Last week Brett at The Art of Manliness had a post about how to tell if the woman you’re interested in is “the one” to marry. They were good questions but they made me think that there should be some good questions a guy should be asking about himself first to see if he, too is marriage material. I’ve also been thinking lately of developing some discussion topics and exercises for some young men I know on how to become marriageable. My outline for that covers six to eight weeks of classes and exercises, but here are some of the highlights.
A lot of guys hope or assume that they’ll be able to sense when it’s time to marry, either because they’ll find someone they feel they can’t live without or they feel it’s time to settle down. Both of those feelings are important, and feelings provide valuable momentum, but they don’t necessarily indicate that you have the proper outlook or skills to marry. Yes, of course, people do get married in the throes of passion and somehow manage to develop the proper survival skills on the fly when reality sets in. Then again, many people try it this way and fail spectacularly. Ask yourself, would you rather learn to swim by being thrown into the deep end to see if you’ll go up or go down, or after you’ve been able to rehearse a few techniques while still at the side of the pool? Here are a few questions to try out on yourself.
How’s your conditioning?
Marriage is a marathon, but most of us spent our single days as sprinters, chasing women and running away from commitment. You get yourself into a distance race, though, and you’ll find you may look good for the first couple hundred yards and then you start to seize up. Blisters form from the friction, and just about every part of your body screams, “What were you thinking?” Now I’m not saying that you prepare for marriage by a series of progressively longer relationships; that may “condition” you, but not for marriage. What I am suggesting is that if your objective is to get married that you look to the condition of other things (ideally before you even meet the woman you’d like to marry). For example:
- What is the condition of your heart?
By that I mean, “What is your view of women?” Are you looking at them as your lover, your maid, your mommy? The fact is most people (men and women) get married because of what we think the other person can do for us. After all, both people have just spent the last however many months and years trying to put their good sides forward as they dated/courted/pitched woo. Then the first time someone doesn’t hold up his/her end of the (perceived) bargain you feel betrayed. You should be thinking in terms of what characteristics make for a good partner — and not just in her! What do you bring to the table besides your bad manners? (More on that later.)
- What is the condition of the other relationships in your life?
How do you get along with your parents? Your boss? Your friends (you do have friends, right)? If your other relationships are volatile, it may be time to consider what (or more accurately, “who”) is the common denominator in each of those. Why do you think a wife is going to understand you any better than these others do?
Also, ask yourself if you are a faithful person. Not so much in terms of whether you’d cheat on a wife or girlfriend, but in regards to whether you’re someone who shows diligence in other areas of your life. Love is a decision, not a feeling, and so is diligence. Do you show up for work on-time, see projects through to the end, do your friends rely on you because they know they can count on you to show up when you say you’ll do something? Getting a wife may help you develop in all these areas, but why inflict this learning curve on someone you said you’d love and cherish? It’s a HUGE headstart toward a happy marriage if you’ve refined these qualities in yourself.
- What is the condition of your parents’ marriage?
What are the things you admire in their lives? What things might you change if you had the chance? It couldn’t hurt to take the time now to actually write down the things in two columns, not to criticize and find fault, but to try to identify how the good and bad may have affected you. When the pressure is on in your own marriage you’re more than likely to respond instinctively in the same manner you saw your parents react to the same issues. Thinking about this in advance won’t necessarily keep you from acting the same way, but it will make it easier to recognize the reaction for what it is when it comes and could give you the opportunity to take a step back and then step forward in a slightly different direction. After you’ve made your first list, write down a second list of the things you’re prepared to do reinforce the good things you saw, and to prevent the bad things from recurring in your marriage. As a side benefit, you’ll likely gain a greater understanding of and appreciation for the challenges your parents faced.
- What is the condition of your finances?
It’s probably considered to be old-fashioned these days, but are you ready to support a wife? Sure, she may have a job of her own, but money (or the lack of it) is one of the biggest stressors in any marriage (newly-wed or longly-wed). It’s not just a matter of income, but lifestyle and out-go. Are you carrying significant debt? Do you really want to bring that debt into the marriage as a gift to your spouse? Having a mortgage isn’t a bad thing (if you’ve not been foolish and over-leveraged yourself and strapped yourself into a back-breaking monthly payment), but what do your credit card debts say about your lifestyle? Are you prone to impulse purchases, or charging something because you want it right now instead of setting aside money so you can pay cash for it later? Will getting married suddenly make you more responsible? It’s far better to work on building good habits now when you only have your own flesh to discipline. Establish a budget, including savings for some long-term objective (perhaps paying for an engagement ring, wedding and killer honeymoon so you can start your marriage without these common debts hanging over you.)
- What is the condition of you?
Do you have your act together in terms of physical condition, hygiene, manners, clothing? Sure, you may be a diamond in the rough, but are you really hoping to attract a woman who’s interested in a “fixer-upper”? Hell, second door on the right. Showing some self-respect is actually a good way of demonstrating that you have respect for others, which will help out a lot when you’re married. Taking care that your body and your behavior are not unintentionally offensive to others is a good start, especially if you can translate that into picking up after yourself. Far better to nag yourself now into a good habit rather than wait for someone else to do it. By the same token, practice leaving the toilet seat down now and you will be her Prince Charming later.
- Finally, what are your conditions?
When you’re single and looking to get married, but no partner is on the immediate horizon, it’s a good time to make a list of the things you want in an ideal mate (especially if you’re busy working on your own traits). Be honest with yourself and don’t feel shallow if looks are important to you. Just admit that you’re normal and then move on to listing the other things that make your ideal woman attractive. What spiritual qualities are you looking for; what goals do you need to have in common (work or stay home, kids or no kids, career ambitions), what recreational activities would you like to share? The more you think about it, the more things will occur to you. Write them down, you can always edit or re-prioritize later.
The purpose of this is to give you a foundation or a tool for evaluating your prospects when some hunk of beautiful turns your head right around. Consider it building a hearth before starting a fire (or another way to put it is “when all you’ve got is a hammer, everyone looks like someone to nail.”) It’s better to have your list completed and familiar to you before you meet someone, otherwise you could become infatuated and then when you try to create a list everything starts looking like her. Some re-prioritizing is likely to happen as you evaluate a real-live person in comparison to your list, but if you’ve already established the things that are important to you (even non-negotiable) then you’ll be better equipped to recognize a no-win situation early on, ideally before you’ve broken your heart and hers. Also, some things on the list may move up or down as you get older as your perspective changes; just try not to update your list while you’re looking at someone you think you want.
This isn’t a perfect or even comprehensive list. The things I’m planning to cover, should this actually become a class that I teach to the young men in our church, will be more detailed and will include “homework”. I’ll probably even learn some new things (or change some things) while I’m doing it. I’m also open to including lessons that my readers think are important. Leave a comment below and I will most certainly consider it.
I also most certainly can’t say that I did all these things myself (far from it) before I got married, yet our 20-year marriage has been a blast! That is largely because I picked up on a lot of these things as we’ve gone along and early on (even if I haven’t always picked up my socks).
P.S. Since there is a young man on the scene who would very much like to marry my eldest daughter some might jump to the conclusion that I wrote this with him in mind. The truth is the outline for the “marriageable” class is something I originally created several years ago and set aside as other priorities came along. Reviewing these points now, however, I am pleased to say that my prospective son-in-law has nearly all of these well in-hand. NW