Do you have to be legally married?

But do you have to be legally married? – @RobertSinn

Of course, the answer is “No.” You don’t have to be anything. But there’s something psychological about being physically married. You go from “what am I going to do with Claudia tomorrow” or “this week” or “this month” to “Where should Claudia and I live fifteen years from now?” And how do we get there together, hand in hand. If you can get that feeling without being legally married then power to you. But for me, I can’t.

The past and the future co-mingle once that marriage certificate is issued. If marriage is a gift then getting legally married puts the wrapping on that gift. It makes the gift pretty.

So that answers: What is the purpose of marriage, but let’s do a quick checklist on The Should You Get Married Checklist:

Ethics. You should both have similar ethical standards. Standards about non-violence, telling the truth, feelings about adultery. Feelings about what you want in life (does this have to do with ethics? Of course, because if you want similar things then you will feel similar feelings of envy or non-envy as the occasion arises).

In New York City, I go to Grand Central a lot to take the train home. Whenever I see a man and a woman kissing right by the train-gates I think one thing: adultery. I would say about 1/3 of New York City marriages are adulterous. That is their business. But why are people taking trains to two different places in the suburbs? It’s because they live with two different spouses. Again, it’s their business. But doesn’t seem for me like the most relaxing and pleasurable way to live life.

Discipline. Do you both work in similar fashion towards your goals? Do you both keep clean? Equal standards of cleanliness are very important. Claudia is very clean, for instance, and I’m disgusting. But I work towards being similar to her. It’s important to me. If it wasn’t, then attraction would subside faster than it normally does in any long-term relationship.

There is a saying, put a dime in a glass jar every time you have sex with your girlfriend/wife the first year. After that, take a dime out every time you have sex. You’ll never empty the jar.

Your goal, if all of these boxes are checked, is to empty that jar as quickly as possible. Equal standards of cleanliness and discipline are part of that after that blissful first year.

Do you both eventually want to move towards a life of material pursuit to one less ambitious, more in tune with contentment? This goes along with religion. If one is into New Age Born Again Christian Astrology and the other is an atheist then these are 100% different belief systems. So this suggests you might have great chemistry but in the long run, even five years out, you might have great problems. (Nothing wrong with New Age Born Again Christian Astrology and nothing wrong with atheism. But they are different).

The notion of contentment is very important. If one side wants to make $100 million and be a high-powered banker in the city and the other person wants to eventually live in a small house by the ocean then, again, the first year might have been huge chemistry but in the long run you’re going to drift to people who have similar feelings about long-term contentment.

C)     Physically. You should always have similar ideas about what constitutes good health and the methods for keeping the good health. If one of you works out every day and the other never does then attraction would be lost fast. Also, the one who works out every day will have consistently higher libido.  And the one who doesn’t work out every day will feel badly about how they look and will end up with lower libido. If libidos are way out of whack then, that’s it, the marriage is in trouble and adultery is around the corner.

Physical also means how much energy you have. If one is filled with energy from eating well, sleeping well, exercising, etc. then the other person needs to keep up. Again, this can all be covered up the first year or two. But in marriage, things like this are seeds that turn into a big tree. And you can be at the bottom of that tree while your partner has climbed the top and is staring out at the mountains on the other side of the river.

D)     Mentally. This doesn’t mean you have to be equally smart, or like the same books and movies. In every Woody Allen movie they all seem to like the same boring operas and then break up at the end. But I do think it means having a similar curiosity, a similar love of having things you are passionate about, a similar eagerness to explore the unknown (and by the way, I’m not saying you should both want to explore the unknown but have a similar predilection one way or the other towards exploring the unknown).

E)      Emotionally. There’s the notion called “splitting the difference” – one side is always aggressive, the other side is always passive. One side always wants to clean the house, the other side always wants to mess up the house. And this difference gets wider after marriage. So there has to be a constant recognition, “Okay, this is where I’m splitting the difference” and try to bring that difference back to even. A conscious decision on both sides. It’s a daily check because it happens every day. You have to consciously think: “this is what she would do,” so you do it first. There’s a piece of dog shit on the floor. I should pick it up first (By the way, I could probably never marry someone with a dog). There’s a light on in the other room. I don’t care but I should shut it down first. And she should be thinking the same way. He probably wants that Amazon Kindle Case so he doesn’t break his Kindle. I’ll get it.

WillingNESS to Surprise. The senses get dulled over time. If someone keeps scratching an itch, it eventually has no effect, or you end up with a bloody scab. You need different ways to approach surprise. To bring you back to that feeling you had the first moment you kissed.

One guy once wrote me last Valentine’s Day and said, “It’s 5PM Valentine’s Day, I have no idea what to do?” I never heard from him again after that but here was my answer:

Try one of these two things. With your handy waiter pad, fill it up with notes of love. Put it all over the house, so that even a year from now she might find a note in an obscure spot. Or make a blog, where every post is a different reason you love her. You can’t ever forget the desire to surprise that you had that first week, month, year.

Spiritual SIMILARITIES. Ultimately, we are all on a path. Not to see who makes the most money. Or who can bowl the most strikes in game. Or who can do the most pushups. But what are the attributes I need to pursue to find contentment in life. You’re 30 years old, say, and thinking of getting married. 60 years is a long time if you think you are going to be in a monogamous relationship that long.

It’s good to check the box that you are on a similar path towards contentment. Not necessarily happiness. I’m happy when I’m eating a big lemon pound cake. But then the cake is gone and I feel sick. But contentment – where everything you have is enough.

By the way, the above checklist is not just to decide if you should get married to X, but if you, personally, should get married at all! You might not be ready to be “ethical” in terms of adultery. You might not have any clue what sorts of long-term goals surrounding contentment you have. Who knows? I just think this is a good starting point.