Being in a serious relationship with someone presupposes the possibility of a marriage somewhere down the line and the whole purpose of the relationship is that it serves as an exercise in testing compatibility and commonality.
In going on dates, having conversations and doing several relationship things together, partners try to find a common ground on so many things, issues on which there has to be a merger of views and values if their eventual marriage is to succeed.
While dating and occasionally/regularly meeting up is the obvious and seemingly more-acceptable way to go about the pre-marriage journey, one other method is cohabitation; which in essence means to live together under the same roof for a period before the seal of marriage is stamped on the relationship.
Cohabitation is more of a simulation of day-to-day married life, the test-running of partner’s patience, temperament and actual forbearance of each other.
It actually sounds like a great idea when you consider that cohabitation gives you a firsthand experience of your partner’s living habits and not just the refined, packaged bits they bring to the fore when you go on dates and hang out with each other.
But as great as this logically sounds, cohabitation has strong oppositions.
A moral and religious frown on cohabitation before marriage
The Nigerian society largely frowns on couples who live together before marrying. This is majorly due to the mish mash of morals and religious beliefs. So it is not unusual to see members of society, especially the old, pious and religious condemning cohabitation with as little as critical headshakes, and sometimes with as much as vicious tirades promising hell and perdition.
Religion’s grip on all facets of our society is undeniable, and all major religions being practiced around here do not allow for cohabitation before marriage for the obvious reason of preventing premarital sex.
Morally as well, premarital sex is not supposed to be a thing. So society still holds up the ideal that if couples are not supposed to be having sex, why should they living together?
The realities of cohabitation in our society
As with many other things, what actually reflects in the society is not what is supposed to be the ideal situation. So, regardless of these moral and religious standards held up against cohabitation before marriage, it seems many people still consider cohabitation a better way to judge a partner’s suitability for marriage than the traditional courting from close quarters [or from a distance as the case may be] and hoping for the best in marriage.
“Many people in relationships are having sex already, whether or not they live together, why then can’t they cohabit if it will help them learn of each other better, instead of entering into marriage blind to each other’s hidden characters?” asks Tola, 23.
Pat, a 25-year-old graduate in Benin City concedes that cohabitation could sometimes breed contempt in some relationships, but its advantages outweigh its disadvantages to such extent that she would personally love to cohabit before marrying.
“I just believe it contributes largely to the knowing process. It prepares you for what you're up for,” she says.
Moni, a media personnel in Lagos, also agrees with cohabitation before marriage. For her, it is such an important thing that if she does not live with a partner for between “six months” to “one year,” she is not agreeing to any marriage with such partner.
Abimbola, a Lagos resident who has been married for four years agrees that sometimes staying together could have disadvantages such as the lady feeling used after living with the guy for months only to be deemed unsuitable for marriage despite all the ‘wifely duties’ she may have performed in the course of the cohabitation.
Although she thinks that cohabitation is disadvantageous to women because there is a big chance of being used and dumped, she still agrees that from a logical point of view, the advantages of cohabitation are more than its disadvantages.
Added to the ones already listed above, the young wife says other advantages of cohabitation are that “you get to know each other's sexual appetite and then fill in when necessary or you run if you can't match up,” and that “once the guys family knows you are cohabiting and say nothing, that could be a way of approving you automatically as the wife.”
For Halima, another young and unmarried woman who spoke to me for this piece, the attention on women who cohabit before marriage is undue. Asking a woman to not cohabit due to the belief that a man could tell her to go after seeing all aspects of her and being unimpressed.
She passionately supports the belief that women should have no qualms living with a man with whom there's a big chance of marriage, adding that as opposed to what seems like a popular belief, the practice helps the decision of both men and women to eventually marry potential spouses.
"I hate that people usually make cohabitation sound like it is only advantageous to the man. They say if a you live with him, he may get bored and tell you to go but actually, the same thing applies to us women, too!
"If you date a guy and upon cohabiting with him, you find out that he's not someone you can bear living with, of course you are allowed to bin him!"
Whether you cohabit or not, a relationship that will fail to translate to a marriage will do so regardless. A guy that will be an asshole and dump his babe for a flimsy excuse will look for that reason even if the chance to pin it on cohabitation is not presented to him.
Also sex in relationships have nothing to do with cohabitation. People have never and still do not need to cohabit to do that over and over again.
Add to this the fact that couples who will have great marriages will have it – whether or not they cohabited – and it just shows clearly that when you take away the prism of religion and conservative morals, to cohabit or not comes down to personal beliefs and opinions.
Obviously, people want what they want, and when it really comes down to it, individuals are going to go with their personal ideals.
And this actually makes sense but when it comes to religious and moral beliefs though, I think it just makes sense to stick to the tenets of what you claim to believe in. If you are going to disregard the principles of the religious and moral beliefs you claim to stand for, what is the point?