The church says the growing acceptance of live-in relationships is concerning. But should we really be all that concerned with modern love?
In January 2022, church-run broadcasting station Radio Veritas conducted a survey rounding up the opinions of some 1,200 Filipino Catholics. The survey touched on the polarizing topic of cohabiting before marriage in today's landscape of modern love. The results, according to the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), were “concerning.”
According to the Veritas Truth Survey, 45% of Filipinos do not believe that a couple should be married before living together. In contrast, 40% believe in marriage-first arrangements, and the remaining 15% remain undecided on the issue.
Further inspection reveals a stark divide between generations. Close to half of the respondents aged 40 to 60 years old stress the importance of matrimony before cohabitation. Meanwhile, respondents between the ages of 13 to 39 lean in the opposite direction.
These figures spotlight the Filipino youth’s changing views on marriage, modern love, and relationships at large. “Concerning” as this shift might be, it unveils a slew of unforeseen challenges, shuffling priorities, and the burgeoning desire to step outside the traditional blueprint of what a relationship should look like.
“Living with someone reframes the relationship. You become each other's family, and you learn to either embrace or reject that,” says Marla Miniano-Umali, a 36-year-old writer, editor and content manager. Marla moved in with her then-boyfriend shortly before entering the fourth year of their relationship. As officemates who lived within close proximity of each other, they frequently spent time at each other’s places. Moving in together appeared to be a practical choice for their modern love story.
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Andrea (an alias to protect her privacy) is a 25-year-old project manager who was motivated by similar circumstances. Prior to cohabiting, she and her partner lived in Metro Manila and the province, respectively.
With Andrea set to live alone and her partner wanting to live away from his family, moving under the same roof “made perfect sense.” She adds, “It's also the best choice financially. We get to share expenses and both [teach] each other how to budget things while maintaining our home.”
Romance aside, portioned bills and expenses are a common benefit enjoyed by couples who choose to cohabit. Just last year, data gathered by iPrice revealed the estimated monthly cost of living in Manila to be P50,798 per person. And despite being the third most expensive Southeast Asian city to live in, Manila holds another startling title: it is one of the cities with the lowest average working class salaries.
As unsettling as these figures may be, it is also important to note that these were reported before the recent surge in fuel prices and last year’s missed inflation targets. Taking all factors into account, young adults—especially those trying to eke out careers and navigate relationships in such volatile times—feel like the economic odds are stacked against them.
Young adults—especially those trying to eke out careers and navigate relationships in such volatile times—feel like the economic odds are stacked against them.
The pandemic is another factor that has driven Filipino couples to cohabit.
Retail professionals Tim Diao, 26, and Gunta Ono, 27, had been in a relationship for four years when COVID-19 triggered the seemingly unending series of lockdowns. “[Gunta’s] parents aren’t here. My parents aren’t here,” explains Tim. “If we weren't going to stay together, it was just us living alone and apart during the lockdown. So we both decided that it would be better if we stayed together.”
Now closing in on their second year of cohabitation, Tim and Gunta agree that their relationship has changed leaps and bounds since they first started sharing a space.
Despite spending four or five days a week together before the pandemic, “It's just a whole different situation when you're together 24/7,” says Gunta. “You're two different individuals. Even if you're partners and you've chosen to be together, you’ll definitely have some sort of differences along the way. I think that [living together] is an opportunity to discover what those differences are.”
Tim adds, “You can't just put your best foot forward all the time, so you really see the person [you're living with] for who they are and what they are.”
Dividing chores, managing the need for personal space, and revealing all the ugly truths you can manage to conceal on dates are all part and parcel of cohabitation. But as these couples demonstrate, tensions can turn out to become a worthwhile baptism of fire. A crucial step in the metamorphosis of a relationship into a codependent partnership.
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When asked to analyze the growing acceptance of cohabiting before marriage, 26-year-old creative director, Tanya (the last name redacted as requested), expresses that independence is just as important a factor as codependence.
“I think I'm part of the generation that strives for independence and security,” she says. While Tanya and her boyfriend of two years are not currently living together, she is supportive of couples who choose to do so. “The conditions of cohabitation also mean that you're somehow on your own—different from the ‘traditional’ arrangement where [you] live with your family until marriage.”
“I think I'm part of the generation that strives for independence and security.”
Cohabitation continues to get pushback from more conservative voices in the community. The Philippines prides itself on being the only Roman Catholic nation in Asia—a defense that has been used time and time again to influence matters that should lie beyond the church’s purview. However, a look at other Catholic countries suggests that our obstinacy in prioritizing tradition may be keeping us out of touch with reality.
