I have wanted to get married for as long as I can remember. I was going to be the eighteen year old bride who married her high school sweetheart; we had it all planned out, down to what dorms we would live in at the college we wanted to go to. On graduation day, he would propose and we would get married shortly after. I was going to be a nurse, and he was going to be a lawyer. That’s right: the idea of marriage has never been some far off impossibility like I’ve tried to say it was over the years.
So when someone asked me to come up with a “How To” on when I knew I was “ready” to get married, a thousand easy answers came to mind, starting with “I’ve always been ready.” Even when I said I wasn’t looking or that I wasn’t interested—that was just me letting pain highjack my story.
The truth is, it would be disrespectful to say that my husband was the only “one” for me, and I just knew the night I met him. Yes, I knew something was coming when I heard his name for the first time, and he was all I could talk about for forever after the night I met him, but if I’m being honest, he wasn’t the first one I just knew I was going to marry. In fact, it took me letting go of the idea of “the one” before I was really “ready” to get married; it took me admitting that there really isn’t any “one” person we’re predestined for before I could learn how to love and let go.
Both Greg and I had at one point or another been wrapped up in forever with someone else. I regularly joke with people, saying, “They say that when you know, you KNOW, and I never understood what that meant until it happened to me,” but in reality, I thought I had “known” before only to find myself confused, crushed, wiped out, and empty when it turned out that I didn’t really know anything at all. So I really don’t think, “When you know, you know,” is good advice—not just because it is overwhelmingly vague and not helpful, but because it’s just not true.
In the past, I wasn’t very good at creating healthy emotional boundaries in my relationships. There was one relationship I was in back in college that I had been pretty set on. It was an epic love, and we dove head first into the big promises and planning. So much so, that I spent the majority of our time together missing the reality of where we were at. It became a constant head game of “Does he mean it?” And that’s the problem with promises: we lose our identity in them, and when they break, we don’t really know where to go from there. If it doesn’t work out, that says something about us: we weren’t worth it, we weren’t enough, we were too much. Really, the problem wasn’t either of us; the problem was that we overstepped a boundary of emotional commitment.
Greg and I were very careful about the things we said to one another. The few times too much was promised, we found ourselves apologizing and admitting that we shouldn’t have brought those kinds of expectations into the relationship. That being the case, up until a certain point in our engagement, we can honestly say that we would have been okay if things didn’t work out—because it was about feelings, and not dependency.
Of course, learning what healthy dependency looked like for the appropriate level of commitment took a lot of God sweeping low to be “ready” for marriage. I never took a year to “date” Jesus, even though people told me I should (including during the same month I met Greg), and I don’t mean this in the way that “I finally stopped searching for a husband and made Jesus the center of my life,” sort of way. I mean it in the way that one of my biggest short-comings is that I place the weight of “savior” on the people I love, and that is a weight that always ends up breaking their back. Someone was always the hero in my story, and the role of hero is always fun, until it’s not—until someone can’t keep it up, until they slip from the pedestal. The worst part? There isn’t any minor role you get to slide into after playing the hero: you just become the villain, instead. And that’s not how love works. So it wasn’t until I realized that my own expectations were setting fire to everything I loved and finally gave those expectations to Jesus that I learned how to love someone without crushing them. It took me learning how to stop building churches out of the rib cages of the people I loved and start treating people more like people—less like sanctuaries—for me to be “ready” for marriage.
When it comes to being financially “ready” for marriage, neither of us fit that category, either. I was twenty-one when we said “I do,” and he was twenty-two. He had already done the whole roommate thing, while I had never left my parents’ house. I had worked before, but never paid my own bills. There’s this very modern idea that you have to have done it all already, to have “lived” before you get married — and we felt that push back during our engagement — but it’s been nice having someone there to help me learn how to do this whole life thing.
I remember being in a really serious two-year relationship when I was a senior in high school—I asked myself that same question: “How do you know when you’re ready to get married?” It came from a place of fear for me, a place of uncertainty. And I made the decision that I wasn’t ready, not for that boy, at least. I wasn’t ready for the struggle, for the lessons, for ups and downs and surprises with him. It was a choice. And at the end of the day, I think that’s really the only one thing that made a difference when it came to being “ready”: I chose Greg, and he chose me back. Even when it got hard and confusing and messy and there were communication issues and I was inpatient and things came down to the wire—it came down to choice. Just like every other love story that got us to ours, a choice was made. I don’t think there’s a “one,” because you could choose any one, and I don’t know if there’s every really a “ready”—there’s just a choice.
And I don’t think you can really leave God out of any good love story. At least, not when you’re asking the question of “How do you know when you’re ready?” Looking back, I think that the reason nothing worked until Greg was because I was constantly leaving God out of it. I relied too much on “coincidence” and a good story–my feelings–rather than inviting God into the choice. When the idea of marriage first came up in our relationship–and I mean really talking about taking actual steps towards marriage, not just daydreaming–we took some time where we stopped talking and dreaming, and prayed. Now I will never forget the night that we came back together, when he smiled and said he knew what was going to happen next, that he knew we were ready.
We stayed, and we chose each other, and that made all the difference.