Do you have to be 100% sure that you want to marry someone?
June 15, 2016 3:23 AM   Subscribe

I know this might sound like a somewhat dumb question, but it's something that I'm honestly confused about right now. So I'm hoping that some of you who are older/married/divorced/more experienced could help me.

Me (F) and my boyfriend are both in our mid-twenties and we've been together for over a year now. I'll be graduating from the university soon and so we'll have to decide on whether to move in together and (eventually) get married in a few years. The thing that's been bothering me for some time now is that I realized I'm not absolutely sure that we are the best match and that we could manage to stay in a long-term relationship without at least one of us becoming miserable at some point. Although the relationship is otherwise OK, there are some issues that I think could make staying together problematic (e. g. his way of dealing with relationship problems/arguments is completely different from mine - I like to address and deal with the issue right away, while he won't tell me, sometimes for days, what he's been mad about, which is really exhausting and seems immature to me; he's quite jealous; he snooped on my phone at least once, even though he knew that I'm absolutely against this kind of breach of privacy; I think he might still have a thing for his ex, and he hinted a few times that he was happier with her). Regardless of these things, it's mostly the lack of "sureness" that I think I should feel by this time. None of my friends are married yet, so I tried to consult this with my family. My uncle, for example, admits that he wasn't sure whether he should marry his girlfriend, but he did anyway and their marriage of almost 30 years is far from a happy one.

So my question is - do you think you should be absolutely sure that you want to marry someone, or were you? How did the marriage/long-term relationship turn out? Is it even possible to be 100% sure about this? Or do you think it's okay to have doubts? There's a saying in my language which goes something like: "If you ever have to ask yourself whether it really is love, then the answer is always No." So is it really so undeniably clear when you're with the "right one"? I never had this kind of sureness in my previous relationships, and I don't want to lose an otherwise good relationship because of this, but at the same time I dread staying with the wrong person and ending up in a marriage like my uncle's. Please feel free to give any advice, thank you.
posted by U.N.Owen to Human Relations (55 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
I think it depends on who you are and what sort of doubts you have. I have never been 100% sure of anything in my life; my brain runs on loopholes and exceptions (not always as a manifestation of anxiety, either, just, how do you really know you won't suddenly get a brain tumor that changes your personality? No, wait, when I write that down it sounds like a manifestation of anxiety).

So it would be strange for me to be certain of something like this. On the other hand I can ask why I am uncertain. Is it all strange hypothetical situations, or is it because I *know* something will be a problem? It sounds like you are more the latter and maybe need to work with him to decide if it's something he can change or you can work together on dealing with as a couple better, if you do want to get married.

If you are just graduating and most of your friends are already married, consider some of them probably did make the choice to be married even though they weren't well-suited together and will probably be suffering for that choice. Not every marriage is a happy marriage.
posted by Lady Li at 3:32 AM on June 15, 2016 [20 favorites]

I can't really give you a percent of certainty you should feel before marrying. But I can suggest you ask yourself this: fast forward twenty years. He's looked at your phone again/is sulking about an argument but won't explain why/mentions his ex in passing. Do you shrug it off, because you are so happy with your life? Or do you grind your teeth and ask yourself, "WHY did I think I'd be okay with this for the next 60 years?" Don't marry someone hoping they will grow out of X, Y, or Z behaviors. Marry someone because you love them so much that X is endearing, Y is a perfectly reasonable tradeoff for the way he makes you feel, and you never cared much about Z anyway.
posted by instamatic at 3:33 AM on June 15, 2016 [72 favorites]

Have you considered taking an extended (one month+) world trip together? Not a resort stay, but an old-fashioned multi-destination self-organized expedition with just the two of you in constant contact in often stressful and unfamiliar situations.

A close quarters longterm trip for a couple is like a marriage in microcosm.
posted by fairmettle at 3:38 AM on June 15, 2016 [25 favorites]

I think at bare minimum you need to really work on these issues - probably with a therapist or counselor - prior to getting married. This can determine if you CAN actually fix or change these things or if they're big enough deal breakers. It seems like you aren't enthusiastically in love with him and these are pretty significant issues.

Marriages and therapy are WORK and you each have to do the work. Now, that's not "work" like UHG it's work like "Wow! I'm glad we figured out how to not argue in X way" or "This is really frustrating right now but I love him so let's get through it and I know we will be better on the other side."

I don't personally think marriage is a necessary thing. There are some legal and logistical advantages to being married as well as romantic ones. But you don't HAVE to get married, ya know? So I don't think there should be a rush.

That said, I LOVE being married and I couldn't wait to marry my husband. I had zero doubts. There have been rough patches, and in fact we were in one when we got married and I was a little uneasy but it was situational (job market) more than relationship based. Marriage isn't a magic thing to fix anything or bring a relationship deeper in my opinion. I felt just as committed to my husband before we got married as the day we signed the paper. That commitment only has grown with time but it didn't suddenly change because we said "I do." I mean, I was ecstatic of course but our relationship has gotten better due to time and effort, not because we filed a paper with the courthouse.

I think feelings on marriage are very personal. But yes, I would advise my best friend to not get married unless they were 100% sure. Even a simple divorce can be messy. Much more messy than breaking up even if you live together. The signs you're talking about don't bode well.

Can you imagine a life without him? What does it look like? Are there things you think would be better without him? Would your life be improved overall?

Keep your finances as separate as possible. Stay in check with your emotions. Don't rush into anything. Get into counseling as a couple or by yourself if he won't attend. Do the WORK to help your relationship now, because signing a couple pieces of paper doesn't make any relationship problems disappear. See what he puts in and if that is enough for you.
posted by Crystalinne at 3:57 AM on June 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think you'd need to be a lot surer than you are currently- the only thing you seem sure about is that you wouldn't be happy together in the long run.
posted by emd3737 at 4:03 AM on June 15, 2016 [14 favorites]

I wasn't 100% and I don't think that's really possible. However, there's a difference between "not 100%" and "I'm concerned about X and Y". Communication is huge. I wasn't 100% but we were happy and he is an excellent communicator and works hard at the relationship so I went for it. (On preview: yes doubts about myself, or marriage in general - I wasn't worried about him!) Eight years and one kid later and so far so good.

