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When Marriage is an Option, It’s a Hard Choice to Make

Most of my high school and college friends got married within a year or two after graduating college. I sometimes try to analyze how they were able to accomplish that, when it took me and so many others an additional decade or two to do the same.

The obvious reason that comes to mind is that they were lucky enough to meet their soulmates at that early age. But while that might be true, I don’t think it’s the real reason. Many other people, myself included, met or dated people that might also have been the “right one”, but they just weren’t ready or able to marry them.

So what was it that enabled my buddies to marry at such a relatively early age?

I think it had to do with their priorities and values. They were instilled with the notion (probably by their parents) that getting married was the next acceptable step after graduating. It was the normal thing to do. To them marriage wasn’t an option to choose from. It was part of the natural progression to adulthood, more important than having graduate degrees or being totally financially secure. Remaining single was an abnormal option viewed as a failure to accomplish the expected.

So they had committed, long term relationships with girlfriends in college who they then proceeded to marry. They followed the steady, well trodden path of their parents and for that matter most Americans in the “good ole days”. All of them are still married over two decades later.

Marriage is now an option

For most singles today, marriage is an option. You can remain single and have a happy and successful life, dating new people, enjoying relationships of various lengths and levels of seriousness, and maintaining the freedom to live for the moment. OR you can get married. Since either option is acceptable and respectable in modern society, the choice to marry becomes a hard one to make.

The best way to make a tough decision is to clearly understand the pros and cons of the issue at hand. The problem is that until you actually are in a marriage, you don’t (you can’t) really experience its emotional benefits. You can’t really understand the power and holiness of being part of a spousal unit until you’re actually part of one.

How to reach a decision

There are two ways I can think of that can help you reach a positive decision about marriage:

1) Being trained at an early age about the benefits, normalcy and necessity of marriage.

This is probably the greatest reason for the success of the matchmaking (shidduch) system in the ultra-Orthodox world. Kids are trained, and willingly embrace, that their next step after completing a year or two of post high school seminary or yeshiva is marriage. Finding someone they like and get a long with is then relatively easy. The same formula holds true in other highly traditional or religiously oriented communities where marriages are formed almost exclusively via matchmaking.

Hearing about marriage from your parents when you’re already in your mid twenties and older is not usually too helpful on many levels (although I do believe that parents can still have a tremendous positive effect on their adult children if they know how to respectfully communicate with them).

2) Being exposed to happy marriage.

For singles living on the UWS or other heavily single enclaves, being exposed to happy marriage isn’t easy. Not seeing other people happily married makes it hard to have a model of something to strive for. Why should someone want to get married if the results of that action are unclear to them? Of worse, singles have a better chance of running into people who have gotten divorced than to happily married couples.

So what’s the solution?

For parents, teachers and clergy, the solution lies in teaching young people about the benefits of marriage at an early age (which will vary depending on the maturity level of each individual), and reinforcing that message when they’re not so young anymore.

For singles it’s all about changing their way of thinking about marriage from option to necessity. Once you decide that you must get married, finding the right person will become a lot easier. Why? Because you’ll stop dating for perfection and start dating for marriage.

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