There are several reasons that often drive people’s decision to get married: the desire to have children, the fear of being left behind, romantic love and material circumstances. However, if your marriage is based solely on these factors, it is inherently unstable and will likely run into problems in the long run.
1 – Don’t get married because you (or your parents) want to have children (or grandchildren)
A lot of people, especially in traditional societies like Vietnam and China, are anxious to get married once they have reached a certain age because they long to build a family and raise children of their own or they are pressured to do so by their own parents. It is even regarded as a duty to one’s parents to produce offsprings, who will pass on the name and pride of the family onto the next generation. The burden falls particularly heavily on men or men and women that are the only child in their family. Even though with the option of adoption or today’s modern technology, becoming a single mom or a single dad is a choice, most individuals would want to provide their kids with a traditional home in which both mom and dad would care for them.
While the desire to have children, whether driven by biology or social pressure, is a legitimate one, if it’s the only reason why we get married, we will be easily disappointed in the long run. Even if a couple longs for children, the truth is that infertility rates are not insignificant. In the United States, about 11-12% of women aged 15 to 44 might experience difficulty in getting pregnant, while 6% are completely infertile. Infertility is also common among men. I certainly don’t have to explain how much strain infertility puts on a marriage. Even when a couple has children, the kids might not be as pretty, healthy or talented as their parents would like them to be. We can pour out love and affection onto our kids and invest in their education and extracurricular activities, but this does not guarantee that they will grow up to be strong, independent, and successful individuals; there are just so many factors that are beyond our control.
Moreover, one day, our children will grow up, move away and have their own lives, and we still have 30 or 40 years or so left with our spouse. If children are the foundation of your marriage, that foundation will start to crumble the moment your child gets her college acceptance letter or his first car. Couples that have stayed together out of responsibility for their kids might realize that there is no longer any responsibility that can hold their marriage together. Before you get married out of the pressure to have children, just remember that the time you will spend with your spouse will likely be multiple times the time you will spend with your children.
A better approach would be to treat children as a gift from heaven. This might actually make you better parents once they arrive and you will be a better spouse regardless of whether they arrive or not. Seeing children as a gift would encourage you to love them unconditionally, even if they are unruly or struggle at school. You would want them to be independent early on and will be happy once they are on their own feet because you don’t need them to fill a gap in your life or keep you and your spouse together. Instead of focusing on your children, this view encourages you to take greater care of your spouse.
A couple that I am friends with struggle with infertility issues, but they are one of the happiest couples that I know. Their love and devotion to each other have been an encouragement to me as I saw their relationship grow stronger over time even as they face childlessness. I look at them and often think to myself that they are perfect and complete together – just the two of them, no kids needed.
2 – Don’t get married because you are afraid of being left behind
As we grow older, the fear that if we don’t get married soon enough, all the good men and women will be “married off” and there will be nobody left for us starts to slowly invade our hearts. In China, women who are more than 25 years old and still single are even considered “leftover” (!!), meaning that nobody wants them anymore. A friend of mine, around the time that she was 25, was given a deadline by her anxious mom to get married within 6 months, even though she wasn’t even dating at that time – 6 months (!!), it is not even enough to plan a wedding ceremony!
If we let the irrational fear of being left behind drive our decision to get married, it will lead us to make some fairly predictable mistakes. First, we might not spend enough time to truly get to know a person’s character, desires, and motivations. “Prospective candidates” are evaluated based on a list of socially desirable criteria, such as where a person went to school, what his/her profession is, or how wealthy the family is, but none of these factors can guarantee that the marriage will be happy and fulfilling.
Second, if two people get married just to avoid being left behind, where will compassion, respect, and commitment that are so fundamental to a successful marriage come from? If I strive for years just to land a job that I have always dreamed of, I will certainly be willing to sacrifice my time and energy to keep that job. But if I spontaneously land a job or take a job casually to make some side income, I won’t be as devoted. Tenured professors, who have given up a decade of their lives to arrive at their current position won’t give it up as easily as a Uber driver who only needs to sign up online to drive. Similarly, if my husband is somebody that I marry in order to avoid the fate of being a “leftover” woman, I won’t respect and cherish him as much and I might walk away the moment troubles or hardships arise. There is no perfect dream husband or wife out there, but don’t grab the next guy or girl that shows up either!
Finally, marriage does not always make you feel happy or takes away your loneliness. One thing that I can tell you is that if you feel lonely when you are single, you might still feel lonely when you are married. If people are always content with their marriages, we wouldn’t see that many stories of people cheating on each other no matter how attractive or successful their spouses are.
Whether the threshold is 25, or 18 (in some Vietnamese rural villages), or 50, don’t let conventions define your choices. Two years after the 6-month deadline expired, my friend is still single, but she knows how to enjoy her life. She has traveled to many places, taken up new hobbies, blogs about her interests and lives a life that I envy! Whether she will get married soon or not, I don’t know. I don’t even ask her, cause I can see that she is living a productive, meaningful and enjoyable life!
3 – Don’t get married just because you have fallen in love!
Some people are eager to say “I do” after just a few weeks or a few months, believing that they want to spend the rest of their lives with “the one person” because they have never been in love like this before. Well, let me tell you that even if you are 70, the rest of your life might be another 20 or 30 years, so why not spend some more time to let your feelings cool down and inspect whether you are really committed to a person or just overwhelmed by transient passion. If you jump too quickly into marriage, you might soon wake up only to discover that the person you fell in love with just a few months ago has completely changed. He/she is no longer your gentle, romantic and generous sweetheart, but has become selfish, careless and hot-tempered. Well, maybe they were that way all along, but you might not have noticed their negative sides when you were blindly in love. A relationship might begin with romantic, passionate love, but that’s not the foundation for marriage, where the mundane tasks and responsibilities of everyday life will dominate much of your time.
4 – Don’t get married because of material circumstances
This point should be intuitive – circumstances change over a lifetime and so they should not determine how you choose your spouse. A friend of mine shared her parent’s marriage story to me. When her mom was young, she was excited to be married to her dad, a skilled engineer with a promising career at a big company, thinking that she will be guaranteed a comfortable life. However, her husband got laid off years later and she was the sole breadwinner in the family for many years. She worked long hours in a demanding job to make enough money to send their kids to college. I heard a saying somewhere that the only constant thing in life is change. A millionaire today might become bankrupt tomorrow. A financial crisis might hit, taking away your job and home. A guitarist might fall and break his fingers. And yet, we are called to marry for better and for worse, so before you start to think about your wedding ring and your dream honeymoon, think about whether you are willing to support your spouse through all types of difficult situations – unemployment, bankruptcy, sickness, jail time, mental instability and so forth.
Will you stand by your promise to stay together even if your spouse is unable to have children? Will you leave if one day you find somebody else who is more attractive or wealthier than your spouse? Will you be willing to serve your spouse even if you do not feel any romantic passion? Will you marry even if you are perfectly happy and content on your own?