I felt called to marriage long before I met my husband.
Whether single or married or religious, everyone’s calling in life boils down to that life-giving dynamic of loving selflessly. For me, that call took the form of a deep longing to share life with one specific person — a spouse. So early on — even before I met the man I’d marry — I started thinking about how to prepare myself for marriage.
I yearned to find a love that could spill over into creating a family and nourishing our community. I knew marriage and family life would not always be easy, but I was eager to dive into the unforeseeable challenges and grow along with my future spouse and kids. I even looked forward to the loss of overt romance and the transition to more “boring” ways of giving and receiving love with my husband.
I envied my friends who were engaged by the time they graduated college, and I dreamed of having several kids before I turned 30. But the reality was that I graduated without any relationships lasting longer than three months. I had no romantic prospects in sight, was not sure I even knew how to date, and felt utterly clueless about how to meet people for either romance or friendship in the real world.
These waiting years felt long and frustrating, and to cope with them I brainstormed ways I could prepare for marriage. I tried to think about the kind of wife (and hopefully mother) that I wanted to be, and I tried to find ways to prepare myself to step into those roles. I cultivated skills I thought would contribute to my family life — things like cooking and sewing and budgeting.
Those are all great skills to have as an adult, and I’m glad I took the time in my single years to get comfortable with them. But now that I’m married, I can look back and see how other pursuits were actually more helpful in preparing me for this vocation — in ways I couldn’t have expected.
These activities were making me more loving and generous and human and whole — and bringing those attributes to marriage has been far more important than making the best blueberry muffins around (even though I do make the best blueberry muffins around).
I grew in self-knowledge.
During my single years, I intentionally worked to get to know myself. I journaled, I went on retreats, and I met with a spiritual director. I carefully crafted personal goals and found concrete ways to pursue them. All this paid off: by the time I met my husband, I knew a lot about what I needed from a relationship, my communication style, and the weaknesses he’d need to be able to live with.
Perhaps most importantly, I knew my own core values. Before we even started dating, my now-husband and I had a conversation in which I quickly recognized that we shared those core values. We still had a lot to do to get to know each other better before we’d be ready for marriage, but holding dear the same values helped me recognize him as a potential partner. But I was only able to recognize our common values because I knew my own.
I cultivated friendship.
As it turns out, most of the skills you need in a healthy marriage are also present in some form in our other relationships. In a friendship, you might not need to communicate about the touchy subjects of shared money and child rearing, but you still need to communicate.
After college, it’s harder to make friends; never again is there a mini-community of people all around the same age living within walking distance of each other. So after college, I made a point of keeping in touch with the people who mattered to me, as well as being open to meeting new people where I was now.
I’m deeply introverted, and have been far from perfect at either of these tasks. But my efforts have mattered. Being a good friend to my friends has helped me learn how to be a good friend to my husband. It’s helped me learn how to really be present to another person, how to show love in a multitude of ways, and how to pay attention.
I probably didn’t pray as often or as well as I should have, but I prayed. I prayed that I would marry someday, and I prayed for patience in the waiting years. I prayed for my future husband (if he existed) and that I would meet him. I was often very pouty with God about the dissonance between my perceived call to marriage and the lack of opportunities to pursue that call. But this process of at least attempting to give my heart to God, even in my stubborn poutiness, enabled me to give my heart to the man I would eventually marry.
In my case, it happened to be that I did meet someone and I did get married. But these very human tasks — of being intentional in our relationship with ourselves, with others, and with God — helped me live out not only my future call to marriage, but the call I had during those single years. My life wasn’t on hold until I got married, and these practices helped me grow and develop as a whole person. This is one continuous life I’m living, and it turns out that the skills and qualities I needed as a single person are much the same now that I’m married. Even if I’d never married, these were the things I needed to do to keep growing. They’ve made me better for marriage, sure, but they also just made me a better person. And that’s a solid foundation for following any calling.