Speaking of marriage and expectations, this 2008 post from The Art of Manliness (I don’t have anything against these folks, honest! They just keep popping up) gives some pretty decent advice about how to tell if you’ve found the right woman to marry. I agree wholeheartedly with two of the signs of a good choice: “there’s nothing major you want to change about her” and “She’s your best friend.” You have no business marrying someone you hope to alter dramatically, and you ought to prefer spending time with her above all others.
But I’d like to challenge the other three criteria: “She gets along well with your family and friends” and “The thought of marrying her doesn’t scare you in the least” and “The relationship goes smoothly from the beginning.” These sound sensible, but they all imply the same thing: that you’ve got your act together yourself.
Don’t get me wrong: Twisted, baffled or mentally disturbed people shouldn’t be contemplating marriage—they should be working on getting their own houses in order before merging lives with someone else (and the Church recognizes that “insufficiency or inadequacy of judgment” may even make the marriage invalid).
And I do not mean to denigrate people who are unfailingly mature and responsible, who make choices based purely on prayer, common sense and optimal timing.
I just don’t know very many of them.
I do, however, know many happily married, perfectly matched couples who have been married for decades—but who were kind of a mess when they first said Yes.
She gets along well with your family and friends? Well, I know a guy who started contemplating marriage because his girlfriend was the only one who realized that his family was utterly nuts—and who encouraged him to break away from the disfunction.
The thought of marrying her doesn’t scare you in the least? I know a guy who was rigid with fear before his wedding, petrified that he’d hurt his beloved the way he’d hurt his ex-fiancee.
The relationship goes smoothly from the beginning? I know many couples who wrangle and battle their way through years and years of love and fidelity, because that’s the kind of people they are: fighters, and they wouldn’t be suited to marry anyone who expects life to go smoothly.
Some people only propose once they’re confident, happy and secure; but some may only become confident, happy and secure through the working of their marriages. Immature, unfinished, unpolished, insecure men and women may be ready for marriage, too—in fact, it may be exactly what they need. Some people grow up only once they come face to face with the demands of married life.
Starting out with seamless calm and certainty might even bring troubles of its own: You might expect the entire marriage to go smoothly, and for the relationship to bring you nothing but strength and comfort. Maybe it will, and maybe it won’t—but at least people who’ve had some anxiety from the beginning won’t be taken by surprise if some bumps do appear along the road.
So, yes, it’s foolish to go ahead and marry someone when you have serious doubts about him or about the relationship. We must not ignore true red flags. But neither should we wait for perfection. Having doubts about yourself, and recognizing that you’re launching into a long, long project with someone who is likely and willing to help you be better—that sounds like real life.
Must we be squeaky clean and utterly grounded before we’re capable of making a good choice? I don’t think so, any more than I think we must own a home and have a robust college savings account in place before conceiving a child. There’s a fine line between mere prudence and an arrogant self-confidence, which doesn’t allow for messiness, unpredictability or weakness—or grace.
Marriage isn’t all about laying good bets and then reaping the rewards. The proposal and the wedding and the vows, no matter how deeply felt, are just the beginning—and who we are when we’re first married is who we are just beginning to be.