Just The Way You Are
Love is not a do-it-yourself project. So when looking for a spouse, pick one you can live with -- off-the-rack.
Personally, I've always dreamed of a man who came with no assembly required. I am thus continually surprised that so many people seem to think of long-term-relationships as lengthy renovation projects.
"He's great, but I can't wait to update his wardrobe..."
"She's terrific, but as soon as we get married, she'll be interested in more of the things I am..."
Oh c'mon. Don't approach the chuppah with someone you expect to change.
To paraphrase Billy Joel, love him/her just the way they are. There's a simple reason to adopt this motto: the do-it-yourself approach doesn't work!
It's not that your spouse-to-be won't change. In fact, rest assured that the person you marry will not be the same person in 10 years. And neither will you.
In movies, marriage is the happy ending. In life, it's the beginning of a life-long work in progress. You both will change and grow -- and probably expand sideways and lose some hair. But how that change occurs in your partner is beyond your control.
And that should be okay with you.
There's an old cliché that women marry men thinking they can change them, while men marry women thinking they'll never change. Hmmm... I have a sneaking suspicion that there are plenty of guys out there who think their fascination with Home Depot and the NFL can be transferred to their girlfriend. Yikes.
Rest assured that the person you marry will not be the same person in 10 years. Neither will you.
People in love and committed to one another should see clearly each other's phenomenal traits and characteristics -- along with the weaknesses and shortcomings. You have to be able to accept your love's imperfections. Remember: you're imperfect too. (Shocking, I know.)
Loving in spite of or, perhaps more aptly, loving around your spouse's flaws, is that essential pillar of a successful marriage: unconditional love. Both you and your spouse have to feel accepted, as is.
Becoming one in marriage doesn't mean losing yourself completely. The stronger your sense of self going in, the stronger the marriage will be. Don't expect that getting married will necessarily "complete" you. It won't solve your problems, make you a happy person or fill your lack of self-esteem.
You need to feel confident that your partner loves you, flaws and all. Constantly trying to fulfill someone else's image of who you should be is a failing proposition. You have to be comfortable being completely yourself, and confident that your partner wouldn't want you any other way.
Judaism calls on spouses to help each other strive to become the best version of themselves (sounds like something a beauty pageant contestant might say...). That means you want to be able to help your partner channel his/her talents and blunt their imperfections. Playing loving cheerleader or coach is fine in moderation, but it doesn't take a great deal of wisdom to figure out that "drill sergeant" is not a proper role in most relationships.
Inspire and encourage your love to achieve more in their career, to become a nicer person, to dress with more style, to chew with their mouths closed -- if you think they're open to being inspired.
You might be able to help your partner work on the imperfections, but that's not something you can control.
And you need to ask yourself: Can I live with those imperfections?
YOU AND ME AGAINST THE WORLD
A relative of mine has a tendency to make slightly dingy remarks or observations. In response, her husband frequently recalls the great Burns-Allen (husband-wife) comedy team and affectionately comments, "Say Goodnight, Gracie." He views her occasional dizzy flashes as a somewhat charming foible; it makes him adore her all the more. And, like George and Gracie, the couple is a team.
The strongest couples are those who view themselves as a unit.
Experts say that the strongest couples are those who view themselves as a unit, who are drawn together in times of crisis.
Rabbi Aryeh Levine once explained why he was going to the doctor: "My wife's leg hurts us." He understood that, in marriage, two become one.
Can you and your partner comfort one another? Can you place your marriage's long-term well-being above your short-term pleasure or comfort? Can you give freely of yourself to the one you love? Watch out if your partner can't provide you emotional support, or if he/she checks out during difficult times. Run if you're not sure you trust him/her.
As you move through courtship and evaluate whether you want to seal the relationship under the chuppah, you'll want to try to uncover the roots of any strange quirks or bad behaviors.
Spend a few days with your prospective in-laws. With just an ounce of effort and observation, you'll see a number of patterns that made your honey into the complex creature he/she is.
A good friend once told me that love is not an emotion, it's a decision. Marriage, she said further, is a commitment to a commitment. Whether you're deciding whether to ask or whether to answer, you need to know that there's no such thing as a perfect mate.
There's only someone you love, who loves you, who shares your values, and who wants to build a life with you. He/she will be imperfect. At times, the most wonderful person on planet earth. And at times, the most clueless.
What makes a successful marriage is when you're both equally committed during the clueless times. Ultimately, that commitment is what makes you The One for each other.