I can still remember the day: August 11, 2012. I was standing at one end of a really long aisle, and the woman I had grown to love was walking down the other side toward me. I knew why I was there: I wanted to marry Crystal! And I knew why Crystal was there: she (for reasons still not entirely explicable) wanted to marry me! And I knew we were both free to make that decision.
These are the two basic things the Church looks at for marriage—do the bride and groom know what they’re doing, and are they free to do it?
I’m blessed to say that my bride and I decided when we started to date that we would put freedom and clarity at the forefront of our dating relationship. And it changed everything!
I was tired of guessing what a woman was thinking and feeling and sad that I had made women guess at my intentions, too. I told her I wanted to date differently than that.
Have you ever been confused by someone of the opposite sex? Wondered if the vaguely-flirtatious comment meant something, or nothing? Wondered if a gathering of just the two of you was a date, and how serious of a date it was? These are questions that don’t need to linger. We deserve clarity. And we need clarity to be free to choose whether to continue a romantic relationship.
I resolved to just tell her what I was thinking and feeling about the relationship and to ask her to do the same. If I thought something was off or that we weren’t working out, I wanted her to be the first to know, not the last to know. If she was confused about where I stood in our relationship or had a concern, I wanted her to be free to bring it up.
At various points, I would stop and check in with her. When I asked her out, it was when I first thought I might want to discern marriage with her (not the eighth time I thought about it, or the twentieth), and I told her that I wanted to pursue her romantically. When we went on our first date, I ended by telling her that I enjoyed it and would like to take her out again, if she would like. I also told her that I might take other women out, and that I didn’t mind if she went out with anyone else as well—these were not high-pressure, high-stakes outings.
After some more going-on-dates, I checked in with her, because I discovered I didn’t want to ask anyone else out, and I wanted to see if we could make it a thing for a while where we just dated each other. Getting to know her more and more, I wanted not just to talk with her about my dreams and her dreams but to talk about planning a life together, so I asked her to marry me. (She said yes!) Each step on the journey was as clear as I could make it.
I knew it was my responsibility to be as clear as I could be and to make space for Crystal to respond. If I held back from being clear with my intentions, it would have been an injustice.
What I’ve seen over the years is that couples know exactly what to say to each other; they just say the things to other people. They’ll tell a friend about how maybe things aren’t working out, rather than telling their significant (or less-significant-as-time-goes-by) other. They’ll have very particular complaints or concerns or discomforts and tell a sibling, or even a stranger, before they bring them up to the one they’ve been dating. The feedback that couples need to discern whether they should marry or not gets short-circuited. The only person who could tell me what Crystal meant was Crystal, so I was better off asking her if I was confused by something she said. I knew if I initiated the feedback loop, it wouldn’t mean instant marriage. But it was instant peace in discernment!
Over the years, I’ve seen that marriage requires more open communication, not less, than dating does. When dating, the questions are usually pretty self-focused. When married, the stakes are higher, with questions of literal life and literal death at hand from week to week. Pregnancies, miscarriages, births, educating, supporting, living through sickness and health, riches and poverty, until one of us dies: these are all things that can bring a couple closer together if they’re practiced at having difficult conversations as things come up. These are also all things that will drive couples apart if they’re not practiced at communicating with one another. It is critical to building a life together to find someone that we can have honest and free converse with.