Is there a way to know for certain that the person you’re dating is the right person for you to marry?
And, are there good reasons to get married, as opposed to simply living together and seeing how things go?
A reader recently asked these questions in my Washington Blade advice column.
Of course, marriage isn’t just for gay people, so I decided to share both the query and my answer:
With gay marriage sweeping the country, my boyfriend Alex has proposed to me, and I have very cold feet.
We’ve been dating for three years and living together for two. We get along great, share a lot of interests, enjoy each other’s friends, and our parents like each other. We’re a great couple. And I love Alex.
But I’m nervous about making a life-long commitment. How can we really know if we should marry?
Yes, we’re happy now. But people change a lot over their lives. How do I know if we’ll be a good match in 20, 40, or even 60 years? How do I know that I will want to be married to Alex for the rest of my life?
Given that, how can I stand up in front of 300 people and make vows that I don’t know if I can really commit to? All because we really love each other now?
Sometimes I wonder if we’re being caught up in the latest trend: get engaged, show off our rings, have a big party, get gifts, buy a condo, have a baby, etc. Maybe we should just be together for now and see how it goes, going forward.
On the other hand, lots of people get married, so I’m pretty sure there’s a point to it. And maybe there’s a way to figure out if marrying Alex is the right thing for me to do.
Clue me in, please?
Congratulations for being thoughtful about taking a huge life step.
No one can be perfectly certain that getting married is the right thing to do. As you note, people change throughout their lives, so the person you marry today may be a very different person down the road.
But that’s part of the adventure…and part of the challenge. Because marriage isn’t just about having good times with your spouse; marriage is a commitment to staying with one person on your journey through life, come what may. It’s about dealing with the unexpected, tackling problems together, figuring out how to collaborate, and learning to tolerate the inevitable disappointments.
There’s no such thing as a perfect partner to do this with. Any person you decide to marry will turn out to be different from you in significant ways, even if you don’t realize it at first. And any person you decide to marry will drive you crazy at times, even if you start off as a seemingly perfect fit.
The best you can do is to set out with someone you love and whose company you enjoy, with whom you share important values, and who wants to construct a life compatible with the life you would like to construct. From there, you both strive to accept the ways that each of you will change and to manage the unexpected difficulties with openhearted flexibility.
Right now the two of you are being handed an opportunity to deepen your relationship. Alex has asked you to marry him and you have serious reservations. Can you talk with Alex about where you both stand? Figure out what’s important to you even if it goes against what Alex wants? Disagree, and not allow your relationship to collapse? These are the sorts of skills that you have a chance to develop as a committed couple.
As far as marriage itself goes: Standing before a community of loved ones and committing to each other can be a powerful and transformative experience. Many people say that it gives them a feeling that their family and friends are rooting for them. For that matter, even getting married at the courthouse with anonymous witnesses can give a solemn gravity to your pledge to go forward together.
Whether you decide to marry to Alex or not, I’m glad that you and all of us are now free to make that choice, if and when it is right for us.