As I prepare to perform my second wedding ceremony as officiant, I have been reflecting on all of the things I know about marriage. I have never been married, but still I find myself baffled sometimes at the things even married people don't know about marriage. Perhaps it's that I've built and torn down a couple of serious relationships that were in the stages of preparing for marriage that has taught me some valuable lessons, or the fact that I have witnessed the building and tearing down of friends' relationships and marriages through which I've absorbed some of these truths, or likely both. I surely have plenty more to learn. But don't let that deter you from learning from what I have to share here.
1. Marriage won't make you any more complete than you were unmarried.
If you don't feel like a whole person, that's something you need to address with God, with your counselor, or within yourself. No other human being will complete you, diamond or no. Shared home or no. The same goes for happiness. If you do not feel a general sense of happiness within yourself, the addition of a new person won't give that to you. In fact, adding another person and a serious relationship to an unhappy or incomplete foundation is a recipe for disaster.
2. Marriage isn't a sea of smooth sailing.
I don't care how alike you are or how pleasant your dating life has been. Marriage isn't easy. And I'm not saying, "caution, there are bumps in the road!" I am saying sometimes there's no road. What will you do then, when the two of you are standing at the end of a path looking at thick forrest or a cliff, disagreeing on how to proceed? Right, you don't know. And neither do I. You won't go into it with the answers. You can go into it knowing that those days will come and it will be terrifying and when you find the solution together you'll discover absolutely beautiful uncharted territory.
3. Those promises don't keep themselves.
When you're standing at that alter saying all these things you really mean to another person, they don't magically become your natural inclinations until death do you part. You have to continue to choose that person. You have to choose to listen more than you talk, to give more than you get, to love more than you sometimes feel like loving, to let go of things you want to hold on to. "I will love you every day." Depending on your definition of "love," you may be setting yourself up for failure. If love is a happy, warm, tingly feeling, you're going to keep the American divorce rate right where it is. You will not feel that every day. If love means putting someone else's needs with your own in a box marked "most important," then you're on the right track.
4. Your marriage is your first child.
It's born of the two of you, though you still exist as two individuals. You have to learn it's personality. Its strengths and its struggles. You have to feed it, nurture it, grow it. Treat it with care and love. It will not always be what you want or will it to be, but you will love it all the same. Its well-being should be your priority. It will challenge you beyond your limits and it will bring you joy beyond your wildest imagination.
I'll say that last part again: It will challenge you beyond your limits and it will bring you joy beyond your wildest imagination. I know some of these "lessons" sound grim, but I focus on those to combat the Disney picture many people have in their minds when they marry. So that last part is super important for me to put the spotlight on now. Despite the grimness, there is great joy. That's what makes it all worth it. But, one more:
5. Marriage isn't for everyone.
Just because it's the "norm" in our society to get married does NOT mean that it's for everyone. If you can recognize the realities of sharing an entire life with someone and it's something you feel called to, then that's an incredible thing. I believe I am called to be married. (I do love a challenge.) Having not been married yet wasn't a choice for me but rather happenstance - a happenstance I've learned to be grateful for, for I learned all of these things. I will bring my marriage, I hope, much more wisdom and appreciation now than I would have years ago if I'd gotten what I thought I wanted then. If you choose not to get married or you happen not to get married, either way, shake off the fear that there's "something wrong with you," or that you're "different." Marriage truly, actually, isn't for everyone. And that's okay.
My current relationship has brought to my life both challenges and joys. We are beautifully alike and we are profoundly different. We've known each other for nearly 6 years, and we know each other in some ways better than anyone and in other ways still not at all. He has and will disappoint me. I have and will disappoint him. But he also brings my life more joy even than I find on my own or with anyone else in my life. I love learning him. I love dreaming of the life we want to build together. I love growing our partnership. And most importantly, we continue to choose each other.