A former student of mine is getting married. She wants to know what she needs to know. Where do I begin?

Being a college teacher can sometimes feel like being a parent. You try to find the sparkle in every one of your students. You try hard to meet each one where they are and pull them out of their comfort zone. You come up with ways to value and nurture the best parts of each of them, while challenging them to push themselves through their weaker areas.

But unlike parents, teachers can have genuine favorite students they keep up with long after their time in the classroom ends. It’s allowed. I still meet regularly with my high school journalism teacher, decades after that first week in the school newspaper office when he said: “You appear to have a facility with words”—a comment that lit the fuse for the career I’d have for the rest of my life.

And so it is that I have a favorite student from a class many years ago. We keep in touch regularly and I have watched, unsurprised and with wild pride, as she fulfills her extraordinary potential at every turn.

It is a privilege to be part of her unofficial team of life advisers and cheerleaders. And so it is with great pedagogical (and maternal) joy that I accepted the invitation to her wedding, where, as her “other mother,” she has asked me to sit with her family and participate in the rituals.

Though it has been long enough—and is now appropriate—that we have become a version of friends, I still feel protective, teachy/preachy, and maternal toward her. And I still think I have a few things to teach her. It is in this spirit that I sought advice from my own wise circle of friends and mentors, about what crucial advice I should give this young (!) bride-to-be (who also happens to be a top-of-her-class newly-minted attorney in possession of a wickedly sharp mind and gigantic, do-gooding heart).

Here are lessons learned, tips and words of advice from those who have been there, to one who is about to make the marital leap. My motley crew of advisers includes folks ages 25 to 85; includes teachers and professors and mental health professionals of all sorts, students, stay-at-home parents, grandparents, writers and journalists galore, an advertising exec, a wedding photographer, a death penalty defense attorney, a New York Times editor, a Hollywood screenwriter, and a guy from our high school who nobody really knows what he does and nobody asks, just to name a few.

Between them there is about 200 years of marriage. Here’s what they said:

Wedding Day Advice:

Weddings are for parents...marriages are for you and your husband

At the wedding, set aside a little time after the recessional to look at each other, no one else, and be grateful that you took that leap. (Good time to get a private plate of appetizers, too—it's hard to nibble when you're glad-handing the guests.)

Don't sweat the wedding…plan on having a marriage.

Tell her to kick back and enjoy herself on her wedding day. Enjoy being with friends and family. Remember that there are tons of folks on hand to tackle any problems that arise. The root of most stress for a bride is when she sweats the small stuff and fixates on minor details. Have faith in those around her, they will handle everything, just kick back and have a good time!

As for the wedding: success is determined by one factor only—whether or not vows were exchanged. Everything else is superficial and can be let go. If vows are exchanged then it is a great day. Period. Nothing else needs to happen, nothing else matters. Everything else is for fun or it shouldn't be there or be worried about.

Go to Paris

“I consulted with my wife. We were both 26 when we got married. Here's our advice eight years later: Do go to Paris. Don't go into debt, unless it's real estate and even then do so carefully. Do consume fancy good and fine booze, but not so much that you can't afford to go to Paris."

Do strong fences make good marriages?

“When I got married at 26, someone gave me the advice to keep some separate credit cards, bank accounts, and other financial stuff in my own name. I thought that it was a horrible thing to say to someone who was just getting married. But, turned out it was great advice.”

“Three tips: Separate bathrooms, separate bank accounts, and separate mailing addresses. Start as you mean to go on. Do things separately as well as together. It gives you something fresh to share by talking about it.”

“Keep some things—and parts of yourself—separate.”

Babies, already?!

“You'll never have enough money or time to have a baby, but that isn't necessarily a reason not to do it. Say you love each other every day, and mean it. If you can't or won't do something, outsource it (e.g. laundry, childcare, driving to the airport).”

Zero tolerance for intolerance

“It’s work.”

“Total self-acceptance. Total acceptance of one's spouse. ZERO self-criticism. ZERO criticism of spouse. Don't get married to change someone. Don't get married to fix yourself. Marriage is not a reward. Marriage is not a resolution. Marriage is one thing only—a learning lesson. As with all learning lessons, they come in two forms: the hard way and the easy way. Acceptance of one’s spouse and oneself, as-is, without conditions, and the willingness to learn and grow into an acceptance of each other constitutes the easy way. Anything else is pain, heartbreak, disaster, etc…Acceptance means no unreasonable or unspoken expectations, nobody is there to make you feel better, nobody lives for you, you don’t live for anybody else, you are the source of love, security, acceptance and total transparency.”

“The only wisdom of any value is experience. Nobody's life ever turns out how they think it will.”

“There is luck. But there is a lot more hard work. Acceptance and self-knowledge are key—not just in choice of mates, but in all life choices. I guess my point is that there is no way of knowing going in. There is no playbook. Go with your gut. Expect to encounter the unexpected. Know that there is the possibility that everything you think is important is really not. Only you can walk your path. Good luck.”

About the Author

Pam Cytrynbaum

Pamela Cytrynbaum teaches at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

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