You might be surprised to learn that when priests get together that we often discuss dating, relationships, and marriage. A key part of the mission of the Church is to help each and every one of her children live out their fundamental vocation, which is to love. For many people, this vocation will be lived out through marriage and family.
The sad truth is that we are making this aspect of human life far more complicated than it needs to be. The modern world has invented a number of marriage alternatives that offer some or most of the benefits of marriage with “no money down” and “no long term contract.” Just like today’s fast-food products, they never manage be nearly as good in real life as they look on television. While they fill a craving, none of these relationships satisfies the real desires of the heart.
Some young people will say very clearly that a low-budget marriage substitute is all they want out of life. They will tell you that it works for them and it meets their needs. Others will say that they would like more, but this is all they can afford at the moment. They fail to realize that spending their limited emotional resources on a marriage alternative means that they are not saving up anything for marriage.
A majority of the people that I have talked to are in a relationship precisely because they ultimately desire marriage. They hope what they have will blossom into a lifelong union of committed, faithful love. They have chosen one of the marriage alternatives, usually living together, because it is a step towards the marriage they desire.
From all that I have seen, however, I am totally convinced that living together is not a step towards marriage. In fact, it is very much a detour on the road to marriage. Couples who have not taken this detour typically find their way to marriage more quickly and with less anxiety. Couples who take this detour can wander around for years before finding their way to marriage. For a large number of couples, the detour turns out to be a dead end.
Marriage is an amazing gift, but we need to do our best to receive God’s gifts in the way that God is offering them.+