Living in Sin in the Bible Belt

I am from Tennessee. I speak to strangers and I don’t curse in front of my dad. I say “yes ma’am” and “no sir”. I cross my legs at the ankles and believe that BBQ is a food group. I am a Southern girl to my heart.

I am also a 32 year old divorcée with a live-in boyfriend and two children with different fathers. For me, it is life. For almost everyone else in the South, it is a problem.

The first time I got married, I was 21 and pregnant by and in love (or so I thought) with a military guy with whom I had been in an immature, up & down relationship for about a year and a half. I barely knew what love was; I had absolutely no clue what marriage really meant. Consequently, six weeks after we moved in together as husband and wife, I was crying on the phone with my mother as I packed my things and she bought me a plane ticket home. After a long tumultuous road, my ex-husband and I cordially co-parent our 10-year-old son.

Once you have a child in the South, there seems to be the idea of having a co-parent or having a spouse; there is no in-between. “Partners” are your Spades and Bid Whist teammates, and “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” fizzle out once you age past about 25. At 32, your significant other is either your friend or your husband/wife, vows sold separately.

I’ve heard all of the reasons why I should already be married. These two are the most popular:

“He won’t buy the cow if he can get the milk for free”.

Let’s be crystal clear. Nothing here is free but love. In addition, I’m not the only one with something to offer. My partner pays bills, shows up as a father figure for both of my sons, and balances and protects me in ways that I never knew I needed, oftentimes at the expense of his own comfort. Furthermore, not all women are holding hostage their true selves waiting to be asked for their hand in marriage without providing all the necessary information for them to decide if marriage is the right step. We are both worth the purchase, but we’ll buy, if we so decide, in our own time.  

“You’re living in sin!”

I’m no Bible scholar. However, from what I remember, there was no mention of shacking up in The Bible. Women were usually traded as parts of land deals, with their marriages serving as vehicles by which they were swapped like livestock. Marriages were often arranged or coerced by the time the couple hit puberty so shacking didn’t even exist then. Modern interpretations of the wrongness of living together before marriage state that the sin isn’t living together; it’s the premarital sex you must obviously be regularly having if you live with a person…as if people who don’t live together are automatically celibate. Either way, it’s actually nobody’s business but the people in the relationships.

There are some people, especially in The South, who truly live their life based on the principles of Christianity. They strive every day to make their actions match The Word they study. Oddly enough, most comments about me “living in sin” come from people who encourage and/or engage in a myriad of unscrupulous behaviors, save for cohabitating with a person to whom they are not married. This judgment, rooted in the selective belief in Christian beliefs, is annoying, unnecessary and wholly unhelpful.

For me, the pain and expense of an unnecessary divorce is not an experience worth repeating. For me, understanding a person and learning of REAL life with them is important to do before a forever commitment. For me, marriage is not an accomplishment to be checked off a to-do list in a pointless quest for social acceptability.

I love my partner. We have spent the time since our son was born exploring our relationship and learning even more about each other. After this year and a half of living with him and learning what it is like sharing space with him, I’ve decided that I could do this forever, would do this forever, want to do this forever. We’ll probably get married, sooner rather than later. However, if this time had passed without us coming to this conclusion or even if we change our minds tomorrow, we would be able to go our separate ways for free. We would be able to go separate ways without our relationship failure becoming official public record. That is what we choose and it is or business, no one else’s.

The takeaway is that this pejorative narrative stems from other people’s opinions of a situation that is not theirs. I’m no life coach and I have very little figured out; I’m just a girl living the life that works for her and hers. All I can recommend is to live your life based on your own wants and needs, guided by your own moral compass. Living with someone else will likely be scores less stressful for you than living for someone else. Namaste.



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