! The way I see it, the response you received is just an indicator of the overall immaturity in our culture.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing this, I agree totally with you on every point! It's good to find that others share the same kind of thoughts with you!

Eunice said...

Wow. This is an excellent post. As a pre-marital cohabiter turned crash and burn divorcee, I have to agree with your reasoning on why not to follow that path.

Now if only parents would print this post and share these thoughts with their kids, rather than saying, "don't do it because it's wrong, even though I did..." well...that divorce rate just might start to drop.

Mrs. W said...

By the way, it was I who sent that comment yesterday about the article I wrote for a school magazine! :) I was having internet trouble and couldn't guarantee my post would turn out right.

-Mrs. W

Anonymous said...

I understand your point, but may be misreading the tone of the post. You seem to be condemning dating (or developing a relationship with a man that does not lead to marriage) by citing your own mistakes. That's understandable but short-sighted. I am in my thirties, have had long and wonderful, but not marriage-minded, relationships with a few men, and do not feel as though I'm worse off for it. In fact, like you, I too have learned from my experience (I don't view them as "mistakes") and feel that those experiences have better prepared me to be a good companion to my lifetime partner, with whom I currently live out of wedlock. Sometimes, people need these experiences in order to better themselves in a partnership or marriage. I certainly did. Of course, there are people who do not need this, and that's wonderful too. Just don't condemn those who do.

Also, as an undergraduate statistics and research methods instructor, I can easily explain the statistic of higher divorce rates among couples who co-habitate before marriage. It is explained by religiosity. More religious or pious people are less likely to live together before marriage. They also tend not to believe in divorce as an option (many religions bar or have strict barriers to divorce). In many religious, marriage is a covenant/sacred bonding and is done so before God. Secular couples, on the other hand, are less likely to view marriage in this light. This statistic is often cited without insight into what explains the correlation. I use this, myself, in teaching my students about a spurious (or misleading) correlation.

Sara said...

In response to the last comment:

Even allowing for that, that still is not significant enough to explain that almost all couples who live together before they are married will divorce(the rate is close to 80%).

Also, I didn't get the idea that Anna was simply talking from her experience, but from the all-too-common experience repeated over and over again among single women around the world. Heck, almost all the prime-time shows draw off of this for their material. And the research backs her up, not just in terms of who gets divorced and who does not, but in the terms of their happiness in marriage.

FaithCatherine said...

I really enjoyed reading this article, it really makes sense and resounds with me. It was also reminiscent of a book I recently read called I kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris. He believes, as do I, that Intimacy is the reward of commitment, but the dating game we play in our society allows us to be emotionally and physically intimate with others without offering commitment, which is unGodly. We should love others before ourselves in our relationships, and oftentimes when we date in this way we neglect to do this. Thankyou for this article, it was a blessing, and reminded me of some points that I really needed reminding of. God Bless.

Anonymous said...

Lack of self-esteem and fear of loss will make people stay in unsuitable relationships, that and the many myths propagated concerning love, trust and forgiveness. Love, despite what many would say, is not willed, it is a response to another's virtue; there may be perfectly good reasons why one is unable to trust and love a person.

Rather than castigating oneself for "commitment phobia", or allowing oneself to be portrayed as a playboy who merely wishes to "try out" potential partners, one should first respect and honour ones feelings as being an honest response to the other. If the other genuinely does nothing to cause ones resistance to commitment, then therapy may be wise, but don't assume some inherent fault. If we are truly good people, we will want to commit to another good person, if we are bad, then we will attract bad and the good will avoid us.

I would say that the higher divorce rates of marriages after very long periods of dating (if this is true) is more likely attributable to fundamental, but unaddressed, issues between the two. Marriage will feel like a cage to those who already felt trapped.

The real problem is that people do not appreciate the importance of understanding themselves and their history first before they attempt to "merge" with another; people allow themselves to be driven solely by emotion without understanding it. This world does not need any more confused parents confusing their children. "The unexamined life is not worth living." ~ Socrates.

Marriage is not some golden solution; I know as many miserable married couples as unmarried. They simply didn't know what else they could do and succumbed to the pressures of what was presented to them as honourable, respectable, dutiful, and obligatory. This is not love or virtue; we do not create a better world by forcing people into commitments through guilt and judgement.

In my times of open honesty with myself, I have to admit that I was aware of fundamental problems between myself and my partner very early on, but, through fear, I rationalised them as being things that would work themselves out, or that relationships were about acceptance and sacrifice and that I was being cowardly and selfish for not committing. What this really says is that I was used to not having my opinions or feelings respected and so when they told me that this person would imprison me in fear, guilt and obligation, and obstruct me from developing who I was and what I wanted to achieve, I colluded with my partner to continue ignoring and disrespecting my own feelings. When my values conflicted with my partner's, I would suppress them under the guise of compromise. Sadly, I had never experienced a relationship without emotional blackmail, and so accepted all the common myths regarding what one just had to put up with in relationships.

The waste is not cohabiting without, or sex before, marriage, or the divorces that ensue, but the lives led without self-knowledge or true happiness and genuine love and virtue.