Brazil, which has the highest Catholic population in the world, grants consensual unions (that is, relationships wherein unmarried partners choose to live together) with most of the civil legalities that married couples get to enjoy.
In contrast, the conservative tradition of the Philippines frowns upon consensual cohabitation. In the words of CBCP spokesperson, Jerome Secillano, living in is “a deviation from an otherwise sacred and meaningful sacrament called marriage.”
But between the barrier of physical distance, an ongoing pandemic, the romanticization of matrimony, and the unsolicited question of “Kailan ka ikakasal? (When will you get married?),” young Filipinos are wondering if divorce is not an option. How could we get it right?
Andrea's parents are not together, and she sees cohabiting as a healthy jump-off point into the lifelong commitment of marriage. After having lived under the same roof as her partner, she speaks highly of cohabitation. She's recommending that her friends who are also in committed relationships follow suit, provided that they are financially, emotionally, and mentally ready for the shift. “My parents are not together so I somewhat have this fear of relationships. I definitely don’t want that to happen to me,” she says.
“I've witnessed enough failed marriages to understand why we need that security. Especially in a country where divorce is not legal,” Tanya adds. “[The youth is] more accepting [of cohabitation] because we need a kind of assurance before committing to marriage.”
It is important to note that the denial of a marriage law does not come from the church alone. Despite 53% of Filipino adults agreeing with the legalization of divorce for couples with irreconcilable separations, many politicians continue to turn a blind eye to this particular matter of modern love. Let’s not forget when former senator Sergio Osmeña III quipped, “I cannot favor a divorce law. My wife might use that against me.” Vice Presidential-aspirant Tito Sotto has likewise said that if the divorce bill passed, “lawmakers might face their wives’ fury.”
In this video, Senator Joel Villanueva expresses that “over his dead body,” he would “strongly oppose” a divorce bill. However, he offers hope in the form of annulment.
Nullifying a marriage is a valid option in the Philippines. However, it does not come without its fair share of deterrents. High costs and unpredictable timelines are among the shortcomings of the “torturous” Philippine annulment process, as journalist Ana P. Santos recounts an article for The Atlantic. Filing paperwork alone typically amounts to a hefty sum of USD400. Remember how the Philippines fared in that ranking of working-class salaries?
According to researcher Jeofrey Abalos, despite these factors adding up, the number of Filipinos terminating their marriages continues to grow. In the thick of these limitations, cohabitation provides a blanket of security for partners. It gives them the opportunity to truly get to know each other. Personalities beyond the rose-colored tint of dates, romance, and modern love.
“I would say moving in together was actually a bigger transition than getting married, allowing us to discover more things about each other and helping us figure out how to navigate each other's daily routines,” explains Marla.
Partners Tim and Gunta also shed light on a different perspective on modern love. In our country, same-sex couples do not have the option to wed.
“For LGBTQIA+ couples, we don't have a piece of paper that would tie us down together. We don't have recognition from the government on our relationship or the legalities of our relationship,” says Tim. “Our relationship would always be a constant choice. It will always be choosing that partner every day. Being with that partner throughout all the good stuff and the bad stuff. All the hardships.”
“For LGBTQIA+ couples, we don't have a piece of paper that would tie us down together.”
In response to the Veritas Truth Survey results. CBCP spokesperson Secillano believes that the solution lies in further intensifying teachings about the sacrament of marriage. “the positive societal effects” that it can contribute to families, as well as to society at large.
As a Roman Catholic Filipino. I am wondering how this resolution is different from what has already been into practice. Even more baffling, perhaps, are these positive effects on society that marriage is supposed to have, that cohabitation supposedly nullifies.
This is not to besmirch the wonder of matrimony; marriage is a beautiful thing. It’s a celebration of a couple’s love and commitment. On a personal note, I will be sitting by my computer screen this week, virtually watching a friend exchange vows with the love of her life from halfway across the world.
However, as more young Filipinos are coming to recognize, a marriage-first arrangement is not the only way to express one’s commitment to their partner.
Comparing cohabitation and marriage, Marla tells Wonder, “I don't think one route is universally and encompassingly better than the other. Married couples without having lived together experience the same joys. The challenges that couples who cohabit prior do, and vice versa.”
“Having the choice to get married—even for LGBTQIA+ couples—[would be] a great feat, because it would give us access to all the rights shared by heterosexual married couples,” says Gunta.
“I think marriage is a beautiful stage in any relationship, but that doesn’t discount lived-in couples [either],” Tim expresses. “The existence of one shouldn’t cancel out the other, especially when it comes to public opinion and civil rights.”
Special thanks Gunta Ono, Tim Diao, Marla Miniano Umali, Tanya and Andrea
Art Macky Arquilla