Personally I find the sulking won't talk about it thing ridiculous and won't put up with it - drives me nuts. The snooping thing is no good either. What happens when you're juggling jobs and small children and sleep deprivation and a sick pet and and... And what? You have to keep dealing with all that while he's "not talking to you" for days on end? Wtf. It's a luxury you won't always be able to afford.

fairmettle' suggestion is a good one. We backpacked together for two months when we'd been dating for about six months, and it taught us a lot.

Disclaimer: we probably wouldn't have gotten legally married if we hadn't needed the visa - just not our thing. Would do it again in a heartbeat though.
posted by jrobin276 at 4:04 AM on June 15, 2016 [5 favorites]

My great grandmother said this about marriage- "If it's not hell yes, it's hell no!". Now that I'm on my second marriage, I'm absolutely sure that she was right.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 4:18 AM on June 15, 2016 [62 favorites]

I've been married for 25 years, and Mrs. RKS and I dated for 5. While no, nothing is 100%, and yes, if you know someone well enough you'll know their quirks, I think what you have to be 100% sure of is that you can live with those quirks for what might be a very long time.

Because one thing I've learned after being married longer than I was single is - people don't change a lot. They mature, hopefully, but their fundamental personality is not going to get a lot different.

Personally, the dealbreaker for me would be the belief that he was still infatuated with his ex, and telling you about it It may be that he is settling for you; that doesn't mean you have to settle for him. Or, worse, from what little you've said he sound like he may be the worst kind of manipulative bastard, talking about her to wound you.
posted by randomkeystrike at 4:19 AM on June 15, 2016 [7 favorites]

I had a whole thing typed out, but on preview, PorcineWithMe's great grandma said it better.

Having left a "hell no" for a "hell yes" I think there's some truth to it. And it needs to be hell yes for both of you. Marriage shouldn't just be the next checkbox on the life list, it should be something that both of you are excited about at some level.

Have you ever been to a wedding that was beautiful but felt weirdly devoid of emotion? You look at the photos later and wonder about the fake smiles. Why is there no light in their eyes? Don't get married to check that off your list. You deserve to marry someone who you want to run down the aisle to get to. (My dad complained that I was walking too fast. I was too excited! My soon-to-be husband tried to kiss me several times before the vows and I had to keep whispering "not yet!")
posted by cabingirl at 4:45 AM on June 15, 2016 [10 favorites]

You also should consider that people are generally happiest with their partner before marriage. There's naturally a decrease in romance and the strains of life (e.g. kids!) typically cause people to be less happy with their relationship. Are you so excited with this person that downhill is going to still be really good? You don't have to decide this today or even this year it sounds like but you do have some serious reservations.
posted by Kalmya at 4:53 AM on June 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

Being sure is no guarantee of a good marriage. Not being sure isn't a guarantee of a bad one. I don't think you can have the guarantee you want. If you were to leave this man, then you'd want to know that you were going to meet a man who was a better option, and guess what, no guarantee. Divorce is rough, but is more tolerable if you know (both of) you did everything you could to make it work. So I think your issue here is not whether or not you can accurately predict the future (which is what "sure" feels like). I reckon, take the issues you have to a qualified, non-biased counsellor and see if a. You are both prepared to work through them and b. You can actually work through them (before the next lot of things happen, because there will be multiple things that will make either / both of you uncomfortable).

When my ex-husband was willing to do the work to make compromises we were both happier than before he quit making and effort, and much happier than before I gave up as a result. So yeah, take the counselling advice above, "sure" isn't the problem. "Sure" is just about your perception of your ability to predict the future based on insufficient data. If you had the experience of your partner compromising and listening and changing, "sure" wouldn't be an issue.
posted by b33j at 4:53 AM on June 15, 2016 [6 favorites]

I'm engaged and pregnant so have not only made the decision to marry my SO but to procreate with him! And no, our relationship isn't perfect. BUT, we have been together for five years, which has given me time to see how well we do work together, that we are resilient and can get through tough times together, and that the things that don't work so well (he too tends to withdraw from arguments while I prod and poke until I get an answer) are things that we are getting better at working on. We don't always like certain things about each other, or sometimes even like each other, but we always love each other and are prepared to work through our difficulties.

I will say that I was in a 9 year relationship with a lovely man where we argued a lot less, but I would never have felt comfortable marrying him because the being 'in love' wasn't there.

I'm not sure you've been together long enough to really know each other and predict how a marriage would work. Living together would be a major test but, as others have said, keep your finances separate in case things don't work out. Deciding to live together does not mean you have to get married.
posted by Dorothea_in_Rome at 5:07 AM on June 15, 2016

I was 100% sure. We got divorced. He was not willing to work on issues that came up. That's the main thing you need to be sure of.
posted by SyraCarol at 5:09 AM on June 15, 2016 [14 favorites]

" Is it even possible to be 100% sure about this? Or do you think it's okay to have doubts? "

I think some of us, by nature, are 100% sure types of people, and others of us are never, ever 100% sure people. Like, I gotta tell ya, checking in to labor and delivery to give birth to my first child, I was still not 100% sure that having children was a great idea when we'd been planning for it for SIX YEARS. I am definitely not a 100% person, it's too easy for me to see downsides and counterfactuals and what-ifs. I feel like, if I remain 80% sure it's a good idea over an extended period of time -- six months, or a year, or I don't know six years maybe -- then it's probably a good idea and that's as good as it's going to get. Consequently, although my husband was sure he wanted to get married RIGHT AWAY, I was not, and we dated for a year before I would consent to get engaged, and we were engaged for a year before we got married, not because I didn't want to, but because I wanted to take my leisurely time to make sure I remained 80% sure over that nice long period of time.

