An acquaintance of mine recently got engaged. After contemplating on what a cute couple she and her fiancé made, my mind turned to their different positions in life. He, working a full-time job, she at uni for several more years with no immediate career prospects. But somehow it didn’t seem to be a major issue. Time and time again, I hear of a couple getting engaged and then married while the female half is still studying at uni. ‘Readiness’ seemed to be a concept that applied to men exclusively in many cases.
The whole concept of ‘readiness’ has always intrigued me. For some reason, it’s been cropping up an awful lot lately amongst people I know. As a Social Inquirer, I must confess that I’ve struggled with the term. (Postmodernism and relativism immediately comes to mind, and with them a whole host of other academic footnotes.) The above paragraph refers to financial readiness most obviously, but ‘readiness’ encompasses much more than that. It’s a term often bandied about when relationships fail. ‘Oh, he just wasn’t ready’. ‘In hindsight, neither of us were really ready’. But what does it actually mean to be ready to get married?
I have no definitive answer to that question. For some people, especially men, the question is mainly one of finances. This is due to the emphasis placed in many cultures, and indeed Islam, on men being carers and supporters of their families. Even if a woman works, as the majority do, many men, their families and prospective wive’s families like to know that they have a steady income before they go door-knocking. Much of the familial opposition to a person their son meets of his own accord (e.g. at uni, or through Muslim community events) stems from the fact that they feel their son is just not ready ie. financially stable.
‘Readiness’ also encompasses emotional and intellectual maturity. As you might guess, this is where things start to get really murky. Who deems when a person is in a fit emotional state to get into a relationship? How are you supposed to assess whether you’re fit to be a good partner before you even enter into a relationship? This, then begs the question: precisely how ready do you need to be to even approach someone for marriage?
As someone who firmly believes that emotional and spiritual growth is a lifelong project, I have trouble comprehending the idea that there would be any moment where you’d feel like you’re ‘there’. As mentioned previously, I also take issue with the fact that this type of ‘readiness’ is often underemphasised when it comes to the female half of the equation. Some claim that this is because women mature much earlier than men. Perhaps this is the case; popular discourse and anecdotal evidence certainly screams it. But that doesn’t mean that an eighteen year old female is necessarily ‘ready’ for marriage, or even a twenty eight year old female.
When it comes to ‘readiness’, people tend to fall into one of several categories (forgive me for the cake analogies, I have a soft spot for baking):
1.) ‘Still raw in the middle, total no go’
These people feel that they’re not ‘ready’ at all for marriage, and as such they’re pretty much untouchable. They feel it’d be unfair and irresponsible to get into a relationship while they’re still figuring it all out, and so plan to stay well clear of romantic entanglements until they do.
2.) ‘Still need a few more minutes in the oven, but can be taken out if necessary’
These people will generally avoid romantic entanglements wherever possible, but if it happens ‘organically’ they’re not too fussed. They feel they’re not quite there yet, but that they can get themselves over the line without too much hassle. They keep one eye open for potential partners and one eye firmly on their career/spiritual/ intellectual advancement.
3.) ‘Fully cooked, get me outta here!’
These people are keen to seal the deal. They are generally well-established and feel they’re at a stage in their life where the only thing ‘missing’ is companionship. They’re on the look-out and tend to bring things to a head (i.e. propose and get the parents involved) pretty quickly once they meet someone they like.
4.) ‘Cooking time? What is that?
These people don’t buy into the whole ‘readiness’ thing. They feel that when they meet a person they like, they’ll be ready to meet whatever challenges come together with that person, regardless of what stage of life they’re both in.
At the end of the day, no one can tell you precisely when you’re ready to get married. It’s not a scientific measurement with its own scale. Socially constructed, contextual parameters can and do assist in its determination, but ‘readiness’ is as much a state of mind as it is a concrete state of affairs.
Do you feel ready to get married? When do you think a person can be said to be ‘ready’ for marriage?