February 9, 2006
When Frank Sinatra sang the lyrics of “Love and Marriage,” he was doing more than extolling the virtues of wedded bliss in the 20th century. He was voicing a revolution on the American soil of the very institution of marriage itself. “Love and marriage, love and marriage; go together like
a horse and carriage.” That was not always the case. Marriages had been based on class, power, or politics. In some places, marriages are still arranged. Not much romance.
However, recent statistics on marriage would seem at first blush to confirm the lyrics of this ever popular song. Love and marriage go together. Fifty-six percent of those between the ages of 20 and 25 are opting for marriage. By the year 2010, almost eighty-five percent of that same age bracket will have married.
Yet other statistics actually show a decline in the choice to marry. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, during the last quarter of a century there has been a decline in the marriage rate by forty-one percent among all age groups. (cf Judy Gross, the
National Catholic Reporter, September 17, 1999).
What is actually on the increase is the rate of those who choose to live together as man and woman without the benefit of marriage. A recent statistic from the United States Census Bureau listed over six million couples making this life-choice. In fact, the practice of men and women routinely living together outside the marriage commitment became so common in the 1970’s that the Census Bureau coined the acronym POSSLQ (for Partners of the Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters). One study concludes that as many as half of the population under age forty have lived with an unmarried partner.
That man and woman should want to live together and share an intimate life is in itself a noble and good desire. The Greek philosopher Plato offered an explanation of this inclination. He used the power of myth to convey a law of nature inscribed in human nature. According to Plato, man was originally spherical. He was self-sufficient. He needed no other for completeness. But because of his pride, Zeus split man in two. And now he yearns for his other half. Hence the attraction between man and woman to find wholeness with each other. This attraction between man and woman is
eros. And it is good.
The opening pages of Sacred Scripture teach that
eros, the drawing of man to woman and woman to man, is not a punishment, but a blessing. Human sexuality is a gift from the hands of the Creator for his children. Genesis shows Adam finding his completeness only when God creates Eve. From the very design of his nature, he is ordered to be fulfilled in the intimate relationship with his helpmate. When God gives Eve to him, Adam exclaims in joy, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (
Since the desire to be with the other is so natural, the question arises, “Is it right for two individuals to enter into an intimate relationship where they share a common table and common life and do so without the benefit of marriage?” Some individuals make this choice to cohabitate because of economic reasons. Others, because of legal reasons. Some, because of a previous failed marriage. They feel too vulnerable and are not ready to enter another marriage. Others, simply because they wish to try on a trial of living together to see if it fits.
Whatever the motives that prompt forming unions without benefit of marriage, there are three elements that are common to each case. First, there is the desire to retain one’s autonomy and freedom within the relationship. Second, there is a commitment to each other that remains partial and incomplete. Third, there is a doubt about the future. In each of these relationships, the individuals choose to postpone or reject conjugal commitment (cf Pope John Paul II,
Address to the members of the Pontifical Council for the Family, June 4, 1999). Our society’s permissive attitude toward sexual activity outside of marriage has been a major factor in causing many people to view cohabitation as either neutral or even good.
Sexual love, to be fully human, is more than just a biological act between two people. “The specific love between a man and a woman…is inclined (in itself) toward intimacy, a certain exclusivity, the generation of offspring, and a joint life project. When this is what is wanted… then real self-giving and acceptance between the man and woman comes about which constitutes the conjugal communion” (Pope John Paul II,
Discourse to the Tribunal of the Roman Rota, January 21, 1999). Through the mutual exchange of sexuality, a man and a woman give themselves to each other on a physical level. The physical expresses the deeper spiritual reality of a personal communion that is total, exclusive, and open to life.
Sexual love without the commitment of marriage does not speak the whole truth. It does not say love is forever. It does not say one person belongs to the other completely and uniquely. It is only within the sacred bonds of marriage that the individual has the security of not being used only to be put aside at a later date. Commitment provides the possibility that the marriage not only survives the joys and sorrows of daily life, but also grows. The husband and wife become one heart and one soul, and together attain their human fulfillment (cf Pope Paul VI,
Humanae Vitae, 9).
How much better all of us would be if the song’s words become our society’s by-word:
Love and marriage, love and marriage
Go together like a horse and carriage.
Dad was told by mother
You can't have one without the other.