“What is the secret to a good marriage?” I asked.
“Communication,” one woman said.
“Yes…” a few other women murmured in agreement.
This was around the bonfire at church camp. I mentally added this answer to the wealth of advice I had collected over the past month, when my relationship with a very committed guy was still a new thing. That was six months ago and since then I have gathered an amalgam of ‘secrets’ to a successful relationship.
One time, as my friend and I wolfed down leftover stir-fry for breakfast, her father advised us against dating for a short time and marrying young – a formula he mistakenly followed prior to his current marriage – stressing the value in dating for a long period, in his case thirteen years, before marrying at an older, less malleable stage in life. Meanwhile, my parents dated for less than a year before getting engaged however, my mom was twenty-eight and my dad, thirty-four.
“You don’t really know what you want in a person,” my dad tells me, “or what you really want to do with your life until you’re in your mid-twenties, early-thirties.”
“But come to think of it,” my mom says, “all the couples I know who are happy, married young.”
My ‘wealth of advice’ is filled with contradictions. I read of Wheaton-conservative Elisabeth Elliot’s disdain towards any level of physical intimacy before marriage and then I listen to my own mother argue for the value of touch in a relationship.
I met a Christian girl who said:
“In a relationship, I want to hold myself back physically and emotionally.”
In another instance, non-Christian friend of mine asserted:
“A relationship needs to have an equal level of physicality and emotionality.”
But then a former colleague of mine, married to a lover found online, expressed the perfect charm of long-distance relationships by how they limit physical distractions and are purely bolstered by emotional connection.
“I don’t know why there’s such a stigma to online dating,” he said. “It’s basically just talking.”
I’ve been caught between giving your suitor some grace to having a hard-boiled attitude.
“Boy says he loves you?” my friend’s mom said. “Nonsense, don’t believe it.”
After six months of being in a relationship and thus, exposed to the world of ‘secrets’ to successful relationships meant to fuel successful marriages, I’ve settled on the boring but very true conviction that everyone is different. Everyone has their own unique preferences, tendencies, circumstances, priorities, moral compasses, biases and it all factors into how two individuals can survive in tandem. This understanding caused me to evaluate what I was comfortable with.
I learned very early on that I couldn’t picture myself following the classic, church-couple formula of dating for six months before the call to engagement. Having grown up in a family whose love language was hugging and kissing, I knew I wouldn’t be happy following Elisabeth Elliot’s guidelines to zero physicality. And, at age twenty, I knew I still felt too young and immature for the married life.
But all that can easily change – I can’t predict what will happen in the future – and it boils down to trusting in God, and nothing else. I still crave the sound of people, especially adults, passing down their wisdom; but from what I’ve learned, God doesn’t call us to a ‘great’ faith, He calls us to an exclusive faith, in His character and His will. I don’t want to put my faith in other things, other people’s experiences or even my own; perhaps ‘taking them with a grain of salt’ is, if anything, the way to go.
If I ever feel nervous or uncertain about my relationship, I want to be reassured by, not entirely my friends and family’s varying advice, but by the belief that God will use my future obstacles and joys to, ultimately, bring me closer to Him.
A relationship and a marriage is not something to study for, it’s something to pray for.
Illustrations by Anastasia Dukakis