The Pros and Cons of Dating Forever
"Marriage isn't, in fact, our gateway to happily ever after. It's more like a chisel in Divine hands. And though there's plenty of friction involved, it's designed to chip away at all the dysfunction in our lives and free the beautiful statues inside." -Tyler Ward, Marriage Rebranded.
I write a lot of posts about relationships: friendships, business relationships, dating, etc., but since I am getting married in less than four months, I figured it was time to get a little bit more honest about my feelings towards the most important relationship in life: marriage.
Today, I bought the book Marriage Rebranded by Tyler Ward, and it's awesome. Definitely a great read that I'd recommend for anyone who is seriously dating, engaged, or married. One of the first topics introduced in the book was the fact that people come into marriage with false expectations and an insatiable desire for happiness. I fully agree with this statement, considering the fact that I've both experienced and watched others experience that tragic transition between infatuation and realizing you're dating/married to another human. As Donald Miller put it in his book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, "It's a terrible thing to wake up and realize the person you just finished crucifying didn't turn out to be Jesus."
But, while reading, all of the relationship talk made me realize how different the idea of marriage is for those who have been dating an unnecessarily long time. Ross, my fiancé, and I have been dating seven (ish? maybe eight? who really knows) years, and I can honestly say that nothing about marriage frightens me. Don't get me wrong, we still have a lot to learn, and I would never have wanted to get married before now, but I'm still not scared. Why? Because when you date for over seven years, and you're an adult, you are no longer just dating. If you've committed to love the other person for that long already, unless you're stupid, you probably shouldn't be intimidated by the thought of staying committed. If it scares you, you probably don't understand the meaning of commitment in the first place. Commitment means loving when happiness isn't the only driver in your relationship, and still loving the other person the same. None of us do this perfectly, but no one can succeed if this isn't the foundation of your relationship.
Let me start by noting that no one in their right mind intends to date for eight years. It's a by-product of falling in love with the right person too young and having no other choice but to wait. I will never regret waiting until after school to get married, even though both Ross and I knew that we would get married. Because we both knew this, we never talked about it. I never designed my engagement, asked about a ring, or planned my wedding. When you know, you know, and you don't need to waste 90% of your time obsessing about it. The assurance that comes with knowing you're in it for real is a definite pro.
My second pro is the fact that you have probably been through hell and back after dating forever. Yes, that's right, having conflict before marriage is definitely a pro. You've hopefully worked through a solid number of real conflicts and understand that life is going to be hard sometimes. When I read about couples that get divorced over irreconcilable differences, it kind of makes me laugh because I know that Ross and I will always have irreconcilable differences. We will never see eye to eye on everything, and we make decisions in the most opposite ways. We've dealt with some really serious problems, but we've also celebrated some epic joys. After dating forever, I feel very assured that I am more than safe to marry the person I'm with.
Another thing that my long relationship has taught me is the fact that couples who date less than two years definitely do not know one another when they get married. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely believe that couples who get married or engaged after dating less time than this can work well together, but no matter what anyone says, you do not know one another. You may know the other person's heart, their values, or their deepest secrets, but you do not know the good, bad, and ugly about spending a true chunk of that person's life in a relationship with them. Habits and patterns can only surface over time. To know someone, you must see them in every facet of life: joy, sorrow, intense stress. You must literally watch them grow from one stage to another and sustain that growth to understand how much someone can change. (You must also change to fit together in a new stage.)
Knowing the person you marry, before you marry them, is both a pro and a con of dating forever. The pro is the fact that Ross and I have debunked the false expectations that most couples bring to the altar. I know that I will always get annoyed with Ross for being ADD and procrastinating, and he will always get annoyed with my forever long lectures on my soap box and my occasional (often) crying for dramatic flair. But, I also know that he will always love me through it, and I will love him too after I go running and work out my anger about the fact that he didn't complete all the items on my to-do list. So no, we may not enter our wedding day with the blind confidence that we will "complete" one another, but we will have the strong proof that we have worked through both real conflict and petty problems.
The biggest con to dating forever is the fact that you get to a point of work without reward. Being in a relationship with someone where you know them extraordinarily well but are not able to build a life together is a funny thing. Ross and I love our independence, but we also want to experience the reward of working towards something as a team. You can't do both, and it's hard to know that, when you're dating, your life will always be effected by the other person, but you still have to make decisions alone. You shouldn't be basing your life around another person when you aren't married, but, after five plus years, that's easier said than done.
In the end, I believe that marriages can be successful through a thousand different stories. Ross and I still have a lot to learn and a whole lot of life left to discover, but I think that dating forever has taught both of us valuable lessons that will strengthen our marriage in the future. Donald Miller also wrote that those who believe marriage is the climax to their earthly story miss the fact that marriage is merely the climax of a sub-story in their greater story of humanity. Life doesn't stop after the wedding, so preparing for the marriage relationship will always be more important than planning the big day. I'm thankful that our dating has prepared us for the latter.
Dating forever has taught me that marriage will never solve all my problems, or Ross's problems, but it can and will make us into the best versions of ourselves, if we let it. I believe this is true of any relationship, romantic or not, that we build with honest, open communication. As Tyler Ward said, "If we look in the mirror and see that our shirt is wrinkled, we don't iron the mirror. No, we iron the shirt." When you date forever, you learn that the other person (aka your mirror) is not going to iron your shirt for you, that's your job in the relationship. And, when you don't fix your own issues, it is still you causing the relationship problems, even if the other person is the one constantly pointing it out. Your emotional health should be your spouse's concern, but it's not their responsibility.
I loved the excerpt from Marriage Rebranded that I added below:
In our modern era, you and I are led to believe that happiness is a worthy guide in life and that - in one way or another - we have some sort of inalienable right to experience it. As we'll see, our culture's obsession with being happy often makes it far more natural for us to love happiness more than we ever love another human. And though being happy is a very real by-product of a healthy relationship, this inflated value we give to it makes us vulnerable to missing one of the more beautiful purposes of marriage altogether.
Ross makes me happy every day, but I'm thankful to have dated long enough to realize that happiness isn't the ultimate goal.