I often tell people, when talking about relationships, that I've been very lucky to have at least four amazing relationships. I'm not sure about the fifth, because it was my first "girlfriend" in college, and I think that relationship made me more unhappy than happy. She didn't exactly commit, and I played the role of BFF for a year, and in retrospect felt taken advantage of. This was sadly a pattern I'd repeat in college many times.
But to fall in love and find it to be an intense experience even once in your life is a gift, let alone several times. One of these fantastic women in my life is getting married later this year, and I couldn't be happier for her. She was "all in" when we dated, and knowing her, this is not just something to do next... it's for real.
It's amusing that we used to critique everyone else's relationships, because ours was so awesome. That's sounds douchey, I know, especially if you figure in that we called it quits in less than a year. However, if you think about it, the end of our romantic relationship actually validates our armchair shrink analysis of everyone else. It ended for us because we knew it wasn't going to progress, for a lot of different reasons.
It's not that there wasn't love in our relationship. Far from it. It was mostly issues of circumstance, and to some degree, differences in social lifestyle, that broke us up. It was not for a lack of love.
In my first marriage, we dated many years, and we were engaged for many years, co-habitating and everything. My thinking at the time was that if we did this, we would "obviously" be right to marry. Again, there was no lack of love and caring. Obviously, it still didn't work out.
So what am I getting at? Sometimes people get married when they shouldn't. Statistically, it might be 50% of the time. Love isn't enough. Time invested isn't enough. The hard thing is that if you have the love, and especially if you've got years invested in the relationship, you might feel like you have to get married, out of pride, concern for your partner, or the unwillingness to accept that you may have better options.
It's weird to think about how many divorced people I know. Shit, it's weird to think that I'm a divorced person (although I think you give up that title when you remarry). I'm not going to sit here and tell you I have all of the answers on how to prevent it, but it's strange to think about how hard it is to open your eyes to obvious issues. I'm thankful for the self-awareness that my former girlfriend and I had. It's because of that awareness that I have total faith that her husband-to-be is an excellent choice, and she'll be very happy.
So when do you know? I suspect it's different for everyone. It's probably easier to find reasons to know it's not a good idea, if you're being honest with yourself. Diana and I got to the point of marriage relatively quickly, but it was just so obvious that we made a good team. Our interests, education, financial responsibility, goals, careers, social engagement and interpersonal skills all aligned really well, so when the love and respect came early on, it was like magic. We even like each others' friends, without exception. I always joke that the biggest flaw I could find in her once she moved in was the way she loaded the dishwasher, but that's the truth! I can't think of any relationship, romantic or otherwise, where it was that simple. I suppose I'm very lucky.
The bottom line is that love, in my estimation, is the easy part. It takes a great deal more to make marriage a viable option.