R ecently, I had a difficult conversation with a follower on Twitter:
Her: I’m so sad.
Me: Why’s that?
Her: He’s still not ready. He says he’s “not sure anymore.”
Me: How long have you been dating?
Her: 3 years. I don’t want to start all over.
Me: How old are you?
Her: 34. My clock is ticking.
Nothing hits me so hard as hearing the most painful of stories — a woman trying to finalize the deal she was promised, yet never materialized. It’s like watching a train derail, with all the passengers aboard, and not being able to do anything about it.
I’ve been accused of being overly sensitive, one-sided, and soft. I don’t care. This really hurts, especially when you and she are both aware that the clock is ticking, loud, and winding down, rapidly.
Unlike other scenarios in life — a dead-end job, being out-of-shape, or even an addiction — there may be no cure, no solution, and no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for this tragic situation.
Finding someone you want to marry is difficult enough. Why should sealing the deal be so much more challenging? So complicated? So prone to failure?
This topic is too large to address in one sitting, but perhaps the lesson we all can take away from this situation, and one that I repeat often:
Long-term relationships create marriage-level problems, without the framework of marriage to keep us together.
When we spend months, years, and sometimes a decade together, we will for sure experience most of the challenges and difficulties of marriage. Our personalities will clash. We will disappoint each other in many ways, and we will see the worst sides of our characters and temperaments.
And this is normal. Remember when you would beg your mom to have your friend stay over at your house for a week? I do. My mother, in her wisdom, would always warn me: “Not a great idea. You will be at each other’s throats in a matter of days.” And of course, I didn’t listen. And of course, she was always right.
Because it’s to be expected that two different people, living in close proximity, sharing the same time, space, and resources are going to fight. We will argue and disagree on practically everything. From politics to housework to family and our future.
And when the romance and lust wear off, it can get ugly. Because now I see the real you — the human you, the person behind the facade I created. The perfectly imperfect human being who’s living with me. And you are just like me, full of positives, but full of negatives, too, that I refused to see before. In many ways, you resemble just a fraction of who I thought you were, who I was making you out to be when I was infatuated with you, the you in my imagination.
So along comes marriage. Marriage isn’t just the knot that forces us to stay together. It’s the mission that we share that brings us together. It’s the reason we bite our tongue, sacrifice for each other, make ourselves available to each other when we don’t feel like it, and work on ourselves rather than walk away. It’s our commitment to our commitment that holds down the fort so that we can build something better than if we were on our own.
In the absence of marriage, what’s the point? Because we like each other? Maybe I don’t like you right now. Because you are such a good person? There are lots of good people out there. Because I love you? I can love you and not live with you, too. Without marriage, without the shared mission, goal, and future together, what do we actually share? Why put up with each other’s mess? It’s just much easier to call it quits and move on to the next shiny object we can attract.
So if you are looking to get married, date people who are looking to get married.
Not in three years, not in five years, not sometime down the road. Date people who are looking to get married now, and are just trying to find that perfect partner to start a life journey with.
The lure of romance, intimacy, and love is great. It can look like what want, and even taste like what we want. And we can fool ourselves into thinking it is what we want. But we must temper that deep and healthy desire to connect with structure and tradition, lest we watch it wash away. And, tragically, sadly, and literally, take the baby with the bathwater.