A young fellow reached out to me recently. He said he’s thinking of getting married but is afraid because he doesn’t know if problems will arise down the road.
That shit is hilarious.
I told him I can guarantee unforeseen problems in his marriage and that he will know twenty percent of what there is to know about his bride on their wedding day. At best.
Marriage is a journey of ever-deepening connection, or it’s nothing at all.
Sure, I don’t think anyone should rush into marriage, I told him. But also, it’ll never be a risk-free certainty. Just be sure to road-test the relationship through some difficult challenges before you say, “I do.”
Getting married because everything is always wonderful is a terrible idea. That’s not reality. Getting married because sometimes shit is hard, but y’all love each other enough to work through it with civility and grace — now that’s a sturdy foundation.
The One Piece of Advice
Naturally, he asks me what’s the one piece of advice I would give a 20-something-year-old guy before he marries his girlfriend. Although simple, I think it’s a brilliant question, and it made me ponder what I would tell my unwed self.
The following is my answer to him:
There is no single thing anyone can say to prepare you for the journey you’re about to embark on. Marriage is a trip that you’ll never return from. Neither of you will — not as you are today.
You will constantly be learning, growing, changing, and evolving. Then you’ll look at your partner one day and perhaps resentfully think, “You changed!”
Yeah, no shit — that’s what you’re supposed to do.
AND… oftentimes we say such things when our idea of who we thought our partner was has changed — usually because we learned something new about them. Maybe in that instance, it’s not actually your beloved who has changed all that much but the depth of your intimacy that has taken a sudden leap forward.
Sometimes we enjoy this process of building deeper connection. Other times we feel threatened when our partner’s reality no longer aligns with the space we had prearranged for them to fit neatly into.
Herein lies the challenge: we want this sloppy-ass human experience to run like a well-oiled machine that stays within the precise bounds of our buttery-soft comfort zone. And when it doesn’t, we imagine something has gone terribly wrong or that perhaps our partner is not “the one” (which is a mythical creature, by the way).
We want someone to be x, y, and z for us, all the time, forever. And sometimes their process of growing into themselves doesn’t match the script we prepared for them. So it’s easy to construe their natural evolution as a threat to the permanent object we hoped they would be after exchanging rings.
Although this may simply be part of the human experience, it is nonetheless an amalgam of fear, entitlement, and self-centeredness if not also flavored by resentment, immaturity, and indignation.
How dare your journey of becoming inconvenience the future I planned for us!
Self-Discovery and Marriage
You can read books about scuba diving, watch youtube videos, and practice in a swimming pool, but there is absolutely no substitute for exploring the ocean’s depths.
Marriage is such an ocean.
And while you may prefer the delightful jacuzzi waters of dating, you can’t live in a fucking hot tub.
It’s like Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “The years teach much which the days never know.” The same can be said of relationships.
As far as I can tell, marriage facilitates the part of self-discovery that cannot be done alone. It’s a pilgrimage of the self to the self through the gateway of another human soul.
Emotional immaturity can be fairly inconsequential while you’re single, but it stirs up a whole host of shit when you attempt intimate connection. Therefore, it’s easy to conclude that your partner or your relationship is the source of these problems.
They are not.
The wise will see that there is no such thing as “relationship problems” — only the illusion that someone else is responsible for your personal evolution (or lack thereof).
The rest of us will ping-pong between the equally alluring ideas of romantic salvation and partner blaming. Comforting fantasies perhaps, but delusional nonetheless.
To My Guy with the Great Question
I recommend spending a bit of time writing out your deal-breakers for a romantic partner. Active drug addiction. Flagrant racism. Devil worship. Does or does not want children (opposite of what you want). Crippling debt. Etc.
I don’t mean annoying little quirks. We’re talking about hardline show-stoppers here. This should be a relatively short list, but very important, so don’t gloss over it. And really, put pen to paper. This is not a mental activity.
Next, write out all the most important qualities you are seeking in a life partner. Fill a page. Then narrow it down to only five. Ideally, these are intangibles like integrity, kindness, or humor — not height, “cat-person,” or salary.
Write down the sixth most important quality that everyone needs for lasting intimacy: willingness to take responsibility for fifty percent of the relationship and work on themselves. If your girlfriend thinks her shit don’t stink and can’t be bothered with personal growth, your back will eventually give out from carrying her dead weight. No one can shoulder that burden forever.
If she doesn’t pass the deal-breaker filter and check every box on your “top six,” then what you have is a practice relationship. Have fun. Learn about yourself. Fumble through the trial and error of conflict and communication, feelings and needs, attachment and authenticity, etc. But please don’t marry that woman. Committing your life to someone who is fundamentally not the type of person you wanna be with is a tragic mistake with potentially disastrous ramifications for everyone involved.
