Most of the tortured dating discourse that has unfortunately come to dominate the TL recently is from people who just sound scared to me. What parts of myself will I lose if I commit to someone? Will my life become narrow or unrecognizable? What if I choose the wrong person, or can't be a good partner? What if things go poorly and I'm trapped? This is like half of tweets now -- with variations for each gender that allows them to eschew responsibility. Ooo but it feels so good to bust nunts and pretend I'm fifteen. Waahhh it's actually good that I'm well into my 30s and have only become more cynical and jaded with no insight at all except [thing other gender does wrong]. M-m-m mid? She's HOT. Etc....
Before I got married, I stopped listening to anything anyone had to say about relationships unless they were in a relationship I wanted. As a rule, relationship advice is only valid if the person giving it is in an admirable relationship -- otherwise it's invariably muddied with delusional self-justifying cope. We're discourse-deformed, so we've grown used to it, but it's unwise to listen to people if there’s no evidence that they actually know what they’re talking about. Most dating takes are just neurotic, defensive speculations by people trying to “figure everything out” beforehand.
Marriage, like life, is something that can only be understood through the act. It's easy to speculate about the potential downsides beforehand, but it's impossible to actually understand any of the good things, because those good things are latent within the experience itself. The blessings of marriage emerge through a process; it's not something you can understand in advance, like some kind of wizard with a crystal ball; it can't be "figured out" ahead of time with weird rule-making and fear-based "calculations." All of this is idiotic babble.
It's stupid to marry based on any of the things the discourse loves—beauty, money, sex, "compatibility," what this person does for me, and so on—because all of these things can change, often due to circumstances entirely outside of anyone's control. What happens if a car crash disfigures them? What if you lose your good job and can't get another one? These things happen… And when people bail as a result, it's reprehensible. Everybody knows this, but many don’t follow this all the way through. Loving someone for what you get from them isn’t love. And "what you get” also changes; it's different even on a day to day basis. When you marry someone, you'll be married to like five different people over a long enough period.
Thus, marriage has to be about loving the other, as other. An act of continual self-giving; a combination of both rootedness and change; a union with a shared spiritual center; a commitment grounded in something beyond flimsy individual "preference" or feeling. Otherwise it's just a tortured "test" with no real end, at the mercy of unpredictable and unreliable "feelings" and "sensations." It's arbitrary. That's why marriage feels so meaningless now. People think it's about personal happiness. It's not. Using another for "personal happiness" is how you get everything except the one thing most people say they want out of a relationship: love.
Love is fundamentally paradoxical, in that you can only receive it by giving it (and giving it freely, with no "expectation of return," like some sort of monetary exchange). Our relationships have succumbed to market logic: I trade you this for this, and that's "fair." But the love one can access by being humbly self-sacrificial transcends anything one can get by focusing only on one's immediate, "rational" desires. And the person you become on the way is who you are in the image of Love. By loving self-sacrificially, committedly, and in spite of the other’s failings, one receives a joy that is deeper and more profound than anything one can simply “think of.”
A lot of people think marriage is cope -- but there is truly nothing more cope-filled than secular "dating" (which is not even real, a totally made-up thing, ahistorical and confused). Marriage, with God at the center, is actually more realistic than the "wisdom of the world." People will let each other down; they'll change, hurt each other, fall short. Each time these things happen, and repentance/forgiveness doesn't follow, cope is born. It's just that simple. Dating discourse that isn't centered on loving God first makes a God of something else (money, cooming, youth, "the past," “fun”), and this is why it's all so grim. You organize huge chunks of your life in a feverish pursuit of the coom? You want to be "free" so you can work a meaningless job and spend time with a "friend group" who won't care about you when you're 60? It’s desperate and bleak. It ultimately doesn’t work.
When I got married—over and against “reasonable” fear, hesitation, problems, etc—that commitment reached back into my life and transformed it. It gave me an utterly unique kind of relationship, one in which the things I "get" are better than anything I could set as abstract "criteria" beforehand. It’s a dynamic, ongoing process, that reveals itself as it continues, and makes a claim on my life that simultaneously restricts it and opens it up; confines it and infuses it with freedom; takes even as it gives. It’s difficult, but more meaningful than almost anything I’ve done.
I remember one morning getting up at dawn. There was such a sense of possibility. You know, that feeling. And I...I remember thinking to myself: So this is the beginning of happiness, this is where it starts. And of course there will always be more...never occurred to me it wasn't the beginning. It was happiness. It was the moment, right then.
∆ Michael Cunningham, from The Hours