So, the other day, it happened again. I was talking with my mother. Telling her about going to the 1st birthday of my friend’s daughter. Then my mother started telling me about so-and-so who had just had their first baby. And another-so-and-so who had just gotten married. And still-another-so-and-so who had had their third child. And it just popped out of her mouth, that question that all single people dread. “So, when are you going to get married?”
I should have seen it coming. What with the big lead up and all. But I didn’t, and it took me completely by surprise. Understand that my mother married in her late twenties. Had a career before marriage. Has always been a proponent for education, independence and careers for women. She’s never really pestered me about getting married. And her desire for grandchildren has been mostly appeased by my brother and sister-in-law’s three rambunctious boys. But, we’d been babysitting the three nephews for the weekend, and had just finished bathing Baby Bean 3 in the kitchen sink, so baby-lust was riding high. I slipped out a glib response (at least I hope it was), and we moved on to her second and third favorite topics: pumping me to put more into my retirement accounts, and buying a house.
What my mother probably doesn’t realize is that I’m a commitment-phobe. And it’s not because I take commitment lightly. Quite on the contrary, I take it very, very seriously. As much as she has high expectations of my future marriage, I have much higher expectations of what marriage should be, having seen how well my parents have navigated the at times difficult waters of marriage and family, and having seen many good, and some poor, examples of friends’ and acquaintances’ marriages.
The other week, I was talking with a friend about marriage. And on my part, it came down to the fact that love, in and of itself, was not sufficient. One can be in love up to their eyebrows, but it just isn’t enough. There needs to be compatibility in many more areas for a marriage to work. Financial priorities. Diplomacy. Sharing. Problem solving. Compromise. One couple I knew had a book of questions that they pored over during their courtship. Some silly questions, but all designed to get the engaged couple talking about what their priorities and dispositions were. One silly series of questions I remember: Are you passionate about sports? Do you follow a team? Are you in a bad mood after your team loses? How long does it last? What helps you get in a better mood? A more serious series of questions dealt with financial matters: What are your financial priorities? Are you extravagant or frugal. Are you in debt? Is it more important to have money to spend now, or to save for retirement? What is your credit rating? And so on. When my friend let me page through the book, I was excited that something of the sort existed. Optimist-realist that I am, I like to think that a firm foundation of understanding and united goals make for a marriage that will stand the test of time.
Part of my problem is that I live a very compartmentalized life. I have friends at church. I have friends at work. I have friends for dancing with. I have friends for playing with. I have friends for deep talks with. And with a few exceptions, they mostly inhabit separate compartments. The idea of finding everything I want in one person, with whom to spend eternity with, seems an impossible task. And I often wonder how other people do it.
Do people enter marriage with the idea that their spouse will fulfill all their needs? I have several friends who are totally immersed in their marriages. We hardly see them because they tend to be so exclusive nowadays. However, they yet haven’t passed the third year mark, so I wonder if it’s just the honeymoon phase. Will their exclusivity last beyond year five?
Or do people enter marriage with the understanding that their spouses can’t fulfill every need, and find other people outside of their marriage to fill those needs that the spouse can’t fill? Met a guy the other night with a wife and two pre-teen girls. Guy loves dancing, and would love to share this with his family, but they’re totally uninterested. So it was that he came out dancing alone, and was very hasty about telling all the girls about his family.
Or do people just cease to need whatever their spouses can’t give, and learn to live without?
Or do people just suffer their spouse’s quirks? One friend really dislikes her husband’s proficiency for Catan and Halo, but lets him come play with us so that he can blow off steam. To his credit, he’s very solicitous of her, and doesn’t play unless he’s cleared it with her first.
So, for those who aren’t married yet, what are your expectations for marriage? For those who are about to be married, what are your specific expectations for your upcoming nuptials, and what kind of conversations have you had with your intended over areas in which you anticipate conflict? For those who are already married, how has your spouse filled or not filled your needs … spiritual, emotional, intellectual, etc? Is it what you expected, or not? If you haven’t found specific things in your marriage, how have you dealt with it? Have things gotten better or worse? How have your expectations changed?