1. I dated other people.
I think many of us feel like good Christians should only ever be in a relationship with their spouse. Like somehow, if you’re holy enough, you don’t end up wasting any relational energy or love on someone you don’t end up marrying. But this wasn’t the case for me, and I’m really thankful for it. I was in several relationships before I met my husband Carl, some great, some terrible, but most of them somewhere in between. And while none of these nice gentleman ended up being my husband, the time I spent with them was beneficial. When I look back at the road that felt so crooked as I walked it, I can see how each one of these relationships prepared me in a specific and necessary way for our marriage.
2. I traveled.
There’s something that changes in us when we travel. Maybe it’s getting out of our comfort zone, maybe it’s the change of scenery, maybe it’s the experiences we have when we’re in a new place, but there’s something so formative about travel. I am a better person because I traveled. I am kinder, wiser, braver, and more loving because of the people I met, and the experiences I had overseas. You can absolutely travel once you’re married. I’m counting on it. But there’s a deep independence and sense of self that is formed when you hit the road alone (or with some really good girlfriends).
3. I made really great friends.
I swear my girlfriends have taught me everything I know. There has been no one else more formative, more impactful, or more involved in my life than my girlfriends. At our rehearsal dinner, we all cried as Carl stood up in front of everyone and thanked my girlfriends for what they’ve done in my life, for what they’ve done in me. I am who I am because of the people I’ve been surrounded by, and Carl now gets to benefit from their investment.
4. I lived with roommates.
I’ve lived in huge houses and tiny houses and tents while traveling. I’ve lived with best friends, and okay friends, and even people who weren’t really my friends. And while not all of the situations are ones I’d want to be in forever, I wouldn’t take a single one back. The first reason is because it’s important to learn to live with people. There’s a selfishness that’s broken away when you share a space with someone – when you need to move your stuff over in the refrigerator so they can have some room too. Close quarters are a breeding ground for conflict, and it’s conflict that teaches you how to be a better roommate, a better friend, and a better person. The second reason is because it’s fun. It’s fun getting to walk into your roommate’s closet and borrow a shirt for the evening. It’s fun to flop up onto the couch with a pizza, a bottle of wine, and Frozen from Redbox. Roommates are the best, and even when they’re not, they’re a learning experience everyone should have at least once.
5. I figured out what I wanted my life to be about.
While I don’t have a 5 or 10 year plan, and I don’t have every detail mapped out, I do know what I care about, what I like to do, and what I want to be known for. Marriage is the process of combining visions – of taking two people’s ideas and coming up with one destination. That’s something to think about when deciding who you want to marry – deciding if where they’re going is where you want to go and vice versa. But if you don’t know where you want to go, that’s a tough question to answer. Before we get married, it’s important to take some time to soul-search, to figure out what we want out of life, and where we want to go. If we don’t, we’re rolling the dice and hoping we married a good driver with a good sense of direction.
6. I fell in love with myself.
The thing I’ve learned about relationships – through lots of trial and lots of error is that no amount of love can overpower your insecurities. When I’m feeling insecure, there’s nothing Carl can say to talk me out of it. No matter how beautiful, or wonderful, or great he tells me I am, when I’m feeling particularly insecure, it’s almost as if I can’t hear him. We have to learn to love ourselves before anyone else will ever be able to. I’ve grown so much in this area, and I’m so grateful because now when Carl tells me he loves me, I actually believe him, because I love me too.
7. I dealt with my baggage.
Every single one of us has some things inside of us that we need to work out. We each have our own particular brand of insecurity, fear, and wounds, and we carry those until we decide it’s time to put them down. Getting married does not solve any of these problems. It doesn’t wipe away wounds or insecurity or fear. In fact, it often exacerbates them.
While we’ll never ever be perfect, something I’m so glad I started to do before we got married was to deal with my baggage. I began sorting through my memories, and my heart, and my mind, looking for things that were broken, or maybe just needed a tune up. I wanted to bring the healthiest version of myself possible into our marriage, and so I worked hard to do just that.
That list isn’t comprehensive, and it’s not a foolproof recipe for success. But it is a reminder for me and hopefully for you to think about how you live your life today — not just for today’s sake, but for tomorrow as well. The decisions we make and the ways we prepare ourselves matter. If we make the most of the time before marriage, we’ll be grateful for the experiences we’ve had and the hard work we’ve done, and so will our spouses.