Lightning engagements and whirlwind romances are on everyone’s lips right now, after Cheryl Cole announced she had married her boyfriend after just three months together. But is it really a good idea to get married so soon?
People who do often tell us ‘I just knew he was the One’ and ‘when you know, you know’, as we read on threads last week. If you can be certain your partner is the right person to marry, why go through the tedious rigmarole of spending several years together? Except, the thing is, you don’t know. You can’t know. It’s just a hunch.
You don’t marry someone because you find them attractive, although it definitely helps. Nor do you marry someone because you get on well, or because they make you laugh, or because it just ‘feels right’. You marry someone because you are as sure as it is reasonably possible to be that they are the person you want to share your life with, for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health.
You can have an inkling in your first few dates, and you can pick up clues within three months. But I refuse to believe that it is possible to truly know someone, in their bad times as in their good, after such a short time. Human beings are complex and sometimes contradictory creatures, and it takes time to plumb the depths of a person’s soul and truly know if they are the kind of person you should marry.
Of course, you may know someone who got married very quickly and has stayed together for decades in blissful harmony. Maybe you are that person. But all that tells you is that your hunch came up trumps — it doesn’t prove that you were right to rush into things. A hunch is not any less of a hunch just because it happened to be right. Sadly, human beings are flawed and broken — we make mistakes, we misread others, we get it wrong. It is simply irresponsible to trust a hunch after only a few weeks or months together.
It comes down to what we think marriage is; and as Christians, marriage cannot simply be founded on a hunch. It is a solemn covenant made before God, a meeting of the physical, spiritual and emotional as the Father binds two individuals into one. It’s a picture of the Trinity, in its paradoxical unity and diversity. It’s a model of Jesus and the Church, in its sacrificial, self-giving love. It enriches communities, and is the means by which God has given us to add to the human race, through loving families.
Such a thing is important — so important that it cannot be rushed into after a whirlwind engagement. The Church of England marriage service puts it brilliantly: “No one should enter into it lightly or selfishly but reverently and responsibly in the sight of almighty God.”
I worry that those who get married in record time, however admirable their intentions, have misunderstood something of what God intended marriage to be. It is not a tool to indulge our desires, or a way of showing off how in love we are. Whirlwind engagements make a mockery of the idea that covenants before God should only be entered into with humility, after serious and sober reflection.
When dealing with something as profound, mysterious and significant as marriage, it simply is not good enough to say: ‘It felt right, so we just went for it.’ Marriage is about more than just the bride and groom and their potentially misplaced gut instincts. It has to be more than that.
Jesus taught that God joins men and women together in marriage, and for those who he has joined, let no one separate. Let’s not presume we know better than him, and try and jump the gun. Take your time and get it right.