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DATING MAZE #303 : Taking the Plunge

February 28, 2010 | by Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.

When is it time to get serious about the idea of marriage?

Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I am a college junior who enjoys school and is doing very well. Because I hope to go to a graduate school program that's difficult to get into, it's very important to me to keep up my GPA and I work hard at doing so. I also have a part-time job. My schedule doesn't leave me much time for getting together with my friends and socializing.

A number of my friends have started to date for marriage, and I even have two friends who are engaged. They seem very excited, but I can't even imagine starting to date with all of my schoolwork. I do want to get married while I'm young, but I don't think this is the right time to even think about dating and marriage.

If I am so focused on school and career, at which point should I step out into the serious dating world?


Dear Miriam,

It seems that you're caught in the middle of two forms of pressure – social pressure because many of your friends have started to think about marriage, and self-imposed pressure to do well enough in college to get into the graduate program that will help you develop the career that's important to you.

Many people would answer your dilemma by encouraging you to forget about the idea of marrying young and concentrate on finishing your schooling, beginning a career, and enjoying as much as you can of life in the process. While that's a workable idea for many people, others find it more valuable to settle down and build a home while they are younger, with the idea that married life can support and enhance the attainment of many life goals. So in answer to your question, we can give you some ideas to help you sort out your priorities and figure out when is the right time for you to begin dating for marriage.

# Most college students enjoy a social life.

Before we get to that, however, we're curious about why your weekly schedule leaves you with so little personal time. What is it about college that seems so hard for you, and so all-consuming? We're concerned about the possibility that you're spending a disproportionate amount of time on your school work and your part-time job. Most serious college students are still able to enjoy some amount of a social life. It's important to be able to strike a healthy balance between your studies and other obligations and your personal life. If you can't do that because you're unnecessarily overloaded with a course schedule or are working more hours than you need to meet expenses, we suggest that you consider lightening your load.

This is an essential point. We are concerned that if you feel compelled to continually postpone pleasurable activities, you could be developing a pattern that will follow you into adulthood. There could always be some “goal” that you've got to reach before you are willing to nurture your personal needs (for time to relax, friendship, companionship, love). With this pattern, once you reach that “goal,” there will always be another one you need to attain.

A few years ago, made a film called “The Jar of Life,” about a teacher who put a large glass jar on the table in front of him. He filled it with about a dozen rocks, and then asked the students if the jar was full. When most of the students agreed that it was, he produced a bucket of gravel and poured as much of it as he could into the jar. He again asked if the jar was full, and about half of the students warily agreed that it was. He then took out a bucket of sand, and poured as much sand as he could into the jar, shaking it so that the grains could find their way into the little spaces between the rocks and the pebbles.

He then asked, "Can anyone tell me what principle I tried to illustrate with this demonstration?"

One ambitious overachiever raised his hand and offered, "You were trying to tell us that no matter how full our lives are, we can always fit something else into them."

"That's not it at all," he replied. "The point of this demonstration is that it you want to get the big rocks into the jar, you have to put them in first. And what are the big rocks? Your family, your friends, your personal life. They have to be prioritized, or you won't be able to fit them into your life."

We hope that you can absorb the message in that story as you contemplate what we have to say about figuring out the right time to start serious dating. While we believe it is very important for you to spend time with your friends, we also agree that this isn't the right time for you to start dating for marriage. You want to do well enough in school to get accepted into the graduate program that's required for the career you've chosen, and you don't feel ready to also focus on developing a relationship at this point in your life.

This is a choice that works for you, and it's a reasonable goal for a young woman. Some of your friends who are becoming engaged may be ready for marriage right now, but that doesn't mean that you and the rest of your peers have to be at the same stage in life as them.

# There isn't a universal timetable for marriage readiness.

There's a lot to be said about two young people who grow together as they build their lives and their family. A number of young women and men are ready to embark upon this journey in their early twenties, but there isn't a universal timetable for marriage readiness. Many young adults are still discovering who they are, figuring out their worldviews and life goals, and learning to become responsible for themselves and others. In our view, these processes are prerequisites for marriage. And even when a young person has pretty much figured out who they are and where they're going in life, they may still need more time to enjoy a life without family responsibilities, or to do something they know wouldn't be possible if they were simultaneously trying to build a relationship.

How can someone like you (regardless of how old you are), who would like to be ready to date for marriage at some point in the not-too-distant-future, figure out when that time will be? We suggest thinking about where you'd like to see yourself in the next several years – in terms of education, career, spiritual growth, personal relationships, and involvement in your community. What are the different paths you see yourself taking to get there? How long do you think these journeys will take? Is there a way to accelerate them?

At what point along the way can someone join you? Are there certain life experiences you'd like to have or goals you'd like to reach before you begin share a life with someone else? At what point in your life can you see yourself doing this? Is it possible that these experiences or goals will be enhanced if you share them with a partner in life?

How do you feel about being more responsible for yourself…and for being responsible for someone else? What steps can you take to assume more personal responsibility? What can you do to share some responsibilities in your family, and to help others outside of your family?

It will take some time for you to answer these questions. Once you do, we suggest formulating a reasonable timetable to accomplish what you feel you need to do before you're ready to date for marriage. And here's where the story about the big rocks comes in: Marriage is the biggest rock of all. It is a person’s most intimate relationship; it is the foundation of having and raising children; it provides a base of mutual support to accomplish great things in life.

Which brings us to our advice for you: Make getting ready for marriage a priority, and build your timetable around that goal, instead of building your life around all of those goals and continually pushing off marriage so that you can enjoy yet another experience or accomplish something else.

We hope these suggestions are helpful, both in terms of finding a healthy balance between your personal life, studies, and job, and in figuring out how you can become ready to date for marriage.

Rosie & Sherry


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