However, I think given your specific doubts, it would help you to go to some couples counseling and get some professional perspective on the issues you guys have had so far. It's hard to tell if the problems you list are the sort of immaturity that a lot of people exhibit in their 20s and tend to outgrow as they get a little more sure of themselves and a little more mature, or if these are personality characteristics that he will not outgrow. If it's the latter, that would give me pause.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:12 AM on June 15, 2016 [36 favorites]

I am also not a 100% type of person about anything -- I was mildly freaking out in the moments before I walked down the aisle, even though really I am as sure about my husband as I can be about anything in life (and we're very happy together -- I'm glad I married him!). It's just not my personality to be 100%/no doubts/no anxiety about anything in this world. So I think part of this is knowing yourself. When you've made other big decisions in your life, do you tend to be a 100% person who feels really sure and certain about your decisions? Or do you tend to be someone who can never shake that last feeling of worry/doubts even when you do know you're doing the right thing?

I also think the length of your relationship plays a role here. At one year or so in, I've really never been ready to marry anyone I've dated (including my husband). Again, this is a know yourself thing. There are people out there who somehow just "know" and get happily married after 6 months or a year, and hey, it seems to work out for them! But that has never been and will never be me. If I had to make the marriage/no marriage decision after a year, I never would have gotten married (even though now, I am really glad I did!). It sounds like you're fairly young -- not even out of college? So I wouldn't pressure yourself to have all the answers at a relatively early point in a relationship. Are you happy and having fun together and madly in love today? Maybe that's enough for now! Or if those things aren't true, it's probably time to move on.

And finally, regardless of whether you guys ever move in together or get married or make whatever commitments, it's worth addressing your concerns and figuring out whether and how you move through them (or end things if you can't). It sounds like both of you are feeling insecure in the relationship (snooping, concerns about the ex, jealously on both sides) and have very different communication styles. Those are both things I think a couple can deal with, but only by, you know, dealing with it and working on those issues. It's worth it to bring these things up and see if you guys can get to a better place whether you are together 6 more months or a lifetime.
posted by rainbowbrite at 5:24 AM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Echoing the "If it isn't a hell yes it is a hell no" sentiment, with the added point of that it has to be a "Hell Yes" for BOTH people. It has to be so strongly "Hell Yes" for both people to ensure you're BOTH prepared to do the work to keep the relationship happy and healthy.

I entered into my marriage as a big fat HELLLLL YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS, but still was totally aware there was going to be challenges. Every marriage has its challenges and problems to work through, but because we were so completely on the same page I felt (and continue to feel) confident that we would be able to work through any challenges and difficulties that arise. I was (and continue to be) positive that we not only will be able to work through the hard times, that we will WANT to work through the hard times.

What we had (and still have) day to day is so fucking awesome that both of us are highly motivated to keep it awesome, healthy, and not let anything ruin it.

Also, one of the big key elements to a relationship are trust, and you guys are severely lacking in that. He doesn't trust you (snooping on your phone, his jealousy), and you don't trust him (you think he has a think for his ex, you don't trust that he won't snoop again). And you have problems with communication and respect/boundaries. That's all pretty major in my books and something that would likely take a LOT of work from both of you to improve.

It sounds like the problems/concerns you have aren't small issues, and they would throw up some major red flags for me too. I think you (wisely) worry that they will not get better and that they are likely to have long-term negative effects on your relationship. I think that a year is about the amount of time it can take to see the sort of dynamic your relationship is likely to take in the long term, and it sounds like you aren't happy with the dynamic.

I think it is okay to walk away from this relationship, if you're looking for "permission". Don't burn years of your live waiting for the wrong person to suddenly turn in to a "Hell Yes". Don't settle for "It's better than nothing". Don't settle for "Maybe it won't be that bad." I personally think that you have every right and reason to wait for someone you are "Hell Yes" about.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 5:34 AM on June 15, 2016 [13 favorites]

You know that Cake song, Love You Madly? Every time I hear it, I think FUCK YEAH because it's pretty much exactly how I feel about my wife - coming on 3 years of marriage now, 6 years together. I am generally not certain of anything (at 41 I'm still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up!), but I am indeed 100% certain about my wife. We both have been since long before our marriage. So it is possible - and I'm telling you, it's awesome. The best part is that it means that when we do have conflict, we can both focus on "how do we resolve this lovingly?" without losing emotional energy to the question of "am I sure I even want to be with this person?"

If anecdotes help, I can contrast that with a close relative of mine who has been married twice in the last 10-ish years, both to people she felt she "should" marry despite uncertainty and unresolved relationship issues - she's now twice divorced.

Honestly, though, I don't think the most worrying thing in what you describe is the lack of 100% certainty - as others above have said, it's more about the kinds of concerns you have. And the issues you're describing sound significant to me - jealousy, disrespect for your boundaries/privacy, potential flames for exes, communication issues - any one of these alone could be a serious problem (search through AskMe for old questions to get a sense of what you could be in for).

In this case I really do think your lack of sureness is telling you something very valuable. Walking away is 100% reasonable here, or at the very least, I wouldn't agree to marriage until all of these issues were resolved.
posted by DingoMutt at 5:34 AM on June 15, 2016 [9 favorites]

I'll be graduating from the university soon and so we'll have to decide on whether to move in together and (eventually) get married in a few years.

Wait, what? You don't have to decide anything of the sort. You have to decide where to live after you move out of university housing, or whatever, but you don't have to make lifelong plans now. Jeez enjoy your 20s! Get a job, let that dictate where you live. Travel, with or without your partner. Futz around with art or marathon running or a national craft-beer tour or whatever strikes your fancy. *Learn what strikes your fancy!*

I doubt anyone is totally 100% every minute about their partner - but you at least want to be 100% about the direction you want your own life to go. And it sounds like you're only at about 50% anyway, so you know your answer.
posted by headnsouth at 5:42 AM on June 15, 2016 [61 favorites]

I'll be graduating from the university soon and so we'll have to decide on whether to move in together and (eventually) get married in a few years.

Moving in together doesn't have to happen on graduation. Nor does moving in with someone mean you have to decide to get married to them (though if you already suspect that you wouldn't marry someone, I don't recommend moving in).

This specific situation doesn't sound like it should be a marriage soon.

there are some issues that I think could make staying together problematic (e. g. his way of dealing with relationship problems/arguments is completely different from mine - I like to address and deal with the issue right away, while he won't tell me, sometimes for days, what he's been mad about, which is really exhausting and seems immature to me;

This isn't trivial, and of all the concerns you mentioned it seems most like something to really give a hard look at.