However, if your girlfriend does fit the description, there is no one wifey-er for you to hold out for. She is the wifey-est she can be already, my friend. No, she’s not perfect, and neither are you. But thank God that’s not a requirement for co-creating a beautiful and satisfying lifetime of love and adventure.
Believing there is one specific-ass person on this planet for you and you’re not sure if you’ve found her yet means either 1) You’ve been grossly misinformed about the nature of human relationships, 2) You’re hella not ready for marriage and “not being sure” is the least embarrassing coverup for your emotional immaturity, or 3) You truly believe that your happiness is someone else’s responsibility.
The latter, in addition to being patently false, is arguably the most corrosive and disempowering shit you could tell yourself. It puts soul-crushing pressure on the impossible task of choosing “the right one” and can easily lead to chronic, paralyzing non-commitment.
Decidedly not a strategy for success.
The Final Decision
If your girlfriend is not quite wifey material, based on the criteria I recommended above, don’t get married. Conversely, if she’s great, but you don’t have what it takes to be a decent husband, please don’t drag her into your mess and then blame her for your inability to hold up your end of the bargain. That’s an asshole move.
But if you both meet the minimum requirements (check each other’s boxes, so to speak) and are equally interested in building a life together, then I don’t see any reason to keep sitting on the fence. If you let too many years slip by, the silence starts to sound like “I don’t.”
Because refusing to make a decision is still a decision, my dude.
Hope that helps.
I’ll leave you now with my favorite Rumi poem…
“Gamble everything for love if you are a true human being. If not, leave this gathering. Half-heartedness does not reach into majesty.”
Wishing you all the best,
6 thoughts on “Advice to My Unwed Self”
(The One) Is a mythical creature! You are the supreme relationship advisor my friend. This is your best article by far and let me just tell you how much I adore Rebecca! I’m beyond proud of you for seeing this ginger haired princess and scooping her up and making her your wife! Like you, she is an amazing individual and I’m so happy I get the chance to work with her on a very emotional, spiritual journey. You have both entered my life when I needed you the most. Thank you for all that you do Adam! You’re a wonderful husband…. Do you want to know how I know? I just look at Rebecca’s radiant smile and I know brother. Oh I pray for you both and keep sending people your way. I hope everyone takes the time and invests a little money on this soul surgery. The world would be a better place if we all had Fix Your Picker and Thriving Together in our contacts!
Love you guys!
A satisfied customer
Well, I am just flattered. Thank you for being the wonderful human you are, Bea. I believe I speak for us both when I say you have been a joy and a blessing in our lives. You are very easy to adore. And yes, I definitely lucked out when I swooped that ginger princess, haha. I am blessed beyond measure. As always, thank you for your support and encouragement. You are a gem 💎
This is a fabulous answer. And I will take heed and make the same list.
I only recently found you and nearly everything I hear or read, I need, relate, confirms, all of the above.
My story is similar to your beginning. My “fix your picker” joke began with my mom saying, I could go down to the John 3:16 and still pick a better guy than you. (That is a homeless mission place). I was dang.. it’s that bad. Now she never gave me anything else and she was emotionally unavailable to me…but she did marry well.
I married for my first time at 43 and I did move too fast. Faster than I ever did any relationship. And I know why…but I married a religious covert narcissist. Never even heard of such a thing or any of the jargon of words that goes with that. Who knew these folks existed ?? It truly was my rock bottom.
Divorce now and I am 46. In spiritual ICU is what I call it. The homework effect. Inner child learning. I hope I don’t run out of time – geez. 🙂
I really believe God made me find you and I don’t even know how that became. IG somehow.
I am so glad I read this article. It is really, so, good!
Thank you, From Oklahoma, USA
Thank you kindly, Christine. I think coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous. So yes, it was probably no mistake you came across my page. Bummer to hear about your “learning experience,” but also, it may be that pain is one of the greatest pedagogical tools we have, haha. So it’s all ultimately for the good if you can believe that life is happening FOR you and not TO you.
Wishing you the best of luck on your healing journey, my friend. It can be a bumpy ride, but it’s a trip worth taking, for sure 🙏🏼
Top notch writing, Adam. Thank you for this.
I am a year out from the crushing end of my long-term relationship and a year into leaning into the wreckage via a (additional) 12 step program and (even more) therapy. So, actually, the other side of what you have written about.
As much as I tell myself unhelpful things “I will never love like that again” I know I want to, and will, love again. As I work to heal my stinking thinking and adaptive behaviors it’s clear and concise writing like yours in this article that will help me use good judgment and discernment when the time finally comes again for me. I’m not eager to marry again but the advice is good for any committed relationship I think.
Thank you again. I do enjoy your writing so much. It always resonates with me.
Oh yeah, I’ve made my rounds in quite a few of the 12 step fellowships, haha. And therapy. It’s true that mental health is actually just health. Thank you for your kinds words, Dana. And thanks for joining me on this journey of self-discovery. It really is the best gig in town 🙂