Learn from me.
I got married abruptly (perhaps even prematurely) in my early 20s; I was the first of my friends by a long shot. At the time, I thought I knew what I was doing but sometimes the best guidance can only come from hindsight. So from me to you, young bride, here are 7 mistakes I made before I knew any better:
1. Not taking marriage seriously.
I believe our official position on marriage was: “Psshh.” Well maybe not at first. We certainly had our starry-eyed moments in the beginning, back when our relationship felt invigorating, inspiring, and new. We were better together. We were in love. Yet any talk of marriage felt like quenching that youthful thirst for passion and drama and delusion. The future felt way too far away and it looked brilliantly bright.
After a few years of sharing a bed and a bank account, marriage seemed pointless. “How could marriage possibly be any different than this?” we wondered. WHY WOULD ANYONE GET MARRIED? And then as life would happen, on an ordinary Tuesday in 2008, we were suddenly expecting a baby. (Welp, now we had a reason to get married.) To be honest, that positive pregnancy test felt like far more of a commitment than any signed document so marriage became something inevitable and obvious. Our general attitude was, “If we’re going to be together forever anyway, why not get married?” We did it for the legal protection and for the health insurance.
Well, take it from me: Marriage is different. Not only because of the financial and legal pressure, but there’s a mental weight to it, too. The stakes are higher, the entanglement is more severe. We settle into new roles and identities, struggle to find our marks, and grapple with the enormity of “’til death do us part.” So when you don’t take marriage seriously or rush into it without much thought (or, perhaps worse, when one person takes it seriously and the other sees it as “no big thang”), expect a rocky adjustment period.
2. Skipping the ceremony.
Pricey weddings felt sillier than the concept of marriage iteself. Oh, the self-congratulatory celebration, the generic traditions, the steep financial cost. No thanks. So we felt mighty sly sneaking off to City Hall one Saturday morning, barely telling anyone ahead of time. We didn't make a big deal out of it because, remember #1: marriage wasn't all that serious to us.
Looking back, it's not the wedding day that I missed out on, but the simple act of a ceremony. Part of getting married is making the public declaration — for support, yes, but also for accountability. I feel like a ceremony or a ritual of some sort would've made our marriage more meaningful, more real. I wish I thought about our vows ahead of time and put in the time and attention, considering that's what a marriage needs.
3. Love is important, but so are finances.
Put the romance, daydreams and Pinterest wedding boards to the side for a minute, and let’s get one thing straight: Marriage is a financial and legal commitment. Of course you don’t want to think about that; you’d rather focus on the dress, the theme, and your hairstyle. A wedding might be about love, but a marriage is about so much more.
People tend to disagree when I say this, but look at the man’s (or lady’s) credit score before signing that marriage certificate. Look at his spending habits, his debt situation, his attitude toward money. This isn’t just a security or stability issue (although, that's important, too) but it’ll give you insight into his character, judgment, maturity, and priorities. In theory, money shouldn’t matter. But even though it shouldn’t, it still does. And the stress and emotional toll of financial difficulty is very real. Don’t disregard that. This isn't to say only financially competent people should marry but if you’re smarter than me, use the idea of marriage as a motivator to do financial housekeeping before saying “I do” to all of his financial blunders and money problems.
4. Tolerating hurtful behavior.
Marriage is something that requires sacrifice, tolerance, and acceptance but how much are we supposed to put up with? How much of our identities, our lives, are healthy to sacrifice? There’s a line between accepting someone for who they are, and allowing someone’s dysfunction and hurtful behavior to negatively affect your life. I accept my husband for who he is but that doesn’t make his addictive and manipulative actions okay. I had trouble finding that line, that balance, until my therapist very bluntly pointed out that I was in an abusive relationship. And then it all became clear.
5. Ignoring red flags.
If there's something that you're ignoring, hoping it'll eventually go away or be outgrown, it probably won't. If there's an aspect of him that you're assuming will change, there's a good chance it never will. Pay attention to the red flags you're choosing to ignore; they're trying to tell you something.
6. Succumbing to family pressure.
I'm not blaming my family for my rushed and short-sighted marriage (see #1), but I am saying that there was a bit of coaxing from certain family members who really would've liked to see us getting married, you know, for the baby and all. Looking back, I should have examined my reasons for why I was getting married and figured out who I was doing it for.
7. Getting married during my pregnancy.
I know there are plenty of happy pregnant brides out there but in retrospect maybe I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to be making such a life-changing decision. Someone once told me that we should never make big decisions while going through a highly emotional time (like, say, a break-up) and I’m not sure what could possibly be more emotional (and hormonal) than pregnancy.
And with all of the energy, time, and prep-work that my pregnancy required, there was no space left to think about our marriage. If I were to do it all over again, I would have given a little more respect and acknowledgment to such a monumental commitment.
All that being said, I don’t regret my early marriage. I don’t regret the misunderstandings, the rushing, or even tolerating hurtful behavior because I learned from it all. I learned about boundaries, I learned about the parameters of healthy love. And if I could go back and notice all of the red flags, absorb the full scope of our commitment, and put financial security above our spontaneity, optimism and blind faith, then I would have missed a lot.
All things considered, marriage is an opportunity to learn. And the best way to learn is from our mistakes.