According to the Oxford Dictionary of English, cohabiting means living together and having a sexual relationship without being married.
Families have changed in the last several decades.
Instead of getting married, many people are living together or ‘cohabiting’. Some of these cohabiting couples eventually get married. Many of them, however, break up.
Very few stay together as cohabitants for long. This is a normal practice at tertiary level and in the working class.
Cohabitation or living together seems to be the lone option for many single adults in our country as it looks fashionable.
However, many couples say they cohabit for convenience. For example, rent and food expenses would be shared.
Most adults say they cohabit for one or more of the following reasons: for emotional and sexual intimacy without the obligations of marriage; to test their compatibility; to prepare for marriage by practicing living with someone “24/7”, as they say, and to better know each other’s habits, character, and fidelity.
A Mochudi man, wanting to be identified only as John, agreed with the above statement.
“It cannot substitute marriage but at the same time it gives couples time to get to know each other and get to see how much they can tolerate their partner such that when they marry, they get to know what they are letting themselves into,” he said.
Some people perceive cohabitation as a way to have a more intimate relationship without the risks of divorce or being trapped in an unhappy marriage. But cohabitation does not lead to marriage in the majority of cases. No one has ever proved that cohabitation later makes a positive contribution to marital stability.
Delani Dube, a student at Botswana Accountancy College, said no matter what reasons are tabled, she will not cohabit.
“I will not cohabit. If someone wants to marry you, they will regardless of whether you are staying together or not. People use the excuse that they want to get to know each other better but I believe the Setswana saying that “motho ga itsewe e se naga” sums it up. You can never really know a person,” she said.
People willing to live together are more unconventional than others and tend to be less committed to marriage as an institution. These factors make it easier for them to leave a marriage later if it becomes unsatisfying.
Marriage, after all, is a unique relationship that assumes a vow of permanence.
Most cohabiters fear, or are not ready for, such a permanent relationship. For them, cohabitation’s biggest attraction is the relatively easy exit with few responsibilities.
Those who are afraid of commitment and permanence, or who fear that these qualities can no longer be found in marriage, may settle for cohabitation.
Tapologo Leselwa, a resident of Pilane, said cohabitating is nothing but a waste of time.
“I would not do it; most guys who cohabit do not marry because you are always there when he needs you, so he can have you anytime,” she said.
Kefilwe, a resident of Serowe, concurred with Tapologo’s sentiments, as she views cohabitating as nothing but a recipe for disaster.
“People break up after years of cohabiting to marry the first person they meet/cheat with. And most of the time the woman is left with a bunch of fatherless kids. Nothing ever comes out of cohabiting except kids out of wedlock,” she said.
Cohabiting relationships are relatively short-lived; they are likely to discover they have settled for much less. The chances of commitment and permanence are better with marriage. Marriage is more likely to last than cohabitation even in the early years of the relationship.
Patience Tirelo said she respects the marriage institution and believes that married people have more dignity than cohabiters.
“I don’t know what the constitution of our country says about it, but I personally don’t think it’s a good thing to do and don’t think it will guarantee marriage. From my Christian point of view, I cannot opt for it,” she said.
Furthermore, the breakup of a cohabiting relationship is not necessarily cleaner or easier than divorce. A breakup involves breaking up a household, and may lead to conflicts over property, leases, past due bills, as they did not sign any contract before staying together.
Breaking up is emotionally difficult for both cohabiters and for the children of either part or those they had together.