About three years ago, a friend of mine met a woman. Two weeks later, when he told me that she was The One, I helpfully pointed out that it takes Amazon.com longer to ship me a book. I am happy to report that they are still (to be honest, nauseatingly) in love, married two years and completely without doubt that they stood under the chuppah alongside their soul mate.
Lucky them. For the rest of us, lurching toward the M-word is a little less clear. You reach a point in your vaunted relationship where it's either "do"(that whole nuptials thing) or "die"(bye-bye, relationship). And how are you supposed to know?
"I love him," (or her), we think. "But is this person the I want to be with for the rest of my life?"
You can think about this so much and so hard and so long that the bloom wears off the relationship and all of a sudden it's three years later and someone asks why it didn't work out with so-and-so and you don't really have an answer.
Even worse is getting caught up in the wonderment and bliss that new love offers -- that heady, intoxicating heaven-on-earth of fresh devotion -- and then discovering (when the catering contract is already signed) that she wants to buy a small cottage in Maine and you were expecting to raise a large family in Los Angeles.
Dreamily remarking that you hope your kids have his eyes is NOT communication.
Toward whichever end of the scale you fall, asking yourself some honest questions can reveal whether you have the groundwork necessary for a successful marriage.
COMMUNICATION IS KEY
Every relationship is helped by good communication, but a marriage will not survive without it. So you need to figure out if you and your beloved can talk and share openly. Can you express your feelings, needs and share when you're hurt? Does he/she listen to and understand you (or at least try)? Do you listen to your partner and feel comfortable that she/he is open with you?
More than feelings, you have to be able to discuss life issues. Solid communication is NOT dreamily remarking that you hope your kids have his eyes. Can you discuss your personal strengths and weaknesses, your vision of a family and how it works, your priorities, your attitude toward money, and how you want to structure your daily life?
What happens when you disagree? Can the two of you take a painful or difficult problem and work it through? Resolving issues involves discussion and solution, not merely a cessation of hostilities or a well-placed bribe. Sending flowers or offering a backrub is not called "working it through."
Be concerned if you find yourself continually quelling feelings of resentment or anger, or if you feel that your partner isn't open and honest with you. Be even more concerned if you find yourself avoiding serious discussions -- or if you hold back from expressing your true feelings, goals or opinions -- because you worry about what your partner might think or say.
You must feel safe exposing your truest, innermost self.
Marriage Lite does not work in the long-run. You must feel safe exposing your truest, innermost self to this person.
THE VISION THING
It's essential that he/she see that inner you. After all, marriage is about building a life together. Once you've communicated your feelings, hopes and dreams, you need to check that what you want out of life matches your partner's vision.
The big and obvious questions are children (if, now or later, and how many), religious issues, and priorities such as balancing work and family. If you're looking for a wife who will stay home full-time with the kids, you'd better clear it with your partner-track lawyer girlfriend before you start shopping for diamonds. If you want a new car every two years, fancy vacations and designer clothes, be sure you're marrying someone who won't mind you doing 60- or 70-hour workweeks. If religion is important to you, don't marry someone who views spirituality as a bunch of bunk.
Check that what you want out of life matches your partner's vision.
Disjunctions in those areas can doom a marriage before it begins.
Don't stop there, though. Your vision should include the smaller stuff, too. Within reason.
If you love entertaining, you may be frustrated with a wife who views her home as a sanctuary from other people. If you're a major saver, you may protest when your husband wants to charge the down payment on a house. If you love working out and hiking, you may have trouble adjusting to life with someone who views grocery shopping as an athletic activity.
You both need to realize, though, that your spouse is not going to be like you in every way. No one will ever be, thank God. (And the idea of marrying your twin is anyway icky.) Being different from each other is not only normal, natural and healthy -- it's inevitable.
The question is whether the differences are things that will drive you apart, or magnetize you together.
It's also essential to recognize that the longer you've been single, the more set in your ways you become. So don't let small things come in the way of your long-term happiness. Accept that your partner will enjoy different activities, do things differently and have different opinions.
Issues pop up even with the most compatible couples. Friends of mine spent their first year of marriage in vicious battle over whether toilet paper should roll from the top or the bottom. They eventually resolved this crisis, and are now quibbling over replacement of the toothpaste cap.
Still, remove as many land mines as you can beforehand. Love can conquer a lot, but it can't hold together a couple who are going in separate directions.
"Working it out" does not mean the two of you have to do it alone. If your not sure whether an issue is surmountable, consult a rabbi or trusted counselor.
THE FIRST STEP
If you have all the basics right, what you may need most is an attitude adjustment.
It was Shakespeare’s comedies that conditioned us to view weddings as happy endings. But the Bard got it wrong -- your wedding should be a happy beginning.
A good foundation determines whether or not you approach the chuppah. But perhaps the most important thing to share is the understanding that the chuppah is only the start.
You lay a foundation before you begin building a house. Completing the building, in this case, will take a lifetime. If the foundation is there and you two are determined to make it work, you have a fighting chance of getting that happy ending -- long after the curtain falls.