Brad and I have been married for almost 1,000 days. 987 to be exact.
We’ve had lots of time to think about our marriage. Of course, not as much as some couples. According to some, we’re still in the “honeymoon” phase. We hope we’ll always be there. We like to talk about our marriage. Discuss it. Analyze it. Improve it. Affirm it. I like to read books about marriage, and we discuss them together. Any movie, conversation, or question can give us days of discussion.
Our friends Peter and Shannon got married this summer. It was an opportunity to think about our own vows, about the choices we made. At various points in the process, we were asked for words of wisdom on marriage. My advice to the couple? Remember these days. Remember these moments. A wedding is a day, marriage is forever. Marriage is hard work. Never give up. Never stop trying. Look for the best in one another. Keep getting to know one another. Date each other. Smile. Laugh. Flirt. Encourage. Apologize. Forgive.
Two dating students came to us this week. I’ll call them Philip and Hannah. Philip is a good friend of Brad’s, and they often hang out together. Hannah hadn’t spoken to Philip in three weeks. During the summer apart, Hannah decided that Philip was calling too often and that she needed her “freedom.” Philip promised that he could change his temper, that they could start a new relationship, but Hannah only wanted to be friends. Philip wanted us to tell Hannah to be mature and responsible, to be honest and work things out with him.
As Brad and I tried to counsel this young dating couple, our exchanged looks spoke volumes. You can’t force love. You can’t make someone love you. Love is a choice. Both members of the couple should feel the same way about the relationship. Love does not insist that you change who you are. In love you can be yourself. Marriage is a commitment, a chosen bond. Sometimes loving someone you are dating means letting them go. Letting go often means hurt. Sometimes love means moving on. Sometimes love means hanging on. Sometimes love means fighting for it. But sometimes it doesn’t. Love isn’t always black and white. Honesty, maturity, and responsibility don’t always mean that you must stay together and get married. Sometimes it means that you go your separate ways.
Brad and I spoke afterward. What are the rules of dating? Both of us could list several predictable dating patterns and scenarios. Did we follow the rules? Both of us could list the relational mistakes we made prior to our meeting. But, did we follow the “rules” in our own relationship? Did we follow our own advice?
Hmmm. I had a crush on Brad for a year prior to dating him, during which I gave up on waiting for him to ask me out and dated two other young men consecutively (while still liking him). I asked Brad to be my swing-dancing partner, Sadie Hawkins style. Brad was wary of dating ever again and had no plans of getting to know me beyond friendship. Yet he told his closest friends that he would marry me after our second dance lesson. He proposed spontaneously after six weeks of dating, without a ring, and without asking my father first. We were married less than six months later, and a year and a half after that we were on our way to China.
No, I think it’s safe to say that we didn’t follow the rules. Would I do it again, given the same circumstances and knowledge? Yeah, I think I would. Did I do the right thing? Yes. Were there other options? Of course. Maybe I could have waited longer on Brad, maybe we could have taken it slower, maybe we could have followed a “dating plan.” Maybe we could have been more cautious and less impulsive in our courtship. Yet, as Brad pointed out, that’s all in the past. We wouldn’t be where we are today, if it weren’t for the choices we made then. We wouldn’t be married yet, or living in China, or living the life we now live. Who knows what our life would have been? Maybe we were among the few to marry while the fire of our love was still fresh and exciting. Maybe our “honeymoon” has continued because we’re still just getting to know each other. Would I really have wanted it any other way? Could we have done it differently? Sure. But then we would have missed out on this life, this present. We can’t go back and change the past. We can only live the life we are given today.
The morning after our discussion, my voice was thick with emotion. No matter what mistakes we might have made or rules we didn’t follow, I do not regret him. Never. Laying all dating strategies aside, choosing Brad was one of the best choices I have ever made, perhaps the best. Knowing him, loving him, marrying him, and growing old with him is the best decision I could have made. There is no better best friend and life partner for me. I can’t imagine a life without him, without his love, friendship, humor, passion, and enthusiasm for life. We are one, as if we always were. We always will be. In sickness and in health. Until death do us part.
So you may ask us for advice on dating and marriage if you like, but take caution. We’re imperfect people. And we certainly didn’t take our own dating advice. We didn’t really follow the “rules.” We’ve made mistakes, and we probably don’t know as much as you might think.
But next week we’ll joyfully celebrate 1,000 days of marriage, and hope for thousands more.