The other day a friend asked me this question. After a recent breakup, she was reeling and wondering.
It’s a question I’ve been asked many times. It’s a question I asked myself, too.
And there’s a lot of confusion, a lot of uncertainty out there. Emma, a 25 year old woman I interviewed for The Love and Marriage in Middle America Project, goes back and forth about whether or not to marry the man she lives with who is also the father of her daughter. One day she calls me in tears, saddened by her boyfriend’s lack of empathy, angered by his unwillingness to change diapers or do dishes or even get a job. The next week she calls, elated, to say that they want to elope using some of their income tax return. A couple weeks later the income tax return is all gone, no license was obtained, and Emma shrugs her shoulders, “I don’t even know if we’re going to get married. He’s been an ass lately.”
In Emma’s situation, there is probably good reason to have doubts about marriage. But even those in more stable relationships and even those who come from intact families, like I was and did before I married my husband David, find themselves struggling with the question, “How do I know this is who I should marry?”
I’m always on the lookout for good advice in regards to this question. Today I toted along my sixteen month old son Danny to go meet a friend—we’ll call her Meg—for lunch. While Danny ate baked oatmeal and spooned juicy green kiwi out of its fuzzy brown shell, we talked about this question. And I just wanted to share what she had to say, because I thought it was wise.
“For one,” she began, “I don’t believe that there is only one person out there for you. That puts a lot of pressure on you to find the perfect person.”
“And then it’s kind of an open-ended search,” I added. “Someone better could always come along.”
Meg nodded her head in agreement. “So the question I ask myself is not ‘Who is the right person to marry?’ but ‘Could I live with this person for the rest of my life?’”
Meg went on to explain that when she does have doubts about her current relationship, there are three steps she takes to deal with them.
1.) First, she gets her own thoughts in order. No matter what she is feeling, she asks herself what is a rational response to the situation. Sometimes she finds herself telling herself that what she is feeling, though real, is irrational. That doesn’t mean that she stuffs her emotions, just that she explores them thoughtfully and then puts them in perspective.
2.) Second, she talks to a trusted friend who is older and wiser and has more life experience. “She talks some sense into me,” Meg laughed. But Meg is careful to only tell one (or maybe two) very trusted friend(s) who she knows will keep their conversation private and also not just tell her what she wants to hear. Meg is looking for tough love and hard truths, not affirmation of her own feelings.
3.) Third, she talks to her boyfriend about whatever struggles or doubts she is having. It seems obvious, but it’s surprising how many people are not transparent with their partners. I know that for David and I this was key. Whenever I had a doubt about our relationship, we talked through it and worked through it together.