Busted Halo

Most dating and relationships books, columns and shows won’t go near issues of faith. Author, professor and speaker Dr. Christine B. Whelan assumes faith has some role, and tackles even the toughest questions.

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January 2nd, 2011

Are You A Little Bit Married?

How to know if it's time to walk down the aisle or go your separate ways



Matt, 29, and his girlfriend, Kelly, 28, have been dating for four years and living together for two. They were both raised Catholic, attend Church occasionally, and joke about “living in sin” and being “semi-married.” Kelly told me she was OK moving in with Matt because she just assumed that this was a step in the right direction — toward real marriage. But in the last few months, each time she’s brought up the future in some oblique way, Matt has dodged the issue. “I talk to his parents all the time. We spend most holidays together,” she said. “But I’m just not sure where this is going right now, and I’m beginning to get worried.”

Sound familiar?

Back in the day, love led to marriage. Now, for too many couples, sex evolves into love, which leads to about a decade of being “a little bit married” — the long-term, exclusive relationships that we’ve created as a waypoint on the road to adulthood. In a well-researched and cleverly written pop-sociology self-help book, A Little Bit Married, author and journalist Hannah Seligson explains this new demographic trend.

The vast majority of young adults want to get married — and that’s certainly true of young-adult Catholics. But as we navigate our twenties and early thirties, building careers and searching for soul mates, we delay that goal — yet still want to experience intimate relationships. We think of these long-term relationships as “internships” for marriage: You want to test it out, have some of the fun without all the commitment and see if it’s right for you. Maybe you’ve been dating for two years and have decided to adopt a puppy — with no official plans for the future. Or maybe the two of you are planning a housewarming party for your new apartment — with no ring exchange in sight.

Ladies, some words of advice

This kind of thinking is common among both men and women — but let’s be honest: the ladies get to the marriage idea before the guys do. Maybe it’s how we’ve been raised, or our biological clocks, or that it’s the girls that get more pressure from their families. I know there are tons of guys out there who want to make a long-term, lasting commitment (and I’d love to hear your stories!) but when it comes to long-term relationships that seem to go on and on forever with angst and uncertainty, it’s usually because the guy isn’t ready for — or is dodging — questions about marriage; not the girl.

So, ladies, if this sounds like your relationship, some words of advice:

  • After three years, it’s time to make a decision. If you want to get married and have children, spending your late twenties and early thirties with a man who turns on the PlayStation every time you bring up “the future” isn’t a great idea. Peter Pan guys — child-men who can’t commit to theater tickets next month, nonetheless a lifetime commitment to you — may not be the best mates.

    Whether you are saving sex for marriage or totally shacked up, at a certain point it’s time to make a decision: In your gut, in that place where you hear God’s voice calling you, there’s an answer. Is it time to walk down the aisle, or to go your separate ways?

    A Little Bit Married takes a light-hearted approach, weighing the pros and cons of cohabitation, advising women on how to bring up “the future” without appearing desperate or insecure, and interviewing dozens of couples and experts to get the facts on cohabitation and divorce. (Unsurprisingly, the bottom line is that living together does not help your chance of having a lasting, happy relationship.)

  • Talk to each other, people. I mean, seriously, figure out what you want and say it. One of the reasons romantic comedies frustrate me is because if the couple would clearly express how they are feeling things wouldn’t be so complicated. I had that similar anxiety reading the interviews in A Little Bit Married: Men repeatedly told Seligson they “hadn’t really thought about” marriage, kids and the future. Yes, it’s something they want to do, but “later.” This drives most women bonkers. Yet, because the ladies are too afraid to rock the boat, no one says anything. In “Are we there yet?” a news-you-can-use chapter on how to bring up the future, Seligson lays out empowered ways for women to express their feelings.

    Honest communication is so crucial — for both men and women. If you two can’t talk to each other about your feelings and thoughts about the future, it’s time to move on to a relationship in which you can express those emotions.

