Today is my 2nd wedding anniversary. Since I am about the least (openly) sentimental person I know, readers won't be getting 1,500 words on how great marriage is and how much I love my wife.
Marriage is fine, not that much different than living with somebody except for the financial aspect (which can be a huge problem for some couples, but Eileen and I don't have issues, at least not yet). I love my wife more now than I did two years ago, but not in a dramatic way. I've never once in the past two years thought I made a mistake or second-guessed my decision.
Before we got married, we went to a pre-marriage counseling session where I admitted that I didn't know if I'd have the commitment to stay married forever. This alarmed Eileen a little, but I wasn't being pessimistic. Once I explained it, she understood. I was being realistic. Nobody knows what will happen; anyone who says so is relying on faith, and that's not my bag. Notice I didn't write that I doubted I'd be able to be married the rest of my life, I just didn't know. I'm unable to imagine my life that far into the future. All I know is that I like being married to Eileen, I am looking forward to our son being born in January, and I can't imagine a life without her. That's good enough for now and the foreseeable tomorrows that follow.
However, marriage isn't for everybody. Certain people shouldn't be married. Some realize this; some don't. You can't even always tell when a marriage isn't going to work; although, most of the time you can. Sometimes everything can look perfect and go swimmingly, and one person (or both) just...changes. It happens. I don't think there's anything that can be done about it.
Jane Austen once wrote, "Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance." I would agree that she's on to something, but I would change the word "entirely" to "often." While there's no way of knowing everything that could go wrong in a marriage beforehand, there are some obvious warning flags.
Disclaimer: Reading past this point may cause some married people to be offended. Please remember that this is my opinion only, and I am a total dumbass. None of what I write means your marriage is doomed; in fact, I have no control or influence over your marriage at all (unless I'm a bad influence on the husband because we hang out, drink beer, and watch sports together). If you read on, I accept no responsibility for whatever wounded pride you feel.
Three paths to an unhappy marriage:
1. Getting married because you think you're "supposed to," all your friends are doing it, you're worried about dying old and alone, etc. Desperation is never a good reason to get married. Buy a dog. Go to bars. Enjoy the freedom that married people don't have.
Of course, nobody says these are the reasons they're getting married. But deep down lots of people are thinking these things when they tie the knot.
2. Getting engaged (not married) to someone you've been dating less than two years. Two years may seem like an arbitrary number, but it feels about right to me. The first six months to a year of any relationship are a honeymoon phase. It's after the magic wears off that you find out if you're compatible. The reason I write "engaged" is because once the ring goes on that finger, it takes an act of God to stop the ceremony. There are definitely people who get married just because they're too chicken to back out of the wedding. I personally think it's a good idea to live together for a little while before you're married to see if you can handle their sounds, sights, and smells, but I wouldn't say a marriage is doomed without it.
3. Getting married before the age of 25. People are getting married older and older. Part of the reason is that more of the focus is on their careers, but a lot of it is because the past couple generations are learning from the mistakes (and massive divorce rates) of our parents. You do a lot of changing in your 20's. You are simply not the same person at 28 that you are at 21. Neither is your spouse. With two people going through such a transitional period, they are apt to have conflict and grow apart. It's the same reason you shouldn't get a tattoo of your favorite band as a teenager. You may not like death metal as much when you get older.
As I stated before, you can never be assured a person won't change in a fundamental way, blowing up the marriage. But the odds are a lot more in your favor if you wait until you're a bit more settled and mature. I thought I was sane in my relationships when I was in my early-to-mid 20's. It is easy to see now that I was not. That's the problem with youthful insanity; you can believe something feels right with all your might right up until the moment it all comes crashing down on you, and later you see that it was crazy from the start. Thank god I didn't marry somebody. "Somebody" is even more lucky she didn't marry me.
I would say there's one exception to this one. If you've been going out since high school, and particularly if you survived being at different colleges, and you're still together, go for it. But there's no need to rush. Why not live together for a couple years like heathens, or have a two-to-three year engagement? You have the rest of your life to be married. Be young and fun as long as you can.
And always remember that marriage isn't a guarantee of happiness. As Chris Rock said, we all basically have two choices: "Married and bored, or single and lonely." Just make sure you find the right kind of boredom.