I abided by most, that's who I am. The ones that made sense were easy to follow:
"Don’t let your lips touch the spigot when drinking from a public water fountain,”
The questionable ones, “Stay away from that girl/boy that always gets into trouble,” were a bit more challenging because who doesn't love a spark of life from those around them once in awhile.
Then there was the no negotiating from my mother ones, that was, if you wanted to remain recognized by the family: "DO NOT LIVE WITH SOMEONE IF YOU’RE NOT MARRIED."
Most often spoken aloud at weddings, and just as often as a ferocious aside when she would relay her friends' domestic situations.
I never did live with anyone I wasn't married to. Not that I wasn’t asked.
The fear and the thought of the headache of deception kept me as a common law wife to many a roommate post college. Imagining being dead to my family kept me from co-signing any co-lease for cohabitating.
But, as is the case with most insights arrived at on our own in our lives, I am now of a different mindset due to the emotional and psychological duress that could have been avoided, nice girls do or don't, had I lived with my husband before marriage.
Today, I make the case for cohabitation before marriage certificate, based on our first married night at home together. The night when I dumped out the laundry basket full of our first shared comingled his and hers clothing, and I caught a flying shock of a view, fleeting, of something that had me hoping that what I was seeing, was a mistake.
“Mark, did you forget to empty out tissues from your pants pocket before throwing them in the laundry?” I asked while seeing before me what appeared to be shreds of tissue that had gone through the dryer.
“Nope,” he said without any thought.
And just like that, what could have been an arms entwined google eyed experience of what a metaphor of our coupling this laundry was; turned out, instead, to be a whispered shameful conversation at lunch with my best friend at work the next day.
“Oh my god, I just don't know," I tried to take a bite of my sandwich. I checked over both shoulders to make sure no one else was listening, “It's his underwear…” I stuttered. “It looked like a lace doily. Like the first ones ever made. I swear, the Smithsonian called asking for it.”
“Get.Out.,” my friend mouthed back, “like, how old do you think it was? ‘Cuz that’s just gross.”
“I know, I know,” I kept whispering. "I just couldn’t get the holey Swiss cheese memory of the backside of his boxers out of my mind, not even, you know, later…”
“You gotta tell him it’s just not right, and that you can afford new underwear. Like, make it fun, go shopping for new stuff together. He'll like that.”
“But what can I do in the meantime? What is seen, cannot be unseen. I brought it up… and he, he was almost proud of how old his boxers were. He bragged, ‘yup, had those babies since my fraternity days. Do you think it's memories?"
My single friend looked down before answering. "Maybe. Maybe you should have lived together first."
Ach. Straight to my Catholic upbringing soul. Why is life so difficult?
With her reaction in mind, I decided to keep what happened next, to myself.
When I saw my new husband lovingly double fold his tissue thin underwear, and as though delivering the golden tablets to Joseph Smith himself, place them on his side of our shared dresser drawer, right next to my honeymoon trousseau of days old satin underthings.
The man was neat, orderly, and folding his own laundry.
Sometimes you hit the jackpot, but if I had lived with him before, I would have come to value this, sooner.
Cohabitation, ask me 20 years later and I'll tell you: It's worth every risk of family disownment. And 15 Hail Marys said at bedtime.
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