Back in 1994, I got engaged to Lynn and it was the happiest day of our lives. Religion and circumstances made things less than perfect in the years that followed. I was raised as a Christian and some of the teachings of Christianity can do harm when applied rigidly and without consideration for how we apply those ideas. My mind was too immature back then, unfortunately. Sometimes good intentions can be twisted. There might be good intentions in preparing people for marriage and the seriousness of the commitment. However, there is nothing that would have changed on the day of the marriage ceremony. My commitment would not have become more real or more serious. It is not like one needs witnesses to hear us say "I do" to make it real. Such a ceremony is great but it isn't always necessary to recognize a commitment.
Any of the witnesses to our love would not have needed to hear us say "I do" to believe we were committed as husband and wife. I didn't hear my parents say "I do." I took their word for it. Do we go about our lives asking if everyone who says they are married as a marriage license? In a way, the marriage ceremony would have been a way to formalize the commitment but it isn't necessary. Let me explain. My wife had been born with a chronic illness. She required medical care to stay alive and maintain her health. She feared that if the state found out that we were married they might not allow her to continue to qualify for a state health care program. That would put her health at risk. It should have been clear to me that when the books of the Bible were being written thousands of years earlier, they didn't anticipate this situation in North Carolina in the United States. I was influenced by Christian teaching to which I was exposed growing up.
It inspired me to say mean things to Lynn. We lived as husband and wife but my understanding of right and wrong as the church had in mind was that we were something less than that. I felt ashamed with my wife asked me if I regretted the way we expressed our marital love. I was so confused that I made statements more than once that conveyed that doubt to Lynn. There was no doubt that I loved her and wanted to express that love in each and every way that a married couple does. That was what she expected too. Her mother expected that we would act as a married couple in the house she bought for us. Her mother was curious that she was experiencing love as married couples express love for each other.
Her mother was concerned about pregnancy as was Lynn since her health might not support a pregnancy. She had open conversations with her mother on how she will avoid that. The discussions did not mean acting as if we would avoid certain behaviors since we didn't have a marriage license. On the contrary, that would have seemed like an unhappy situation for Lynn and would not please a mother. What is interesting is how I dealt with this in my own family. They seemed to understand my situation and help me to embrace the idea of living as a married couple. We didn't talk as openly as my spouse did with her mother but they knew we lived together in a one-bedroom home. Despite this fact, I seem to remember Lynn suggesting that we sleep in different beds when we visited the family. That seems bizarre in light of everything I remember.
At the time I had discussed the dilemma between what I was taught and the way we had to adapt to the circumstances. I didn't go into details but it seemed obvious what our situation was and that this was how we were going to live. If anything, it seemed that my religious teaching was more of a burden to me than anyone else... other than to my wife (fiancée) to whom I expressed words that made her think I regretted how I expressed my love.
As a tangent to the topic of what people do intimately, consider the following:
In the age of Law & Order SVU, topics like this are more common and openly discussed. I am certain that the notion of consent was never an issue that came up in Lynn's discussions with her mother. Having watched that TV show for years, I see that such an assumption cannot be taken for granted. For what it is worth, explicit concent was something that does come up and should come up. I won't go into details as this is an intimate matter. Suffice it to say, if you have any imagination, you might hear of things on that show that I would not do.