Economics of independence: pre-marital cohabitation

Dear Pope Francis,

We’ve already covered how pumped I was when you got elected, so now I want to talk about where your focus has been since then. Later this year you’ll be meeting with bishops and cardinals from around the world to talk about Catholic family life and the pastoral challenges which come from the vastly different realities of church teaching and lives lived.It’s been a big year for the Catholic Church. First time in my life I can recall having seen more positive headlines than negatives and heard people talking about things other than the tragedy of sexual assaults by priests.


I didn’t respond to the survey. I would have liked to, but it wasn’t accessible in my diocese the week I was really interested and had time, so when I couldn’t find it easily I gave up. Sorry about that.

What I have done is followed all the news to come out from around the world regarding the findings of the survey. It’s been an enriching experience for me, and so encouraging to see dissent in the ranks. (Can’t use the word protest, or the anti-protestant crowd will be after my head.)

The bishops in Germany issued a statement pointing out the disconnect between church teaching about cohabitation before marriage and the reality – most young couples do live together before marriage and see it as irresponsible not to. It also discussed homosexuality, birth control and divorce, but I want to talk about cohabitation.

It’s not just that people think it’s irresponsible not to live with a partner before marrying them, part of it is also a difference between the economic situations of young adults today and young adults forty years ago. Forty years ago, it was possible to be a young professional and also afford to live outside your parent’s home. You didn’t necessarily need a university degree to get a decent paying job, and if you did have post-secondary education the debt load you graduated with was a lot less.

I don’t think it’s ever been particularly easy for young adults starting out, but I do think it was easier for my parents’ generation. The economic differences, in North America at least, play a bigger role in a young couple choosing to cohabitate than any of the reading I’ve done so far suggests.

I’m going to be 25 this summer. I don’t mind having room mates, they’ve been part of my life for the last five years. But for me, and for a lot of young adults, there comes a point where you don’t want to live with room mates but you can’t afford to live alone.

moving-dayAs we finish university and get started in actual careers, room mates change more frequently. Sometimes people are great friends but just aren’t suited to living together. Other times, long standing arrangements leftover from university fall apart as job opportunities crop up elsewhere, or as room mates get involved in long-term relationships.

In my experience it’s also not common for the man or woman a young adult ends up dating seriously to already be a part of the Catholic Church. A lot of young Catholics end up dating Christians of other denominations, or people who don’t belong to a church, or Catholics who simply aren’t practicing. For a lot of those partners, the prohibition on cohabitation doesn’t make sense. They interpret not wanting to live together as not wanting to be together long term, and reject the idea of “living in sin” as outdated and impractical, especially in light of how common common-law marriages have become.

Meredith and Leo

For myself, I’m very blessed to be with a man who isn’t bothered by my not wanting to live with him just yet. Thing is, I’m not sold on holding off on moving in until we’re married. For me, engaged with a date set makes sense, especially if one of us gets offered a job in another city, or if we don’t want to do long distance when I move back to Ontario this summer.

I love my parents very much, and I want to live close enough that I can go to the same church as them again and be part of impromptu family gatherings. I want to be able to drop in just because I was in the neighbourhood, and I want them to be able to do the same. If I don’t get asked to go on NET this year, I’m going to move back in with them until I can find a job and afford to have my own place again.

But, for me and most of my generation, moving back in with Mom and Dad after university doesn’t hold a lot of appeal because it feels like giving up your independence. It’s not that we don’t want to stay in touch with our parents and siblings, just that in a lot of cases we get along better and have closer relationships when we’re not in each other’s space all the time.

Which brings us back to the room mate dilemma: move in with strangers and hope for the best, or move in with a significant other with the intent of marrying them in the not-distant future.

The other option being get married sooner, but the overall trend is towards marrying after post-secondary and after getting somewhat established in a career.

Unmarried and independent(ish),


Categories: Meredith | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Economics of independence: pre-marital cohabitation

  1. Chris

    Here’s an interesting video that popped up on social media sites last week about this very issue.

  2. Meredith Gillis

    Hey Chris!

    Thanks so much for sharing the video. It makes a really good point about a non-monetary cost of living together before marriage, the increased likelihood of divorce down the line or of breaking up before the wedding. I think both those issues are more linked to the mindset of people than the actual living situation though.

    When a couple chooses to co-habitate before getting married I think it’s a very real challenge to not approach it as a trial run. Partners should have a conversation about their respective mindsets to make sure they’re on the same page before choosing to combine households. In a Catholic context, they also need to make sure they’re both approaching marriage as a sacrament.

    A lot of marriages both within and outside the church have ended in divorce because people felt they needed to be married in order to give their children legitimacy, or because of social pressures. I think kids should have relationships with both their parents, but I also think expecting a kid is a really bad reason to get married.

    The way I see it marriage is for keeps. Kids grow up, sex lives change, looks fade. If those are the reasons you’re getting married, you shouldn’t be. People who choose to marry should be doing it out of a desire to build a lifetime with the person they marry. To encourage them to be the best they can be and vice versa. The whole idea is to lift each other up.

    A big part of marriage is also that public commitment. If you’re really committed to each other, finding out you both have living habits which frustrate the other isn’t going to change that commitment. It’ll be a challenge you’ll both have to overcome, but you’d be facing it after the wedding anyways.

    The reading I’ve done on common law marriages suggests in many cases they are more stable than couples who married because they felt pressure to do so. In a common law marriage where both partners are committed to the relationship and the family, the rate of success is quite high.

    All I’m really trying to point out with my original post is that to look at cohabitation as simply a black and white moral issue when morals are probably the least significant part of the decision for most people who choose to is doing a disservice to the conversation and missing a much bigger part of the issue.

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