But it's also probably not a rare dynamic. One person is likely to have a little less introspective intelligence and be less quick to understand why they're upset about something and/or slower to know what they want to do about it. The question is whether you learn to handle that and eventually learn to resolve problems/arguments in a way that isn't exhausting. Keep a close eye on this. You should be getting better at it over time as a couple.

he's quite jealous; he snooped on my phone at least once, even though he knew that I'm absolutely against this kind of breach of privacy

Jealousy can be a sign of investment in a relationship, or personal insecurity, or boundary issues. You should try to figure out which one is in play here.

Regardless of these things, it's mostly the lack of "sureness" that I think I should feel by this time.

You've given some good reasons for not being sure.

There are plenty of divorces that started with marriages between people who were sure. Anything in life — particularly any long-term endeavor — is something of a gamble, nobody starts with perfect insight into their partner, certainty is no guarantee against the unforeseen.

And 100% sure is a pretty high standard for some people with an adequate imagination and capacity for thoughtful examination of issues from multiple sides. If your personal style is that generally you're not 100% sure about most things, don't make marriage the exception.

But you should be at least pretty sure you want to be married and be married to a specific partner. There should be a practical confidence that they're a good emergency contact and that you can handle conflict and address problems over time. And there should be some level on which you're delighted by them, even though you see their flaws.
posted by wildblueyonder at 5:50 AM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Someone recently told me that while it is important to enjoy positive attributes of a life partner, it’s even more important to choose someone whose negative attributes are things you can live with. Take from that what you will.
posted by metasarah at 6:36 AM on June 15, 2016 [16 favorites]

There's a ton of good advice here. There's a huge difference between doubts based on what if and doubts based on what is. If you're not 100% sure about something, but your uncertainty involves hypothetical, unforeseeable situations that could maybe happen at some point in the future, then that's normal, and it's actually healthy to push through that doubt. But if your uncertainty is based on problems that exist right now, especially if there's no sign of those problems resolving anytime soon, then that's something to take seriously.
posted by Metroid Baby at 6:46 AM on June 15, 2016 [25 favorites]

My rule of thumb: whenever you list out all the pros and cons and yldrs and whathaveyous, the thing you say last is how you really feel:
I dread staying with the wrong person and ending up in a marriage like my uncle's.
Don't get married. But don't break up with him, either, because your issues seem to be less about "being married to him" than they do about "being married to him". Get some couples counseling. Work on your communication skills (that's the plural "your"). See how you feel in six months.

Oh, and this part: "we'll have to decide on whether to move in together and (eventually) get married in a few years." Uncouple these two things in your mind. Move in with him, sure. But don't take it to be a pre-engagement or a test-drive-marriage or whatever. It's just living together. If you can't live together, that doesn't mean you can't be together, or even that you can't be married. Do what works for you.
posted by Etrigan at 6:57 AM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

I don't think you should move in together. Moving out is hard logistically and hard to do without breaking up, and when you're *this* unsure about a relationship I think it's better to not do anything that makes breaking up harder. Live with roommates! Live alone! Maybe that will be terrible and you'll realize, "Wow, I miss Partner so much! His irritating qualities are, on average, much less irritating than those of other people I deal with on a regular basis!"

If you MUST move in together, make it a place where one of you could afford to live alone or with a roommate. No expensive studios! No home purchases! It is dauntingly difficult to break up with someone when you're both on the lease/mortgage for a place neither of you can afford on your own.

I know people who had serious, serious doubts about their marriages, and they seem happy. I know other people who never acknowledged any doubts about their marriages but probably *should* have had doubts. I know other people who had doubts and felt like marriage was still worth the risk.
posted by mskyle at 7:09 AM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

I don't think you have to be 100% sure to get married, but the reasons you aren't sure seem pretty serious to me. Someone who won't tell you why he's mad "for days" is someone who it would really be hard to be married to. Whatever you find exhausting before you get married will seem much more exhausting later. You don't sound like it's just that you're not 100% sure. I don't think you're 50% sure. If you want to stay with this guy for now, fine, but don't feel like you have to be on some kind of timeline to get married just because you're graduating. People used to rush into marriage because that was the only socially sanctioned way to have sex. You have no reason to get married right now. Please wait until you're more sure than you are. It doesn't have to be 100%, but it should be over 90%, and I don't think you're there.
posted by FencingGal at 7:24 AM on June 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

To me, this question reads like "I know that relationships shouldn't need to be 100% perfect all the time, and I am using that totally true fact to talk myself into staying in a relationship that isn't really making me happy at all."
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:26 AM on June 15, 2016 [39 favorites]

Well, any marriage can go south even if it starts out 100% and any marriage can have issues but then be ok.

But the stuff you mention would be serious to me. If maturity, trust and faithfulness are NOT things you are sure of with this person, and those matter to you, then I would not marry this person, no.

Marriage is not mandatory for anyone. No matter how long a couple has been dating. No matter how old they are. You can go your entire life, never marry, and be perfectly fine and happy. Many people do.

Marriage ALSO does not magically cure your existing relationship problems. It will not make him more mature, or less jealous, or less obsessed with his ex. It will not make you magically happier to be with him. All marriage does is make it harder to break up with someone.

People forget that marriage /= relationship. Marriage is really just a legal contract, much like buying property. Would you buy property from a seller you didn't trust? If not, then don't marry someone you don't trust either.
posted by emjaybee at 7:36 AM on June 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

Me (F) and my boyfriend are both in our mid-twenties and we've been together for over a year now. I'll be graduating from the university soon and so we'll have to decide on whether to move in together and (eventually) get married in a few years.

Mid twenties is still very young. "Over a year now" is a minuscule amount of time compared to 85+ years of life. "Have to decide" is....what? Why do you "have to decide"? Why do you have to move in first? Why does graduating mean you have to move in? Why does moving in mean you have to eventually get married? Why in three years? I'm really confused by all of this.

Honestly, I recommend finishing school and getting a job and your own apartment. Get some dating experience under your belt. Sleep with at least a couple other people. Go out and have a single working adult late 20s life for at least a year and have fun doing it. Once you've done this- lived alone, been financially independent, had some dating experience- then you consider settling down for keeps.

