It was almost five years ago that my now husband’s picture popped up on my daily match.com list. He was handsome, dressed in a suit for his friend’s wedding with a big boutonniere pinned slightly haphazardly to his lapel. He had kind eyes, a shy smile, and the perfect amount of scruffy facial hair. If I had a “type,” “scruffy facial hair, kind eyes, and a suit” was it! So I sent him one of the ten responses I sent that night to men I was interested in…and then I waited.
It took my husband seven days to respond. In what amounts to the perfect modern love story, Josh went online to close his online dating account, saw that he had one more message, and decided to take a shot on a girl who sounded slightly interesting and used correct spelling and grammar. He actually told me when he responded to my message, that we would have to exchange email addresses if we wanted to talk more because he wouldn’t have access to the messenger on match.com anymore. It would be six more weeks before we’d meet face to face, and we spent that time writing extensively every night. We wrote about likes, dislikes, relationship makes and breaks, goals, dreams, fears, politics, religion, silly stuff, serious stuff, our jobs, our friends, our families. We wrote about childhood vacations, school days, and adulting. By the time we finally sat down to have coffee on a very snowy January morning, I had told a friend that the only way this wasn’t going to work is if we had zero physical chemistry. He walked into the coffee shop, and scooped me up, literally off my feet, into a bear hug. The rest, as they say, is history.
It never struck me as unusual the number of things we had talked about before we met, or that our conversations continued to lengthen and deepen as our relationship grew. Although I hadn’t discussed such things on previous dates or with previous boyfriends, none of those relationships was as serious as this was. I assumed that most couples on the cusp of marriage must have covered the same extent of topics that we had. Afterall, we were engaged after only six months. Other couples had years worth of experiences and conversations to cover all those key points. Surely we couldn’t be all that special.
A few weeks from our wedding, on our way home from visiting the priest who would marry us, we stopped for gas at a roadside gift shop that displayed a rack of self-help books. Among the titles offered was Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married, and whether it was because we were about to get married, or because we needed something to fill the ninety minute car ride, we bought the book. It was…less than inspiring. In fact, we spent most of the ride back laughing at the author’s description of married life and perplexed how enough people had evidently walked down the aisle without having talked about these issues that it warranted an entire book. Like the young, naive, unwed couple we were, we tossed the book in the back seat, and ignored it for the next three years.
Fate, as it turns out, would have me revisit the book. Not long ago, I dumped an entire crock pot of chili in the backseat of my car, and as I folded down seats and scrubbed upholstery, I came across the book, wedged in the “no man’s land” of back seats, the crevice where the seat hinges to fold flat. Curious as to whether or not now, having been married, I would appreciate the sage wisdom of the advice offered by the well-meaning authors, I paged through it again. A few observations about the suggestions. Each chapter completed the phrase I wish I would have known that…
…being in love is not an adequate foundation for a successful marriage.
In fairness, this is probably not something a lot of couples talk about because who wants to talk about not being in love at the point in your relationship when you’re planning the most romantic moment of your life? At our wedding, our priest pointed out that most people sign up for marriage when it’s all “good times,” “richer,” and “health,” but the vows make you promise the alternatives as well. Did my husband and I talk about this before we got married? I think so. My mom had this saying that sometimes love is a feeling and other times it’s a choice. I vaguely remember it coming up in conversation before our wedding. In any case, the more important thing may be that I know that personally, while I love my husband to pieces, it’s not the only reason I married him.
…that romantic love has two stages.
See above. I doubt people are talking about this pre-wedding because life is really romantic about the time you get married, so why think about when it won’t feel that way. I recently told someone I was glad that the initial “can’t eat, can’t sleep, think about the person all the time, constant butterflies” feeling subsides because that would be exhausting to sustain forever. Still, we have friends that feel like something might be off in their relationship because the “spark” is gone after five…eight…ten years. To those friends I say, “define spark.” Passion? Romance? Attraction? Those are all things you can probably actively work towards regaining. The crazy butterflies, skipping meals, and obsessive daydreaming…that’s probably more driven by hormones and anxiety than real life. Embrace what comes next. Yeah…we probably didn’t talk about this. We just kind of let it happen.
…that saying “like father” or “like mother” was not a myth.
I take issue with this one. Yes family values are likely to come through. Traditions and childhood experiences might shape someone long into adulthood. My mother has some wonderful qualities that I’m sure I will inherit, and there is quite a bit about my own personality that is significantly my own that will balance those things out. We did talk about this before we got married. I’m pretty sure it came up in a question like, “What’s one thing about your parents that you hope you do…and what’s one thing you’d never want to do?” Then we gave each other permission to call out that thing we don’t want to become!
…how to solve disagreements without arguing.
My husband and I have never fought. Not one time. It’s just not in either of our natures to fight.
…that toilets are not self-cleaning.
As a grown adult, how do you not know this? Because Josh and I moved in together before we got married, we figured out a general breakdown of the household chores before the wedding. However, I will say that three years of marriage have helped us refine our definitions of what clean looks like. If I were going to rewrite this book, I’d rephrase this chapter as, “…that my definition of a clean counter, and his definition of a clean counter are not the same!”
…that we needed a plan for handling our money.
Again, I’m dumbfounded that people get to the altar without discussing finances. Did we talk about it? Yes. At length. My husband owns a business and investment properties, and I wanted to understand as much as I could about what that would look like in our personal finances. We had retirement accounts to talk about. We bought life insurance. How do you get married and not know that you’re going to have to have a plan for your money? If you feel like this applies to you, I’m not trying to judge, but I’m curious why or how you skipped this step?
…that mutual sexual fulfillment is not automatic.
I don’t want to scandalize anybody, so I’ll keep my comments brief. But yeah…talked about it then…and continually now…because…DUH! 😉
…that I was marrying into a family.
If you didn’t talk about this, or didn’t consider it, where did you think the family was going to go? They’re going to be there…sometimes inviting themselves into your house randomly because they had to drop something off and didn’t realize that anyone was going to be home. This first happened in my own relationship on a Saturday morning while I sat at my husband-to-be’s kitchen table in his t-shirt, drinking coffee. I hadn’t moved to Minnesota yet, and my father-in-law to be didn’t know I was visiting, and thought he’d just pop in real quick to pick up some part or tool he needed. He walked in the front door, and immediately started to back track, quickly apologizing that he didn’t realize I’d be there, while Josh came flying down the stairs defensively that he should always assume that I was going to be there! I laugh about it now, but let’s also say that it didn’t surprise me that this has happened at least three more times since we’ve been married. And my father-in-law obviously knows I live there now!
…that personality profoundly affects behavior.
This was the last one, and supposedly the most profound. I’m not sure what else would be affecting behavior, but imagine that your personality and actions go hand in hand. It was at this point that the author admitted that he was acting like someone he was not to try to please his partner. If you need a book to tell you that’s a bad idea, you probably also need a book to tell you that toilets don’t clean themselves!
In hindsight, three years in, did I find the wisdom of this little novelty read infinitely more profound? I don’t think so. Though again, the fact that there’s a best-selling book on the subject obviously means more than a few couples are skipping these basic points. If you’re not married, take from my observations what you will. If you are, feel free to agree or disagree with me in the comments. And if there’s something else you wished you’d known before you got married, I’d love to hear it! Hindsight is always 20-20, right!