As I pondered revising my remarks about cohabitation and premarital relations, written about twenty years ago, I wondered if maybe I had made a mistake by addressing bad behavior instead of giving the gravity to good or wholesome behavior. I suppose I thought that everyone should already know right from wrong. This presupposition does not hold today and I am not sure it did then. Maybe 40% or more of those asking for marriage in the Church are already living together? Large numbers of such couples are no longer seeking true marriage, ever!
How should couples act prior to marriage? I would like to offer certain recommendations:
FIRST, the whole dating scene is a mess. We should opt for the older practices of courtship. Dating today is an excuse for “making out” and compromising virginity. Younger children should not go out on dates and older teens should be chaperoned. Young adults need the mindset that stepping out with the opposite sex is not simply for a good time, but part of the search for a future mate. Dating is transitory. Courtship plays for keeps!
SECOND, both men and women should prize their purity and do all they can to preserve it as a gift for their future spouse. There should be no double-standard for men. As for women, it is not true feminism or liberation to be as sleazy as certain men. Restraint in this area shows strength of character and a discipline that will keep them in good stead within marriage. Today, we must also contend with sexually transmitted diseases which infect millions, sometimes with lethal consequences. Sex kills! This is contrary to its very purpose. The only sure way to remain clean of infection is for a couple to remain pure and to enter upon the marriage bed undefiled.
THIRD, modesty in speech and dress should rule the day. Vulgar flirtation and immodest dress is in vogue starting with pre-teens and going into adulthood. Many complain that styles are so risqué that it is hard for true ladies to find decent clothing. Some women have resorted again to making their own dresses. Men and women are not the same. One pretty but flirtatious girl who had every boy’s eye remarked to me that she stopped short of getting the boys’ motors running. Poor thing, I explained, boys’ motors are always running! The best of young men can be quite weak in the flesh and they need good girls to keep them good. Young men should not lie or compel favors from women with their physical strength. Women should not tempt men with their clothes, or lack of clothes, and suggestive speech. Those who play games with the flames of passion are likely to get burned.
FOURTH, we should avoid those persons, places or things that can lead us into sin. Bad companions are problematic for both children and adults. Those who would lead us into sin and refuse efforts at conversion or change are best avoided. Girls who like dangerous bad boys often pay a terrible price and the loss of a good reputation. Boys should hang out with nice girls, the kind they might find regularly at church. Church groups, respectable public places, clean movies, and a parent’s dinner table are great places to meet and spend time. Bars and secluded car parks are no good. Definitely they should not share motel rooms or cohabitate. When couples are alone the defenses often go down. Things can also corrupt relationships, like bad movies, dirty magazines and lewd television programs.
FIFTH, while showing compassion to those who make mistakes, we need to retain a sense of shame for scandalous activity. I recall a teenage girl who had a child and everyone kissed and admired the beautiful baby. We were thankful that a prolife decision was made. However, I was troubled that she showed no remorse or embarrassment at having given away her virginity or having an illegitimate child. Most babies in the past born to such girls were given up for adoption. The stigma served a purpose and its eradication is no service to other girls who might make a similar mistake. God draws good out of evil. But our sin remains and needs confession and absolution.
SIXTH, it is best to pursue love interests among friends who share our faith and values. Just because another person is Catholic is no longer insurance that he or she takes our faith and morals seriously. Mixed marriages (with non-Catholics) should be discouraged but, in any case, the young man and woman should be on the same page about morality and the significance of marriage. If they should decide to get married, they should both affirm that divorce will never be in the cards. Chastity is important because fornication before marriage opens the door to adultery after marriage. Once you take sex out of marriage it is very hard to put back into the box. Spouses should be best friends. There will be differences, but also many preoccupations held in common.
SEVENTH, we should insist upon a component of prayer and worship with those who are courted. If the couple do what is right, pray regularly and go to Mass together, the odds are that they will remain faithful to marriage until one of them dies.