things to do before you get married (at any age)

Not too long ago, I posted my rebuttal to a poorly-thought out list of things to do before getting engaged at 23.  While I felt that that list was insulting, immature, and advice that no self-respecting woman would ever follow, I do think that there are legitimate things that both men and women should do before they get married, no matter the age.

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Before I misrepresent myself here, I’m not coming at this subject with a “marriage sucks the life out of everyone immediately, run quickly!” kind of attitude. Quite honestly, I couldn’t feel more differently on the subject.  If you are with the partner that is right for you, marriage lets you experience life more fully than before.  That being said, I do think there are things that people of both sexes, but especially women, should do before tying the knot.

I say especially women because I feel like our society treats boys in such a way that fosters independence, while girls are…how shall I say this?…held to a different standard.  We are not expected to do things that boys and men are, so oftentimes we don’t do them – at least not without a little prodding.

I did some of the things on this list before I got married.  I didn’t do others.  Some of them may not apply to your life.  Whichever way you slice it, though, I think that these are some pretty solid pieces of advice that you should really, really consider following before getting married, whether you’re 22 or 45.

1. Live on your own. 

This doesn’t necessarily mean “live by yourself,” but live outside of your parent’s house for at least a year before you get married. And living with your significant other doesn’t count.  Trust me, living somewhere without your mother there to tell you to pick up your room or to cook you dinner every night or to do your laundry every week teaches you responsibility.

It may not seem that way for the first few months, when you realize that you can skip doing laundry for a month and go to Wal-Mart at two in the morning and eat ice cream for dinner and as long as you keep your mess within the bounds of your room, no one else cares about it. But it really does.  It teaches you how to handle freedom, and how to handle things on your own.  That is something that you will want to have ready and developed by the time you get married.

2. Learn how to cook.

Don’t take this as a sexist cultural expectation – I promise, it is just as much for your own good as it is for your future husband’s. When I was learning to cook while my husband and I were dating, I would blow through scads of money trying out fabulous-sounding recipes and trying to master the art of culinary experimenting, which sometimes turned out great and sometimes turned out…not so great. (Ask my husband about the brown sugared beef tacos he refuses to forget). It was a ton of fun while it lasted, but I am so glad that I got that out of the way before we were married. Now I have one less thing to stress about, because I know that 99% of the time whatever I make is going to be delicious.

3. Graduate college and/or get a job that you can see becoming a career. 

I say “and/or” because I am of the firm belief that college is not for everyone.  But if you are in college, or if you want to go to college, at least finish your undergraduate degree before getting married.  If you are not in college and don’t intend to go, find a job that you can see yourself being happy with for a very long time.  Or even both (although with this economy, I understand if you just go with “graduate from college” – I did).  I was on scholarship during my four and a half years at college, and for all but one semester I took a full load of courses and was practically working full-time (30+ hours a week), and at some points even had multiple jobs.  As stressful as that was, I don’t think it could even compare to working, studying, and being married.

Being part of a marriage is a full-time job within itself.  Whereas when you are just dating or engaged, you can say “I’ve had a rough day, I just want to soak in the bath tub and be by myself tonight,” when you’re married you can’t really do that without coming across as a jerk because you live in the same house.  And if you’re married to the right person, you probably won’t want to do that.  You’ll most likely end up putting homework and studying for finals in front of your marriage, or vice versa.  I just can’t imagine it being an easy situation.  I know it’s possible – I have friends and acquaintances who have done it and said that they wouldn’t have it any other way – it just seems like a situation that is best avoided if possible.

As far as the other option – having a job that you are happy with having for a long time – this is very important. Once you get married, you find yourself worrying about things that you probably haven’t had to deal with before – health insurance, car insurance, phone bills, student loan payments, rent, or even a mortgage.  When you have this much responsibility, you can’t just quit a job that you don’t like as easily as you may have before getting married.  If you don’t like your job now, trust me – find something else before your trip down the aisle. It will save you a lot of frustration.