I know a ton of people out there do marry their childhood/high school/college/grad school sweethearts, and some of them are really happy. That's great, and I'm honestly really happy for them. But having seen a range of relationships and life patterns by now, I would recommend the route above over that, in the majority of people's cases. Especially in yours because you're just filling in the dotted lines of the pattern you think you have to follow right now and not loving it.

Who you marry seems like it's 90% about the person and 10% about circumstance when you're like, 15. Who you marry seems like it's 90% about circumstance and 10% about the person when you're like 31. For what it's worth. Maybe I'm exaggerating the numbers but you get the point. There are no soul mates and marriage can work with a lot of different people, and the specialness of any one of them is not enough to offset good life circumstances and maturity.
posted by quincunx at 7:40 AM on June 15, 2016 [6 favorites]

I'll be graduating from the university soon and so we'll have to decide on whether to move in together and (eventually) get married in a few years.

where did you get the idea that you "have to" do anything? Do what you want to do. Doing what you feel you have to do, when you have other options, is a recipe for unhappiness.

But I suggest you table the marriage question until some time after you move in together - if you move in together. Living together for a while will probably make the marriage question a whole lot easier.
posted by univac at 7:40 AM on June 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

Marry the person as they are today - don't assume they will "grow up", or mature, or suddenly find ambition etc. Accept them for they are RIGHT NOW - and be honest about their flaws/faults - and assume that is who they always will be. At the same time assume you will grow and change, and identify the ways you are likely to change. Look at how the two of you relate to each other, solve problems and face crisis together (if you haven't faced a crisis together I would recommend waiting until you do - people's true personalities sure come out in times of crisis). You aren't marrying a person as much as you are marrying a relationship - bigger than either of you. Is this the relationship you want for your marriage?
posted by saucysault at 8:03 AM on June 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Never live with someone just because it seems like what you do next, unless it's your child or parent and somebody's got to take care of them. If you move in together by default, you'll just default along for a while and get engaged by default and then married by default and then one day one of you is going to wake up with the realization that you have agency in your life and should exercise it.

Plan to live apart - with roommates, if you have to, but I strongly recommend living alone even if it means more modest living - as adults for at least two years. Build an adult life, work on your career, learn how money works and how to save it, pursue a hobby or a cause. Make it so the act of participating in the relationship is a choice you make every day rather than a thing you do because there's a lease and he's right there.

There is no 100% because you don't know what will happen to the two of you as people in the future - the car accidents or crimes or luck or work success. And, as barely-formed adults, you have no idea how you yourself or he will be shaped by those things. Marriage isn't just about the right person, it's about the right personality at the right time and right place in each person's life. Statistically, that time and place is probably 4-6 years from now, wherever and whoever you happen to be by then.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:10 AM on June 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

I was sure I wanted to marry her (enthusiastically so, which I hadn't expected), but not completely sure that our marriage would be a success. My doubts were along the lines of "well, people can change, bad things can happen, no one can ever be sure a marriage will be a good marriage" (my own parents had some horrible things happen to them that would have torn apart most couples), and not specific concerns about us as a couple.

We had our faults as a couple, but they seemed relatively minor. Of course, there was then a period early in the marriage when we both looked at each other's "minor" issues and said to ourselves, "is s/he going to be doing that for the next 60 years?" The answer, of course, was usually yes.

The types of doubts your are expressing seem to me to be more than just not being 100%.
posted by Alluring Mouthbreather at 8:18 AM on June 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Lots of good points here. As others have said, it's tough to get to 100% on anything; nobody can predict the future. I think it's a good sign if, when going into a marriage, you're very comfortable and satisfied with the process of communication you and your partner have when faced with adversity/difficult decisions/etc. A workable process is different for different people; for me, that means working through issues in a calm manner that doesn't resort to personal attacks on each other. It's the foundation of my relationship with my wife, and so far so good. But I think a common thread in marriages that go poorly is a mismatch in communication styles/expectations that never gets resolved.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:21 AM on June 15, 2016

Here's how I would answer this. People can say very confusing things about their "doubts" as they enter marriage. The truth is, everyone has doubts and questions when they enter marriage. But at the same time, there are two very different kinds of doubts - and it's important to know what kind they are talking about. Most people talking about "doubt" and "sureness" do not make this distinction, but it's important.

The first kind of doubt (Doubt #1) is doubt about the general uncertainty of life in the world and about the way it will feel to be married - something you can't known until you get there. It's normal to wonder how marriage will affect you, whether you really have what it takes to go the long haul, whether you'll be able to weather the storms that lie in your path, whether you'll have regrets that you didn't do this or that other thing and that you're trading in future opportunities for relationships for this one you're committing to now. No one can answer those questions for you or remove those doubts from your mind. They're unknowable until you experience future events. But when you want to be married to someone, and you know you want to be married to them, you assess those doubts and you commit to going forward anyway, because you essentially think they will be a good person to be in that uncertainty with. Confronting those doubts and deciding to marry this person anyway is part of what makes the commitment serious. You will always be taking a chance when you marry someone; it would be ridiculous not to have some wonderings, reservations, concerns about whether it will all work out for a lifetime. This kind of doubt is garden variety, 100% normal, something you can talk about together, and not a sign you should not get married.

The second kind of doubt (Doubt #2) is different. It's the doubt you might feel based on your assessment of this particular partner for marriage. It's about your lived experience of their behavior and your deep, knowing, internal gut feeling about how you feel about them, how much you're able to trust them, how much you like being with them and whether they are able to help you grow as a person in directions you want to pursue. That kind of doubt is marriage-dooming - because it's often based on real, unresolvable differences between people, and marriage will not reduce them. Marriage intensifies everything about a relationship, so it also intensifies those doubts and concerns. They get worse, not better.

Differentiating between these two kinds of doubts is important. And many people are not helpful in helping you learn the difference; they say things like "I really wasn't sure about your grandma, but here we are, happily married, 50 years later!" Well, that was really the first kind of doubt. And you'll sometimes hear people acknowledge that they had the second kind of doubt, and stayed married anyway - a terrible fate, a resignation to a miserable life with someone they now can see was an inappropriate partner.

