Cohabitation is known as kuchaya mapoto in Shona. A practice whereby a man lives with a woman he has not paid lobola/roora/dowry for, most likely enjoying all the benefits of a married person. The practice is frowned upon culturally. At some point he will have to pay a fine called ‘damage’ to the woman’s family. Living with a partner before marriage puts one at huge risk of premarital sex. More often than not cohabitation is an agreement between the the couple and does not involve any other family members. It usually starts off secretly but naturally becomes exposed and is normally accepted as time goes by.
Marriage is honourable
Marriage is not just about the couples but about bringing two families together. For the sake of good relations this union has always been formal. That way everyone is officially introduced, and a celebration of the union is enjoyed. Cohabitation creates tension for both families. Both families can feel disrespected and usually the man takes the blame for ‘taking’ the girl under his roof, even if they are staying at the girls flat. Ideally most parents look forward to the day they officially send their daughter off in marriage. Today’s children only think of themselves and have no concern of how this may affect their parents who would have tried their best to raise their children to respect them. I am sure there are very few parents who would not give a go ahead for their children to live with a partner who has not married them.
What drives couples into cohabitation?
Why do couples decide to go against their parents wishes Some argue they need to test if they can be compatible for marriage. So cohabitation is a trial marriage which includes all the benefits of marriage. You hear a man saying he is not ready for marriage but he expects all the benefits of the union. Most of the time there is no real plan or discussion around living together but it happens gradually, regularly sleeping over, and then it seems the natural progression to start living together. With this gradual descend into cohabitation there is an absence of frank discussions about each persons expectations and even duration of the arrangement.
Unreasonable lobola demands
Some have cited the unreasonable bride prices as a reason to skip marriage altogether. Roora demands, are now mostly driven by greed than an observance of an otherwise reasonable cultural practice. This has become an excuse for a couple deciding to start living together and sometimes formalise later through the traditional wedding through the courts.
We are just sharing a flat
A different kind of cohabitation is when a man and women who are not partners share a flat for the purposes of cutting down on expenses. This is very common in the diaspora. I think its not a good idea for the opposite sex to live in such close proximity with each other, to know each other so intimately so personally, usually ends up in getting into sexual relationships.
Why should I marry her?
What incentive does a man have to marry a girl he has now lived with and ‘known’. Both have lost any moral high ground, making it difficult to negotiate marriage, or even get out of it. From a man’s perspective I think a woman has the most to lose in a cohabitation arrangement. Its more difficult for her to move on if they were to break up with. I know a couple cohabiting for over five years. The guy says he is not interested in marriage and is looking to move on while the woman is hoping that after this long surely he will marry.
No question, a child will at some point leave their home and parents to go their own way, but parents normally would love to send off their children officially with a blessing for their future. Is this too much to ask as the last show of respect before leaving your parents? Today’s individualistic culture says “Its all about YOU and how YOU feel”. With this narrative children no longer see the need to respectfully leave their parents. Leaving officially and publicly also brings a sense of security for the women and accountability. Women most likely feel trapped and it would take strength of character to get out of such an arrangement. By not making it official and public it makes it difficult for the women to seek counsel or advice from the very people they would have shunned in getting into such a union.
The man is accountable
Once again I call the man for accountability for any cohabiting set up. Its his responsibility to say no if its not his idea. This is the reason why cohabitation is not an announcement to all families involved. There is shame in it. I call on the man to respect both families and do the right thing. I put it to you that a guy who proposes to live with a girl without marrying her does not respect her. A girl who proposes such to her man also doesn’t respect him. Nor respect for self.
In the Shona culture it can also be a problem if the woman gets sick or dies while at the boyfriends house. Parents who seemed to ignore or condoned the arrangement will all of a sudden turn around and demand roora. Or the will want some kind of reparation fine before their daughter is buried. Funerals would be halted with much drama. Now its illegal but the tension will still be there. An arrangement between the couple will once again go back to show it involves more than just the couple.
Parents train your children
Parents today are raising their children in such a way that they are afraid of them. They cannot confront them for questionable behaviour. Also children take advantage of the fact that they are supporting their parents financially. So they feel they cannot be asked about their choices with veiled threats to withdraw their support. So the parents don’t confront the elephant in the room. I am against cohabitation from a moral stand point. I would advise anyone who seriously looking towards marriage to stay away from cohabitation.