A reader, who happens to be a single man of marriageable age, wrote in to ask me a simple question: "Does anyone out there feel that marriage is worth it?"
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After some reflection, I decided to answer him thusly: A marriage to the right person is worth it. A marriage to the wrong person is not. How does one decide who the right person is? Aye, there's the rub ...
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This is not to say that one cannot determine who the right person is, only that it requires a certain amount of analytical detachment about the relationship that is difficult for most people. Some of the more important factors for a man to consider, in my opinion, are as follows:
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1. Is she a woman of genuine faith? A woman who seriously believes that marriage is a sacrament – be she Christian, Jew or Muslim – will have a very different view of the institution and the commitment she is making than will a secular or casually religious woman. As for irreligious men, I see no purpose in marrying whatsoever – why put oneself at serious risk for a sacrament in which one does not believe? If you're marrying her simply because she demands it, don't be surprised when you're forced to accede to other, even less palatable demands, like a divorce.
2. Does she accept the notion of personal responsibility? A woman who is constantly blaming others for her problems in life will soon begin to see her husband as the source of all her problems. These women always blame whoever they are around the most instead of themselves – if she's constantly complaining about her coworkers or her family, don't even continue to date her. If you do, soon enough you'll discover that she has a new target at which to aim her barbs.
3. Are you comfortable with her? Passion is no substitute for genuine compatibility. Hot sex is delightful, but there is the other 99 percent of the time to consider, too. If you and your potential wife are not capable of several hours in the same room together without talking or otherwise interacting directly, you may not be comfortable enough with one another.
4. Can she entertain herself? Men need their downtime. This becomes problematic if she sees your free time as a violation of her time with you.
5. Does she genuinely put the interests of others first? I love a beautiful, self-centered drama queen as much or more than the next guy, but I would never want to marry one. They're fun to watch ... from a distance. Keep your distance.
6. Do your friends and family think she's good for you? Those around you are not likely to be blinded by the rose-tinted lenses of infatuation and will often have a better read on her true personality than you do. If you find yourself defending her by saying things like "Oh, but you just don't know her," then you are flirting with long-term trouble.
7. Does she attempt to control you? This tendency will only get worse with marriage, so any sign of this in a dating relationship is a red flag. Women have a strong maternal instinct and have a hard time grasping that most men loathe being mothered – can she back off when you tell her to?
8. Does she treat you with respect, in public and in private? If she does, this is an excellent sign. If she's always putting you down, just "giving you a hard time" and "keeping you in your place," better find someone else. Marriage is not a buddy-cop movie.
9. Are you in agreement on the larger issues? If she wants kids and you don't, forget it. If she wants to keep up with the Joneses and you want to save for the future, there is a seed of much future conflict already embedded in the relationship.
10. Finally, do you know her? Really, truly know her? Do you know what she hopes her future will hold, even if she can't articulate it?
Marriage and family are definitely good things. But they are important and life-altering, and are not to be entered into lightly. If you are so fortunate as to find the right woman, don't let shallow concerns get in the way, pursue her and see it through. If neither you nor those close to you harbor any serious doubts about her, then marriage is likely the right decision.