You meet someone. Someone special, you think.
You date. There’s chemistry. Then one day, you fall in love. Now what?
It doesn’t matter if you’re twenty or seventy, making a massive commitment to another human gives you pause. Or should!
Forever is a long time. Pledging “‘til death do us part” or even just saying, “I want to be with you forever” is so profound. Not just from the intense pledging of heart and soul, but because in the light of day, anyone’s chances of eternal bliss are, well, less than guaranteed. And the difficulties of extracting oneself from what had been billed as a permanent commitment can be painful – emotionally, financially and practically.
So prepare yourself before plunging. We have to take driver’s ed to get a driver’s license – why not take “commitment ed” before getting a marriage license or settling down for the long term? To make an informed decision before seriously settling down with any partner, ask yourself these 12 philosophical and practical questions:
1. Are we a good match vis-à-vis personal worldview?
In the flush of a new romance, even core differences don’t seem to matter and maybe aren’t even noticeable, as we make huge allowances for new lovers and new adventures. But when we settle in for the long haul, will we discover that one of us is basically a go-along-to-get-along homebody while the other is Elon Musk? Long-term commitment brings everything out, sometimes to an exaggerated extent. And a lot of people believe that as we get older, over time, we become one of two types of people: We either want our world to get smaller and smaller, or bigger and bigger. And that can be an explosive mismatch. So try to take a calm, non-judgmental view of who you and your lover really are as types: What are your basic, broad views of the world and life—and could any differences become magnified over time?
And remember the stupidest words ever uttered at a wedding:
“I’m not worried, I can change him [or her].”
2. Are we both largely non-judgmental and tolerant people? Or do we have limits, where we simply can’t accept people or views we disagree with?
No two people agree on everything – so are we mutually equipped to handle our disagreements? Or will we seethe and boil? Even if we are securely aligned in most views, if my partner is intolerant – even if for all the right reasons – can I spend my life with that person? I loathe rude people, but I also feel for them and assume their outward coarseness is a reflection of some inner sorrow. But my spouse reflexively assumes rudeness is a deliberate affront, and is outspoken, even hostile, to people he/she thinks are acting or speaking inappropriately. Can we be compatible?
3. In a universe where we will inevitably have disagreements and fights, do we seem compatible vis-à-vis dispute resolution?
There’s no one style of dispute resolution that works for all couples. But all couples do need a way to work through disputes. My parents fought and bickered constantly, often heatedly. But then quickly, the storm blew over and they were smiling and affectionate again—and that worked great for them for decades. Other couples never argue or fight, and also seem content for long periods. Do we, the prospective long-term couple, have the ability to sharply disagree and not fall apart? Better yet, do we both enjoy, or at least tolerate, a good debate or argument? Best, do we get pleasure out of disagreeing, as a stimulating form of conversation and intellectual play? After all, isn’t one key to long-term relationship success that the partners continuously discover new things about the other and enjoy the workings of their minds, not because both parties always think alike, but because they don’t?
4. How important is geography or location?
Are we both comfortable being vagabonds for some period while our professional lives settle in? Or do we have deal-breaker requirements, where I will only live in a huge city, but my partner must be within 20 minutes of his/her parents. Or, do I refuse to live somewhere with harsh winters, while my partner is adamant about living somewhere where the seasons change?
5. Do we have a basic shared vision about kids?
Do we even want kids? How many? When?
6. Do we have a shared vision of how we will organize and live after we have a kid or more than one?
For example, does one of us want badly to stop working to be at home with kids? If so, for how long? Regardless of the impact that may have financially? Or do both us feel strongly, we take maternity/paternity leave then go back to work. No career interruptions, even for kids. Even if that means starting day care, or paying for nannies.
7. Do we have a shared vision about education?
Does one of us believe public schools are off the table even if private schools will be a huge stretch financially? Is one of us committed to public school education, even if that means settling somewhere strictly based on availability of great public schools?
8. Do we have a shared vision, or compatible ones, of the role of religion in our and our children’s lives?
Beyond the philosophical questions, there are practical considerations—will we celebrate Christmas? Passover? Will we circumcise? Baptize? Bar Mitzvah? Eat pork? Wear hijabs? Also, more generally, do we share a view about the supernatural? Does one of us believe strongly in angels and miracles—or fairies, chakras, karma, magic or faith healing—that it makes the other uncomfortable or even upset?
9. Do we have a sufficiently shared vision about science, health care and wellness?
Maybe it’s ok if one of us goes to esoteric, non-traditional healers or shamans for various health needs, but is that ok for our children? Are vaccinations on the table?
10. How important is money, now and in the future?
Will one of us be very core unhappy if, by say age 45, we can’t afford country clubs? Frequent family vacations? Dining out all the time? Also, do either of us have financial baggage—bad or good—we need to consider? Huge student loan debt or credit card debt? Existing wealth, or a fat inheritance coming someday, that we need to fence off using a prenuptial agreement?
11. How important is sex?
Are either of us actually ambivalent about sex but that’s hidden now, in the passionate early part of our romance? Do we both have roughly the same open or closed minds about sexuality? Have we actually shared with each other our fantasies and kinks—and if not, are any deal breakers? Can we even discuss these things easily, or is sex talk painful and awkward—with its discomfort potentially lighting a fuse for a future explosion?
12. Are we compatible on neatness and slovenliness?
Is one of us such a neat freak that over time it will drive our partner nuts? Or is one of us such a slob? If the neat freak is happy to pick up after the slob, will the slob resent that or cherish it?
Of course there are no right and wrong answers to these things. And no formulas for compatibility. But if you want to assess whether or not a little advance “commitment ed” can benefit you, ask any marriage counselor:
“How many couples in therapy say, ‘If I only knew then what I know now!’”
That does not have to be you.
Steve Kane is an author and entrepreneur.