  • The time to talk about your faith is now — not later. In an interview, Seligson told me that for most of the “a little bit married” set, couples simply don’t talk about religion and how religious differences might play out in a future marriage. “Religion just becomes another one of those issues that ‘will work itself out'” later, she said. But by not discussing this crucial issue during what is supposed to be a trial run for marriage, couples are doing themselves a disservice. “You can both be Catholic but have polar opposite concepts of what that means in practice. You can believe it means going to confession every week, and he can think it means going to Mass on Christmas Eve,” and those differences are too important to be worked out in a slap-dash way later on.

  • Don’t move in with him until there’s a ring on your finger. Girls think living together is a sign that marriage is on the horizon, but guys don’t see it that way, according to research by Pamela Smock at the University of Michigan. The vast majority of millennial couples will live together before marriage — and that includes Catholic couples, too. That means that this disconnect in motives will cause a lot of heartache for a lot of folks along the way. And it can be avoided: You can learn his quirks and figure out his internal rhythms by spending loads of time together without giving up your apartment. Premarital sex, cohabitation and “playing house” are not necessary to learn if you’re compatible mates: Spending plenty of time together, sharing hopes, fears, dreams and good communication, however, are necessary ingredients for success.

    Plus, research clearly shows that women who live with more than one partner have double the odds of divorce in the future. And even though you might think that the relationship is leading to marriage, have you clearly talked about it? Are you sure you are both on the same page about your emotional expectations as you move your espresso machine into his kitchen? Whatever you do, please don’t “tumble into” living together — a trend Seligson explores in detail — and then shrug and decide that marriage is the next step because it’s too exhausting to think about breaking up, moving out and dating again.

While A Little Bit Married isn’t written for a Catholic audience specifically, surveys have shown that the behavior, concerns and aspirations of young-adult Catholics tends to mirror the American population as a whole. So what do you think? Are you “a little bit married”? Post your thoughts and comments below — or email me at puresex@bustedhalo.com.

Originally published February 8, 2010.

The Author : Christine B. Whelan
Dr. Christine B. Whelan is an author, professor and speaker. She and her husband, Peter, and their dictator cats, Chairman Meow and Evita Purron, live in Pittsburgh. Her book "Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women" is available in stores or at the Halo Store.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Francis

    This article does not reflect the Catholic Church’s teachings. It is written by someone who has not been properly catechized. The author is of the mindset that adhering to Catholic teaching is condemnatory. If you’re looking for orthodox Catholic teaching on sexuality read: Dr. Ray Guarendi or Jason Evert.
    Good Day

  • TPD

    Decide the difference between the meaning of love versus lust in your life and then in a relationship. Saves time. Saves need for an annulment in the future when desire to re-marry. Do your counseling with a Deacon who has been married for some times & has a lived married experience not from book training.GET OUT OF A RELATIONSHIP AFTER ONE YEAR WITHOUT A COMMITMENT OF DAY & TIME>

  • Denise

    On the question of Mortal Sin… the very reason that I left the Catholic is this teaching on Mortal Sin. A person who engages in sex with their long term partner, without having had the sacrament of marriage held in a Roman Catholic or at least Christian church, when they die, go to the same Hell to sit next to Hitler for all of Eternity. One such as Hitler does not suffer in a “hellier” Hell than those who were simply waiting for their mates to make up their minds to marry them, already! If this teaching on Mortal Sin is not the Truth, and is merely a suggestion or a guideline, why has the Church assumed for all of these centuries that we are fools who need to be tricked or frightened into doing what is “The Best”? If it is The Truth, then, this is a preposterous Universe that we all live in. My common sense tells me that rules of this nature can not possibly be fact. Rules of this nature are what the Catholic Church is to me.
    At the same time, I have a natural, self-arising love for Christ and the Virgin Mary.
    I appreciate that this author is being inclusive of all people of all sorts of belief systems.
    But the confusing part is when the word “Catholic” is bandied about…
    Thanks for listening.

  • Monica

    Thanks for the review, really looking forward to reading this book.

  • Michael

    (Unfortunately,) Whelan meets mainstream Catholic 20 somethings where we/they are to help them come back, help them be the best versions of themselves. Finding oneself in “A Little Bid Married” scenario already involves non-traditional small decisions which lead up or should I say, down … probably, at least, away from God. In attempts to ‘bring them back’, some sinners need to be smacked, others rational reminders of why we do something, but all respond to example. be/have the loving relationships that make young folks want to have one, a Godly great one.

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