By Michelle Horton
I'm officially "of the age of marriage" -- meaning my Facebook feed has far less 2am bar photos and increasingly more "I SAID YES!" updates.
Old friends -- my little sister's friends, even -- are Instagramming engagement rings and testing out wedding hashtags. They're planning not only a future, but a celebration -- with excitement and gusto! -- consumed with dress choices and bachelorette planning and wedding budgets.
And I'm over here like, "Do you know what you're getting yourself into?"
I don't want to be "that person," jaded and hurt and bitter, throwing back another glass of champagne before making a sarcastic toast to love... as if love will carry them through.
After seven years of marriage, I have a deeper appreciation and understanding for marriage than I ever did as a young starry-eyed newlywed. But that's the thing: there's so much about marriage -- about the long-term consequences of joining lives with a messy, frustrating human, about the reality of changing alongside a changing partner -- that's impossible to grasp without actually experiencing it.
At this point, I've lived through "worse" times, poorer times. My husband almost died in an extreme example of "in sickness."
Our vows have been sufficiently tested. I know that real marriage is not a reflection of a carefully planned Big Day. Real life doesn't start in a tropical honeymoon.
With that in mind, maybe we're going about engagements all wrong. We're already pairing up when we're out-of-our-mind in love, vowing to always be as considerate and loving as we are in that blinded state. That's crazy enough.
Then we spend our engagements on our best behavior, in a static celebratory state of anticipation. We get married after a few shorts years together, imagining that if things have been good for two years -- even five or six years -- how could it be any different?
No no no, you need to see someone at their worst before you can agree to accept their worst. You have to see them pissed off, sick, wronged and vulnerable. You have to experience some seriously un-ideal situations.
I hereby propose the sh*tty engagement period to really test if your relationship is ready for marriage. Quit making dreamy Pinterest wedding boards and planning fancy dinners, and do some of these instead:
1. Get stuck in traffic for a few hours, and run out of gas miles from a gas station, while you're late for something important.
We can all keep it together when things are going right. You need to witness each other's coping strategies when everything's going wrong.
2. Be together for at least 24 menstruation cycles, at a minimum.
Committing to a lifetime before he sees your full-blown PMS rage? You're rolling the dice, my dear.
3. Watch him take care of a sick, elderly person.
How he treats the old and the young says a lot about his character.
4. Have him take care of you.
You're vowing to stand by each other in sickness and health, so you should probably know if and how he takes care of you during an especially bad sickness.
Does he step up to the plate? Run and hide? Act seriously annoyed and burdened by your illness? You need to know these things!
5. Go on a cross-country drive with him... and his mother.
A two-week drive in a cramped car will bring all of your ugly, cranky, moody tendencies right to the surface. It'll also give you an opportunity to get lost, to blow out a tire, to run out of gas, and anything else that could possibly go wrong.
Guess what, folks? Life is going to go very wrong, and you'll have to navigate it together. Throw in the mother-in-law for added tension.
6. Invite your mother to stay for a week, or two weeks.
Then say, "I'll probably turn into her. Still wanna marry me?"
7. Skip breakfast and lunch, and then go to dinner at a restaurant with really slow service.
See that rage-filled, whiny, miserable man sitting across from you? You'll have to accept that part of him, too. And he'll have to accept your hangry rage as well.
8. Go camping on a cold, rainy weekend.
Forget the tropics; sometimes marriage is damp, grey, and uncomfortable.
9. Have at least one mega drag-down fight.
You can tell a lot about a couple's longevity by the way they fight. And yes, the fights will happen, friends, no matter how calm and respectful and choose-your-battles rational you may be in those first few years.
One day the gloves will come off and you'll see each other's ingrained fight tactics. Does he hit below the belt, saying mean insults meant to hurt you? Does he shut down and give the silent treatment? Does he get too aggressive?
Does he lose his damn mind? Do you? You need to see just how deep the crazy goes before saying you "I do."
10. Have disgusting, violent food poisoning together, in a small apartment with one bathroom.
NOW do you still want to get married?