[Not for very young readers]
Once again, I got an idea for another post from something Tracy said in her comment to "Pickiness".
Tracy wrote: "I think today, women waste too much time with the wrong man. They somehow know that he isn't right, but continue dating him anyway. This, I fear, leads to delayed marriage as much as anything else."
Well, what can I say? Bingo!
These days, people spend much more time dating, "getting to know each other" and "deciding if this is the perfect person" than was common 50 and even 20 years ago. When my mother was young, a man who dated a woman for a couple of months and didn't bring up marriage wasn't considered a serious, mature person. A man who dated a woman and avoided meeting her family was untrustworthy. Now both are common and generally accepted.
"Me"-oriented upbringing, unwillingness to commit, deterioration of traditional morals and family values – all those create a situation when even two mature adults, who know they can probably make a great couple, go through an extended period of hesitation and dillydalling before they finally decide it's time for marriage. People date for years, something that was unheard of a couple of generations ago. It is now considered "unwise" to get married without "trying what it will really be like" by living together. This is something I heard from many sensible and intelligent adults. When I asked them how come divorce rates are higher among people who live together prior to marriage, none of them could give a satisfactory answer.
Now look at the paradox: dating for such a long period of time and living together before deciding on marriage is supposed to allow us to "get to know each other better" and "know what to expect in marriage", thus it's supposed to lower divorce rates. In fact, it works the opposite way. Why? Let's get back to that later.
Our culture pressures us to start relationships early, and date aimlessly. A 16-year-old girl is pressured by her peers and encouraged by her parents to have a boyfriend, when it's clear to everyone it will probably not lead to marriage. This is supposed to give us "valuable experience". She is supposed to "practice" the sacred relationship she will have with her husband, knowing it's not for real and won't last, then throw it away and begin new "practice" with someone else! I don't know anything more senseless and ridiculous. Yet this is so common nowadays people don't even think about it anymore.
When we get older, we are even more pressured to have "someone". The problem is, women aren't equipped with knowledge of what to look for in a man; focusing on chemistry, superficial pleasure and immediate gratification often leads to choosing the wrong person, and premature sexual contact with that person creates unhealthy emotional glue that attaches a woman to a man who might be anything but a suitable potential husband.
Sexual relationships create an emotional bond? Nonsense, feminists will say. We use men just as much as men use us. No strings attached!
What a dirty great lie.
Another thing that makes me wonder how come educated, intelligent people seem to lose their logic when it comes to relationships: it is common to start dating without thinking where it might lead. Yes, people spend time together, bond with each other, build physical and emotional contact for many months before asking themselves – where is this going? Is this person a potential spouse? What do I know about this person at all?
They wouldn't think of going to college or starting a career without having any plan. But while making the most important decision – choosing a lifelong mate – this is the common practice.
Usually, the woman is the first to become concerned. She has a conversation with her boyfriend, and too late, much too late, finds out she's dating Peter Pan. He mumbles about "not being ready for marriage" and "well, I never told you I'm going to marry you when we started dating!" Reluctantly, he agrees to "try living together".
Eager to show him how much he will benefit from marriage, the woman does everything she can to "prove herself". She is patient, tolerant, she never says no. She cooks and cleans and shops and does everything to please her boyfriend; he realizes he gets unlimited sexual gratification and free housekeeping without having to commit to marriage and family. And guess what, he is perfectly content with the present situation. He doesn't want to make a change.
In the best case, such a man might marry his girlfriend in a couple of years, after realizing he became attached to her and doesn't want to lose her. I know a man who had two children with his girlfriend before she could convince him to marry her, and he made the "noble sacrifice" for his children's sake, even though he "didn't feel ready yet"!
In the worst case, when the cohabitating couple encounters a conflict or a tough period (and folks, don't we know they are bound to happen sometimes when people live together?), the man might decide this is just too inconvenient. Since he hasn't made any commitment, there is nothing easier for him that to pack his suitcase and disappear forever.
Suppose the woman was around 25 when this relationship started. That's around the normative age these days to start "seriously thinking" about marriage. She spent 3 years dating this man and 2 years living with him. She is now 30, and has to start all over again with someone new.
So why didn't it work for that couple? Living together is not like marriage. Neither is it preparation for marriage. The man who lived together with this woman never became committed to her; his entire attitude said plainly enough "we're just playing house; whenever I'm tired of this game, I'm leaving". If that's the attitude, why work things out when times get tough, if he can so easily leave and start a new romance? And he did. A disagreement which the average married couple would have worked out, made this overgrown Peter Pan run as fast as his legs could carry him.
But what about getting to know each other? Isn't this essential when you look for a spouse? Yes, but you know what – it doesn't have to take years to decide. If both of the young people are marriage-minded, and focus on finding out about the qualities that will be important in marriage, it really doesn't have to take this long to make the decision! I'm convinced that the correct dating strategy can allow a much shorter courtship.
Going to movies or clubs together, or just "hanging out" might be fun, but how will it help in getting to know each other better? Same goes for physical contact. It might be fun, but it clouds people's minds and doesn't allow them to focus on finding out about the potential spouse's personality. That's why it should only come after we have answers to the essential questions we need to ask. After we decide whether to make a commitment or not. In the sacred and blessed bond of marriage.
Young people could spare themselves lots of heartache and wasted time if they kept focus on what really matters, and talked seriously about marriage from the beginning of their courtship.
First, of course, it is essential to find out whether both of you are, indeed, looking for a spouse. If one is serious about this and the other one isn't, it's a deal-breaker (or it can become a heart-breaker!). Do you share common life goals? How do you see your future family? Do you feel safe with this person? How does your date treat his or her family – or, if you don't have a chance to meet his family, other people? Is he patient and respectful with them? If yes, consider yourself blessed. If he's nice to you but shouts at the waitress because his pizza got cold, he will shout at you too, once he's tired of putting on his best appearance. Are you fine with the way this person is now, or is there something about them you can't imagine living with and plan to change?
Sure, you can never find out "everything" about the other person. Married people still find out new things about each other after 10, 20 and 30 years of marriage! Neither can you have insurance on your marriage. The only way is commitment, and patience, and love. Is a mother concerned she might "fall out of love" with her baby, or that she doesn't know her baby well enough to make a lifetime commitment?! Of course not! So why not take some of that brave and selfless love and apply it to marriage?
You might decide it won't work out for the two of you. But you can do it without wasting so much precious time. And there are different situations in life. I'm not saying everyone should run off and marry after three dates. The important part is the direction your courtship is taking from the very beginning.
Relationships that go nowhere drain time and energy like nothing else. This is not God's design. This is not what He has in plan for us. We are not called to become one flesh and one soul with many different people, but with only one person: our spouse. I talk from experience – before I was blessed by seeing how evil and senseless the paths of this world might be, I made every possible mistake. That's why, even though I'm not married yet, I feel I can and should talk about it and warn others.