There once was a time in life when everyone was getting married. Then there were a few, inevitable divorces.
Now it’s time for everyone’s kids to get married.
This year for me is full of those weddings. Twenty- and thirty-somethings launching into full adulthood by tying the knot. Two weddings of that kind this month alone — one in Mt. Hood, Or. and the other last weekend in the Berkshires. Another one coming up this fall.
One marriage united a couple of rock climbers who’ve been scaling the heights together for six years. Last weekend’s union brought together two people who met six months ago.
This fall’s wedding will unite an emergency room nurse in Houston with her boyfriend of three years, who spends most of his days in Milwaukee as a management consultant.
Marriage remains a diverse and always surprising institution. And that’s not even counting the welcome arrival of marriage equality for gay people.
Now that I’ve reached the ripe mid-60s, I find myself full of mostly useless advice for these young marrieds.
As my qualifications to dispense this advice (and caveats to those reading this), I’ll offer my experience through a 25-year marriage, a couple of post-marital flings, and a recent launch into bachelorhood at the end of a mostly terrific five-year relationship.
In other words, I probably have no idea what I’m talking about. But I feel the urge to offer advice to the newlyweds anyway.
- You are marrying an alien being. In an age of increasing equality between the sexes, we’re inclined to think that men and women are similar. But we’re not. We’re two different species. We forget this at our peril.
- You think you know the person you’re marrying, but you don’t. Whether a couple has been together for six months or six years before they marry, they don’t really know one another. Or perhaps they do in some ways, but there’s much more they need will learn.
It could be small stuff — he suddenly realizes she snores or she discovers he’s addicted to watching football — but they will inevitably come upon new and challenging things about one another.
The other factor here is that spouses change over time. Often this means they develop new and welcome habits and hobbies. But sometimes it means they become someone else. This is expressed in the universal lament of the soon-to-be-divorced: “You’re not the person I married!”
- Don’t have kids. The planet is already way overcrowded. We’re like Wily Coyote the cartoon character. We’ve already overshot the edge of the population cliff and don’t yet know that our global population will likely plunge us into disaster.
Anybody’s who’s thought about this issue knows this in their heart of hearts: Adding more humans to the planet just compounds the problem. We can do every other thing to heal our environment — but unless we decrease the population, most of those efforts will be in vain. We’ve overloaded the planet with humans and it’s time to reduce our numbers. That begins with millions of individual decisions not to have children.
- OK, have just one kid. Few people will actually decide to remain child-free. Your responsibility to the planet as a potential parent is not to fully duplicate yourselves by having two or more kids. Americans on average have the biggest individual impact on the climate through overconsumption. The most important thing you can do to mitigate that impact — and help ensure that your child grows up on a livable planet — is to add just one more American at most.
- Love conquers all. Sometimes. The love that’s brought you together is powerful rocket fuel. I hope it fuels you through decades of a joyfully shared life. You can draw upon that fuel in the tough times. Be careful to use it and not abuse it.
- Live on less than you earn and save the rest. Starting now. Go for the small coffee instead of the double caramel macchiato, and put the difference in your savings account. Even a few dollars a week makes a huge difference over time.
- Learn to take constructive criticism and give appreciations. The two of you will of course have disagreements, and certain parts of you may prove to be deep annoyances to one another. Hurtful criticism cuts deep. Helpful criticism that’s lovingly given and taken to heart can be a blessing. It’s the best way to make the necessary midcourse corrections that keep a marriage alive and loving.
Learn the technique of reflective listening. Remember the words of Ruth Bell Graham:
“A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.” And practice the art of saying something nice to and about your partner every single day.
- Marriage is also a financial contract. Which you will learn if, god forbid, you ever get divorced.
- Enjoy each other’s lusciousness. They say youth is wasted on the young. The best evidence for this is that while you will probably never be as physically vital and attractive as you are at this time in life, most of you don’t realize it. Rather than ponder your spouse’s physical imperfections, focus on and enjoy their astounding beauty and the pleasure it can bring.
- Believe in love and practice it as fully as you can. It can pull you through even the worst of times. And it makes the good times great.