It sounds to me like you have - and should have - the second kind of doubt. In your brief comment you are already articulating differences in conflict style and a tendency toward jealousy/control - these are not marriage-ready attributes - and you describe the relationship as just "OK." Those thoughts represent the second kind of doubt - the doubt about his appropriateness as a life partner for you. You want a partner that's going to help your life get better, not worse, and those traits aren't encouraging when you think about the problems anyone might face in a marriage (Doubt #1 type problems).

I would not focus so much on sureness. No one is really "sure" (see Doubt #1) because we can't predict the future. I think what people mean when they say "sure" is that they are simply "sure" that they don't have Doubt #2: They are saying "I am sure that my doubts about marriage, the uncertainty of the future, and what will happen to us as a couple will be resolvable because we are fundamentally able to partner in a way that is productive for both of us, and so we can face this long and sometimes scary future together." It doesn't mean they have no fears and concerns, just that they have reason to believe, based on their gut, that their choice of a partner is a solid one.

I hope that makes sense. And I hope you don't marry this guy.
posted by Miko at 8:27 AM on June 15, 2016 [22 favorites]

Oh my goodness, don't marry this dude. I don't know if you're maybe in a culture where women are expected to marry very young? (But since none of your friends are married, maybe not?) But if for some reason there is a strong cultural mandate that you say "yes or no" on living together and marriage the minute you finish school, and you're even a tiniest bit unsure? You go NO.

I strongly suspect that the ultimatum is coming from your snooping, controlling, crush-on-his-ex boyfriend, though, and in that case the answer must ABSOLUTELY be no.

Because here's the thing: If you say no now, but change your mind later? You can most likely still marry him. But if you say yes now, and change your mind later? Well, say hello to the court system. Blergh.

Say no. When some external force is pressuring you to say yes, ALWAYS say no. Because odds are if the external pressure had your best interests at heart, then *it wouldn't be pressure*.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:28 AM on June 15, 2016

It's not the certainty that you need to strive for, it's the uncertainty that you have to pay attention to. Don't move in with him.

I was uncertain about my ex-husband. He lost his apartment and I let him move in. My parents pressured us to marry. I shouldn't have even been dating him. Now he uses my children to try to control me. I had to move across the country with the children to get away from him and he uses the court to continue his abuse. While your situation may not be as extreme, those nagging doubts that you have should never, ever be ignored. I pushed mine aside and my life is not at all what I want it to be.
posted by myselfasme at 8:29 AM on June 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

I meant to say: there is a part of getting married that is entirely about you and not about who you're marrying and has jack shit to do with love*. You have to actually be ready to be married, to live a married life as a married person with all the personal, political, financial, societal, family and career implications that go with. It is not the same as being single, when every decision you make only affects you and you don't have to mitigate or compromise.

And while people have the ability to rise to any occasion and some do, I suspect that relationships that are marriage-minded from the start make better marriages than ones where one or both parties have to become ready from inside the relationship, in part because a lot of low-level structural damage can happen in the process. It sounds like he's already done a good bit of that damage, how much is too much for you? Do you objectively think he's anywhere near ready (to be a fully-involved participant in a marriage, that is)?

*Love is the easiest part. Living a satisfying life together, raising each other up, is much harder work and a much more complicated skillset that doesn't just magically happen because of love. You can love somebody and they can still be completely unworkable for the life you want to live.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:44 AM on June 15, 2016 [6 favorites]

I wasn't 100% sure about marriage. I was afraid that a ring would change things somehow: change my beloved, or change me, or change our choices from wanting to do right by the other to feeling obligated. I think that's the sort of "not 100%" feeling that is a good sign. It's not a doubt about fundamental aspects of the current relationship.

From your description, though, it sounds like you are afraid of things staying the same, of being a little downtrodden by your partner's jealousy and silent treatments and bitterness about the past for the next 50 years. And those doubts seem like good doubts to have. Those behaviors end many relationships and keep people unhappy for a long time. Don't move forward unless you have solid reasons to discount those, like you attend counseling together or similar.
posted by tchemgrrl at 9:00 AM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

I got stuck here and couldn't go any further:

I'll be graduating from the university soon and so we'll have to decide on whether to move in together and (eventually) get married in a few years.

So you are graduating from college. Okay. So what does that have to do with HAVING to move in together and get married????

As far as 100%? Depends on the person. I was 100% sure within 3 days of meeting my wife. We married after knowing each other 5 months. And it's only been up hill from there for well over a decade now...
posted by TinWhistle at 9:03 AM on June 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Just a couple of data points: I wasn't 100% about my ex. It was fine for a while but we had issues. It was never great. And after 11 years, I made him my ex.

I was 100% sure about marrying my (current) husband. I still am 10 years later. I'm still 100% certain he will be my last. No, you don't have to be but I believe it is possible. And you don't have to settle if you don't want to. I'd say the only thing you should be 100% on is that the two of you can - and want to - work together to solve any problems that come your way.
posted by Beti at 9:30 AM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

I really, really liked Eyebrows McGee's answer because I, like her, am not a 100%-sure-hell-yes kind of person. It's not that I'm indecisive, it's just that I think in probabilities and can come up with a potential downside to pretty much any scenario. So: are you a 100% sure type of person? Do you even know (and if you don't, you should probably get to know yourself a little better before getting married)? You might be asking the wrong question.

Anyway, I'm married, and here's how I tried to think of it: envision your life 10, 20, 30 years from now. Is your boyfriend in it? Is it good? Can you see a path from where you are today to that good-with-your-boyfriend-in-it life in the future (this does not mean that it will actually happen this way, just that you can see a path)? If your answer to all these questions is "yes," then you might be on track for marriage. In my case, I realized pretty early on that my answers were "yes," but because I don't rush these things I sat with that for awhile until I reached a level of sureness where I was confident in getting married.

Two more things:

1) My wife and I actually have that exact communication issue, except I'm the one who wants to talk things out quickly while she prefers to take some time. We are both very much aware of the other's preferences in this regard, and we have both made real and significant efforts towards modifying our own conflict style to accommodate the other person. It's not perfect, and it's still something that can cause tension from time to time, and I suspect it always will. But we're both aware of it, and we've both made serious efforts to meet the other person halfway. We try not to cast in terms of "right" or "wrong" - it's just different styles. Have you and your boyfriend done this? Are you willing to work towards him, and is he willing to work towards you?

