Before You Get Engaged

Questions to contemplate if you're thinking of marriage.

How do I know if I have met the perfect partner?

How do I know if I have met the perfect partner?

Are you holding onto an image of the perfect spouse?

How can I possibly know that my boyfriend/girlfriend will be the right person for me for the rest of my life?

Short answer:  You can’t.  The long answer to this question will be the subject of my blog.  I’ll delve into some of the things you can and should know about your partner and your relationship before you embark upon this wonderful and terrifying journey!  Each blog will expand on a topic that I’ve introduced in my book, “51 Things You Should Know Before Getting Engaged”  (Turner Publishing, 2009, www.the51things.com). 

So let’s get started!

Do you have an idea of what your perfect partner will be like? 

This was the image that I was carrying of the perfect mate:  She was going to be wearing a flannel shirt and jeans.  She’d meet me in a café or bookstore and comment on the book I would be reading-- something obscure and interesting.  She’d say how she had read it too and loved it.  We would then engage in like-minded conversation on life, philosophy, and shared hobbies.  Our chemistry would be easy and wonderful and like a flash of lightning we would both realize we had met the person we would spend the rest of our life with. 

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The actual encounter?  The meeting was a setup by an eccentric friend.  What was our shared experience?  No subtle and obscure literary work or café’ meeting and no flannel or jeans.   We were both opera singers.  We had just finished college and were each preparing to embark on our operatic careers.  I was taking her to a Chinese restaurant, couldn’t find the address and ended up embarrassing myself by not asking for directions.  We walked aimlessly around downtown Philadelphia, all the while I feigned complete confidence as my date asked with increasing skepticism if I knew where I was going.  Finally, by some lucky stroke, we arrived.

The date?  Pleasant enough.  Talked about music, opera, shared friends.  However, she showed little interest in my “intellectual” pursuits of philosophy and science-- said she was interested in people, how they worked etc., but not so much in abstract ideas.  She asked if given my interests I had considered working in psychology and with people.  I laughed.  “Not really,” I said.  “I just can’t see myself sitting in a room all day having people talk to me about their problems.”  It was clear there was an attraction and some initial interest but no flashes of lightning; that was for sure.   

I went out to dinner the next night with the friend who had set us up.  Now first, understand this friend was a very strange, eccentric and wonderful guy.  He asked, “So what did you think?” I believe my words were, “Well, she was nice, interesting, attractive, but definitely not the one!”   His response to me was “Well, I thought to myself, Michael must meet her, he will either hate her, or he will marry her.”   I laughed and took another sip of my drink.  The evening ended.  I walked back to my car and I vividly remember unlocking the door and sitting for a minute before I turned on the ignition.  I thought to myself, ‘that was strange. There is no way this woman is the one, but wow, that would be a crazy story to tell if I did get married to her someday, except I know that is never going to happen.’  I shook it off, turned on the radio, and forgot about the conversation. 

Five years later, I recounted that conversation.  It was the toast that I gave at my own wedding. 

At that time when we met, our images of ourselves were as off as our images of each other.    I now spend my days as a therapist honored that people trust me to help guide them through the obstacles in their lives in order that they might find greater happiness.  And my wife, who had little interest in science, is now pursuing a degree in nursing and midwifery.

If I had gone with my gut reaction that she wasn’t ‘the one’-- didn’t fit the image, I would have missed out on the “soul mate” my wife has become after fifteen years of hard work on ourselves and with each other.    I also would have missed out on the two inexpressively unique and beautiful children we have brought into the world.   

All those years ago, I was fortunate enough to have had certain people around me whose wisdom and guidance enabled me to challenge my images and preconceptions and encouraged me to work harder in order to make myself more vulnerable and not to shy away from confronting myself when things got really difficult in my fledgling relationship.

I am incredibly indebted to these people and in this spirit, deeply wish to pass on some of what I have learned both as psychotherapist who works with all sorts of relationship issues and as an imperfect husband and father trying my best to understand both myself and those I love so dearly.  

Most of us are carrying a deeply held image of the perfect partner.   We end up unfairly comparing the real people that we meet in our lives to the imaginary ideal.  This can leave us blind to the opportunity that is right in front of our eyes.  I was certainly no exception.

Michael Batshaw, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and author of the new book, 51 Things You Should Know Before Getting Engaged.

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