4. Be able to be alone.

I’m not sure how many people this applies to, but it definitely was something that I had difficulty adjusting to after getting married.  While we were dating and then an engaged couple, my husband and I spent every spare second together.  I thought that when we got married, our quality time would increase.

That is not always the case. Whether like our situation it is related to work scheduling, or perhaps one person having a job that requires a lot of travel, or other responsibilities that lay outside of the home, you will find that marriage does not always mean more time together. Be prepared, and able, to spend time by yourself.

This is something I still sort of struggle with to this day, mainly because I am the type of person that needs a lot of human interaction.  But at the beginning of our marriage, it felt devastating.

If you also struggle with needing human interaction or being clingy or lonely, be proactive now, before you get married. Have a hobby that you enjoy doing solo.  Read a book.  Go see a movie by yourself.  Take a walk.  Don’t handle this by moping and complaining about it to your spouse – it doesn’t make the situation better at all.  If anything, it makes it worse.

5. Get out of debt.

Obviously, there are some exceptions to this – long-term debt like student loans or mortgages are not going to vanish in an instant – but if you have a mortgage, a student loan payment, and a car payment, and your future spouse has a car payment, student loan payment, and a pile of credit card debt, you need to consider pushing the date back.  Financial strain is stressful at any time, but when placed on a newly married couple, it can be a recipe for disaster, especially if neither person has followed a strict budget before.  Try to eliminate as much as possible before you say “I do,” even if it means asking your parents to cancel the shrimp buffet and the world-class photographer and seeing if they wouldn’t mind helping you out with your debt instead. Or if you’re paying for the wedding yourself, use that cash to eliminate those balances, or at least get close to it. It will be difficult, but fights about money are toxic within a marriage. It is worth a few extra years or a few less extravagant touches at the wedding.

6. Do something extravagant for yourself that you will not be able to do after marriage.

This seems kind of selfish – because it is, in a way – but after you are married, you no longer have “your” money.  While you have the opportunity, do something that is just for you.  I did not do this, not because I didn’t think of it but honestly because I couldn’t think of anything, but my husband did. He bought a brand-new Harley Davidson about a month after working at the HD dealership.  We were engaged at the time, and I thought it was a bad idea, but I didn’t say anything, and I am so glad that I didn’t now. Looking back on it, he realizes that it was a dumb financial move, but he wouldn’t undo it because it was his last “hurrah,” his last time making a big purchase that he didn’t have to okay with me.

So whether it is vacationing somewhere you have always wanted to go, buying that car you’ve had your eyes on for years, or something as simple as taking your tax return and blowing it on whatever you want (which, now that I think about it, I did do before getting married), do it now, while you do not have the responsibility to someone else. You may look back later and think “that was stupid of me to blow that money,” but if you don’t do it you will definitely regret never taking the plunge on your dream, whatever it is. Don’t put yourself in a position to resent your spouse.

6. Go out of state by yourself.

Again, this does not necessarily mean alone, but it does mean without parental supervision and without the presence of your significant other.  I myself did this only once, but I am proud to say that I know I am capable of getting from Columbiana, Alabama to Knoxville, Tennessee without a GPS and returning in one piece.

7. Understand that sitcoms are not documentaries.

Wives are not supposed to be nagging harpies, men are not helpless idiots, mother-in-laws are not always (but definitely can be) trying, and sex is not something that should be treated like a chore, withheld as punishment, or begged for like a treat. Those are the high points – I can feel an entire post devoted to this point coming up in the future, but that’s about all I have in me today.

I could go on and on forever, I’m sure, with good, solid advice to give the impending brides-to-be in my life.  Basically, my advice to you, if you boil it down to pure substance, is this: think about everything that you want to do. If you are able to do it unhindered and unaltered while married, it can probably wait. If you can’t, and you really want to do it – go for it. You don’t want “if I had onlys” and “I could haves” clouding over your marriage.

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