2) I see a lot of "shoulds" in your question, but very little about what you actually want, and very little about what your boyfriend actually wants. Marriage is a choice. Moving in together is a choice. The people who make these choices are you and your boyfriend. There's nothing "have to" or "should" about it. What do you want to do? What does he want to do? Frankly, the framing of your question makes me think that you would be best served by focusing on yourselves and living apart for awhile. I'm not saying you should break up - I don't feel there's enough information here for a stranger to make that call - but this focus on what you *should* be doing makes me think you have not spent enough time considering what you *want* to do.
posted by breakin' the law at 9:37 AM on June 15, 2016

When you are considering a lifelong commitment to someone, ask yourself: "If s/he never changes from who they are and what they do RIGHT NOW, would I be okay with that for the rest of my life?"

You can't control for how a person changes, good or bad, so there is no sense in worrying about whether and how a person will change. Don't borrow trouble from the future.

It makes sense to wonder in the abstract how an unhesitatingly great match might change in the future, but it makes better sense to be concerned about how a questionably good match might NOT change in the future.
posted by juniperesque at 9:44 AM on June 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have anxiety and am never 100% about anything, but my husband and I getting married was like, duh. Why wouldn't we do that? I had a doubt or two about the vagaries of life, and several about the institution of marriage itself (which I am still working through!), but getting engaged and then married to my husband felt completely obvious. It hasn't changed much about our lives and that's the way I like it.

I'm not sure if this actually answers your question, but I wouldn't marry your boyfriend. You don't sound content with your lives together, and that's what you want. That's what I had and what I still have with my husband.
posted by chainsofreedom at 10:08 AM on June 15, 2016

This was my previous answer.
posted by vignettist at 10:28 AM on June 15, 2016

I'm a planner. This means that I'm never 100% sure about anything. I'm also happily married.

But I would not get married, if I were in your situation.

For me, my biggest concerns about marriage were really difficult problems that might come up, but I had no doubt that we would both do our best to solve them. We dated for under two years before deciding to get married, but during that time we had: traveled together (backpacking style), dealt with bed bugs, the rushed move afterward, buying a house, and dealt with unemployment. So there were lots of stressful situations that we made it through, with our relationship intact.

My doubts were more about issues like having children (we hadn't decided yet at that point), where you can't really stay together if one partner wanted them and the other didn't.

But at this point, it doesn't sound like you trust your partner to be on the same team as you. In that case, I would not marry.
posted by ethidda at 10:32 AM on June 15, 2016

What miko said. Your doubts are #2 doubts. Your boyfriend might grow up a bit but personally if my boyfriend made me feel like they weren't happy with me and maybe preferred an ex I wouldn't feel safe or loved in the relationship.

What has been helpful for me is to picture life with my boyfriend into the future, can you imagine your wedding, having kids with him, living together? If there's a big gap or block it probably means it's not going to work, and in my experience it's the #2 doubts doing the blocking. Trust your gut.

In my present happy relationship, I've had some doubts in the relationship, mostly based on my negative past experiences with boyfriends, so current boyfriend will say or do something that sends me down a path that is not necessarily commensurate with what's going on. When I share my concerns/complaints/crazy fears with my boyfriend he a) apologizes if needed, b) says it won't happen again or takes pro-active action to correct the issue, c) doesn't make me feel like I'm being demanding or unreasonable, and d) continues to treat me with love and respect.

As an example, I tend to do more of the dinner planning and cooking, and I was starting to get resentful when I planned, shopped, prepared, and made dinner alone three nights in a row (in fairness to him he was renovating his bathroom, I was trying not to be resentful but it was triggering my "men are selfish/not helpful" stream of thought). I told him I was getting annoyed on the third night (yes, I could have been more proactive in asking for help), he noted that he was renovating so it wasn't our normal routine but didn't get overly defensive, just noted that, apologized and tried to help with dinner or take me out for dinner right away, cooked for me the next time we saw each other without me asking, and since then has made a point of going for groceries with me or offering me help when I'm cooking around him (and he does the dishes and ALWAYS expresses appreciation when I cook for him which makes me feel good). It's a small example but the sort of thing that for me with past boyfriends could have led to a big fight and continued conflict or passive aggressive behavior into the future.

You can't expect people to read your mind or be perfect, but you can expect them to treat you with kindness (always, really, I didn't realize that when I was younger) and change their behavior when they do things that hurt you, add to your stress, or just really drive you crazy.
posted by lafemma at 10:52 AM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Wanted to chime in and say that you bring up enough serious problems that - were I in your shoes - I wouldn't think this is a great guy to marry.

When I was younger (I'm in my late 30s now), there were two guys who I thought "I'd really like to marry this guy, if X problems improve". X problems were things like you mentioned - specifically that was of handling anger. Also, some money issues.

With both guys, we talked about marriage, and I said "X problems need to improve, if we're going to get more serious and get married". I think both of them just heard "We're going to get more serious and get married". And BOTH of them started taking me less and less seriously, and ignored all my concerns. It's almost as if they both considered it a "done deal" since I'd said I was considering marriage with them. And their true colors came out - even less respectful to me as a person, even more scorn at my opinions, and an even shittier division of emotional labor and expectation that I'd do both mine and theirs.

So I would say my life experience has been that it's only going to get worse, when things like disrespecting you as a person are at play.

My current partner and I are going to get married. We just decided this last Friday, after 3+ years together and both of us being mostly anti-marriage for a number of philosophical reasons (We're poly, and our feelings on that also played a part in being anti-marriage, because of what it means in terms of future partners, so long as poly marriage isn't legal).

The thing that has kept me with him, and decided OK for marriage is mainly one thing: he treats me like a fully-autonomous human being, respects my feelings and my personal agency, and is always mindful of me as an equal. I strongly believe that a foundation of that level of respect is crucial for any successful relationship. It sounds like your guy isn't going to give you that.

Please don't settle for someone who won't give you that.
posted by love in light at 11:01 AM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

After all the long, thoughtful responses above, my quick comment seems inadequate and perhaps glib. I am, however, sincere.

