Marriage vs. Living Together

“What’s the big deal about marriage?  It’s just a piece of paper.”

Freshman year in high school, one of my best friends said that to me.  She and her boyfriend had just slept together for the first time.  She said she had an amazing, awe-inspiring experience with him.  She told me how much they loved each other, how his physical love proved that.  My friend knew I was Mormon.  My darling, trusted friend who I loved so much and had shared so many fun times with, she looked me in the eye and asked if I thought what she had done was wrong.

My heart broke.  I didn’t want her to think that I was judging her or looking down on her. Being her friend, I could see how much she believed her boyfriend was her soul-mate.  She had an innocent, kind heart.  I wished she could somehow avoid the pain I strongly suspected this choice would bring.  There she was, looking me in the eye, asking about a moral code she didn’t really have faith in, but was worried about all the same. I said, “Yes, I believe sex is something you only share with your husband”.  That’s when the ‘marriage is a piece of paper’ argument came into play.

She made the point seem so logical.  She made marriage seem like scoffing in the face to true love, which knows no boundaries and needs no civic validation.  With the dramatic flare only a teen can muster, she told me that there was nothing as beautiful as the love she and her boyfriend shared.  It even made her angry how other kids joked about sex so flippantly.  They didn’t know what love was, but she did.

In the face of all that, I felt like the oldest, lamest person on the planet.  At that young age, I couldn’t articulate why, but I knew her argument was flawed. I wanted to explain that there were consequences to her choice which she was overlooking.  I guess that’s why I wasn’t able to form the words.  I knew it wouldn’t mean anything to her.  Not right now.  Not in the afterglow of her universe-changing teenage love.  She was so convinced they were right together. Her boyfriend had promised, “We don’t need a piece of paper to tell us we’re going to be together forever”.

“Forever” didn’t even last until the end of the school year.

To my darling high school friend, I wish I could go back in time and tell you what I know now.  Marriage isn’t just a piece of paper.  Marriage is worth waiting for.  Even setting aside my religious views, marriage is still irreplaceable.  Here are the clinical facts:

  1. Married people are happier and enjoy higher well-being in all facets of life.  They suffer significantly less from depression and other psychiatric disorders.
  2. Married people are better-off economically, spend less, and save more.  Two-parent families are a powerful barrier against poverty.
  3. Married people live longer, suffer less from illness and recover quicker.  They also exhibit fewer risk-taking behaviors and have the lowest rates of suicide and alcoholism.
  4. Married people are more fulfilled in their sexual relations than other sexually active people.  They are less likely to be disinterested or to feel anxiety over sex.
  5. These benefits do not extend to cohabiting relationships and apply in lesser degree to remarriages.

(Reference: VanDenBerghe, Elizabeth. “The Enduring, Happy Marriage: Findings and Implications from Research.” Strengthening Our Families: An In-depth Look at the Proclamation on the Family. (2000), 16-26.)

To me, those facts are not the voice of authority itself, but merely the social evidence of a spiritual principle.  The principle is this: Marriage is ordained of God.  Marriage is God’s design for His children to grow and learn and create something wonderful out of their ordinary selves.  Marriage is the gateway to a happy home life where children thrive and love abounds.  Elder Russel M. Nelson of the LDS church said, “Marriage brings greater possibilities for happiness than does any other human relationship.”

Happiness.  That’s the bottom line.  Looking at the big picture, I think there are few decisions in life that will bring more happiness than the choice to reserve sex for marriage.

“Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it.” – Joseph Smith

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