Popular culture portrays the single life is as one long party, while those condemned to domesticity supposedly arrive home to a daily drudgery enlivened only by the occasional fight.

High-profile divorce cases, mothers-in-law, and a growing communal acceptance of alternative lifestyles combine to drive down the rate of marriage and threaten the chances of harmony for those brave souls who do take the plunge.

Religious scruples aside, can we really censure those who chose to live together in de facto relationships rather than matrimony, choosing not to take the risk of ending up with nothing but a pile of cut-rate wedding presents and some stale cake to show for their walk down the aisle.

I think so.

We read in this week’s parsha, "When a man shall take a woman (Deuteronomy 24:1)." In addition to the literal understanding of the text, rabbinic codifiers interpret this verse to be describing the union of G‑d and the Jewish people.

Marriage is an act of surrender, a transferral of possession. We go from self-determination and individualism to become a new being: a married whole rather than a sum of parts.

When we choose to have a relationship with G‑d we exclude all other deities and belief systems and commit to follow His will. On a somewhat similar level, when we marry we commit to each other in a joyful surrender that no de facto relationship can ever hope to emulate.

Auditioning for the part

Intuitively one would assume that a couple’s chances of a successful marriage would be proportional to the length of time they knew each other, and the degree of intimacy they enjoyed before finally deciding to commit. You would never buy a car without taking it for a test drive, so why should you do any less research before embarking on a relationship?

However statistics show that couples that live together before marriage actually suffer from significantly greater rates of divorce and discontent than those who meet, marry and match in that order.


You, and only You

There are two parts to every relationship: a reciprocal commitment to each other, and a pledge to protect the sacredness of this bond. My marriage is a public affirmation not just of my obligations to my spouse, but a bulwark against the admittance of any other person to our common space.

When G‑d committed to His people and we committed to Him, we entered into a bilateral relationship. We unequivocally committed to remain faithful to Him, and simultaneously plighted ourselves to exclude all others from that troth. To go against His will or to act in a way contrary to His desires would be analogous to being unfaithful.

When a couple goes de facto, they may indeed be committing to each other, but what about the second pre-condition to true love - the affirmation that nothing will ever be allowed to interfere or distract us from each other? By choosing not to marry, not to go all the way, aren’t you just allowing yourself wriggle room to escape if and when things get tough, or you receive a better offer?

Even if the couple does ‘graduate’ to marriage, what negative vestiges remain from the lack of trust of their earlier trial-run? Just as you can’t be a little bit pregnant, surely it is an unhealthy situation for a couple to be ‘a little bit married.’

Our commitment to our spouses must be unequivocal.

Similarly with G‑d. We chose each other at Sinai. We must remain faithful in our devotion to strengthening and developing our relationship as we aspire to spend our lives living up to His vision.