You're in your mid-20s and you've been together "over a year". Frankly, at this early stage of both your life and your relationship, being 100% sure that you want to marry someone would be foolishly naive.
posted by she's not there at 11:36 AM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

The old saw is that the worst reason in the world to get married is unplanned pregnancy. Nope. The worst reason to get married is "It seemed like what we were supposed to do next."

What's the hurry? It doesn't sound like you wanna. But it sounds like you might want to later. So why the rush?
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:25 PM on June 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

I am someone who thinks a lot and has a lot of doubts about people and relationships. But I have never honestly doubted that my husband is a good and admirable person who cares about me, sees me as an equal, and is willing to work with me to fix any problems we encounter. There have been times when he's been careless or thoughtless and it's really upset me, but when I tell him that he apologizes and we work through it. Like Dan Savage says, there's no such thing as the one.

The thing is, you can move in together without getting engaged. If you want to. If you are cringing and thinking "I don't know if I want to!" maybe you sort of don't want to? That's OK too.
posted by beandip at 3:11 PM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Let me tell you: if your relationship has poor conflict resolution now, and part of your plan is to have children some day, becoming parents will only make what isn't good worse.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:14 PM on June 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

I told myself that I was settled happily in the relationship for over 20 years but the doubts never went away. Flip a coin. Heads you marry, tails you don't. How did you feel about the result? Listen to your gut.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:01 PM on June 15, 2016

I'm not absolutely sure that we are the best match and that we could manage to stay in a long-term relationship without at least one of us becoming miserable at some point.

As a person who wants to marry their significant other, I can tell you that I have never had this thought about him. To me, personally, this is not a thought I would have about someone I wanted to marry. I've been divorced, and I wasn't sure I wanted to marry the person, so I pledged that I would never marry again unless I found someone who enhanced my already happily-single life so much that I wanted to keep them in it.

I like to address and deal with the issue right away, while he won't tell me, sometimes for days, what he's been mad about, which is really exhausting and seems immature to me;

This would be a huge problem for me too. A dealbreaker. However, it might not be for everyone. But for me, the silent treatment is a huge pet peeve and I don't respect passive-aggressive behavior. It sounds like a huge amount of emotional labor to deal with.

he's quite jealous; he snooped on my phone at least once, even though he knew that I'm absolutely against this kind of breach of privacy;

That's a breach of trust and jealousy like this can be a precursor of domestic abuse.

I think he might still have a thing for his ex, and he hinted a few times that he was happier with her)

So he has double standards. You better not be phoning or texting other men, but he can hang onto the memory of his ex and taunt you with it.

You have very valid reasons for your doubts. My boyfriend has never done any of these things. Quite the opposite. If he had, I'd be doubting him and not planning to marry him; in fact, would probably dump him. It's so much better to be peacefully single than in a drama-filled relationship.

You don't have to be 100% sure, but I think you're probably not even 90% sure. And I don't blame you. I know it's hard to quantify nebulous attributes like "sureness" that seem binary. But if the good doesn't outweigh the bad, do not marry this person. I think you should read some of John Gottman's work on marriage, and see if you think you and your boyfriend could have the kind he advocates. He says there should be at least five positive interactions for every one negative interaction. Of course, this all depends on the level of importance of the interaction. Five mild generic compliments versus one cuttingly personal insult probably wouldn't qualify.

I'm not 100% sure myself. But my concerns aren't doubts about my boyfriend as a person. They're doubts about marriage itself and whether it's the best decision, because of our somewhat unique financial situations involving things like disability and housing. Logistical, not emotional issues. We're trying to solve them as partners. Do you feel like your boyfriend is a partner to you, or just someone to fill a role you think needs to be filled by, well, someone?

I wish you luck on sorting this out. I hope you won't settle just because you want to be married.
posted by Beethoven's Sith at 12:49 AM on June 16, 2016

Thanks a lot! I never expected so many brilliant answers and I read every one of them carefully. Obviously I have the #2 kind of doubts. Just to make one thing clear (probably I didn't express myself correctly) - I'm not planning to get married anytime soon and there's absolutely no pressure on me to do so. I have never lived with a boyfriend before and that's why I somehow see the moving-in-together-thing as some kind of pre-engagement. And that's not true, of course - thanks for helping me realize that. I know that marriage is not one of the things that you should do just because most people get married at some point in their lives, but it's one of the things that I'm sure I would like to do in the future, provided that it happens with the right person. The problem is that I'm not sure right now if us getting married sometime in the future (say when we're 30) would be a good idea, and at the same time I felt that moving in together would be pointless if I wasn't sure that we are compatible enough to eventually end up married one day. I was hoping that after a year together I would reach at least some level of certainty, but I haven't. I know I need to have a talk about all those issues with my boyfriend, and I will, but I wanted to see what others think about this first. Thanks again.
posted by U.N.Owen at 3:56 AM on June 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

This has fallen out of popularity, especially on MeFi, but I am a holdout to the idea that it's actually better to live separately as long as possible before engagement/marriage. There are some recent studies to this effect (debated, of course) and some reasons that make sense to me why this is a good choice.

Living together works for some people, but for others I think it encourages several bad trends: Being stuck by a lease, taking each other for granted, the more rapid decline of the "courting and dating" phase, less freedom to get out if the relationship becomes abusive, hetero women are often expected to do more housework, encourages people to delay marriage because "it won't change anything anyway", sharing of finances can be a huge mistake, etc. etc. etc.

Also, you've never lived on your own?! You don't want that experience? Really?
posted by quincunx at 8:39 AM on June 16, 2016 [9 favorites]

My take on how you know whether it's right is to take romance out of it for a moment. Think about friends that you've had in the course of your life. There are probably a lot that you like, a few that you love, and one or two that if you had to pick a person to be stranded on a desert island with you'd pick them. If you're dating someone and they wouldn't be one of your desert island picks, you shouldn't sign up for decades of life with them. Being a desert island friend doesn't mean that you won't ever argue, but you know pretty instinctively who'd you'd rub along ok with and who you'd want to whack over the head with a coconut on day two, right?
posted by MsMolly at 6:02 PM on June 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

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