*I’ve come to the conclusion that we should all have to take classes before getting married.  Seriously. I’ve seen, read about and know too many  people who would never have been more than friends if they’d simply been honest with themselves.  It’s time to stop the madness.  

I’m not talking about quickie classes like those taken to salvage one’s driving record.  I mean a serious course, designed to help people  understand just what they’re signing up for when they propose marriage.     

Matrimony is one of the most significant, life-altering things we can do in our lives.  Yet there is no formal or official preparation for it. Sure, you might consult your clergyman, receive sage advice from your parents or sit with a counselor.  

However, to become a doctor, you can’t simply don a white coat; you have to study.  To fly a plane or operate heavy equipment, you must take lessons. By stark contrast, all you need to get married is a license and a willing partner of legal age.

Marriage School, as I’d call it, would require people to think about it. The course would  become societal law, like saving for retirement or medical check ups. No matter your age, before you could marry, you’d have to show proof of having attended Marriage School.

I know. Sounds a bit extreme.   But before you label me   the unforgiving, never-married cynic, let me just say that I believe heartily in the institution of the healthy marriage.  

But the national divorce rate pierced the ozone layer a long time ago.  The bad marriage has become a subculture of its own dysfunctional making. I am utterly fascinated by the men and women who feel that marriage can’t  be enjoyed; that it is some torturous rite of passage  to be endured purely for the sake of sex (in the beginning, anyway), procreation and a mortgage.

People still get married for patently wrong reasons.  Like: “We’ve been together this long, we might as well;” “The sex is good;” “We already told people we were going to do it;” “He’s ugly, so he won’t play on me;” “This ring right here;” “Dad already put a deposit on the ballroom;” “I’m getting old” or “My friends are married and we all want to have our kids together.”

Or: “He’s a good provider;”  “I may never find another ass like that again;” “I need to take care of somebody;” She’s not a freak;” “I’ll grow to love him;” “She’s got health insurance;” “I don’t drive;” “A woman who dies without  marrying at least once is a failure;” “He dresses well;” “She keeps bugging me about it;” “Mama likes her;” “Because of our busy careers, we’ll  never see one another, so the marriage is safe” or “He doesn’t like sex” and “My kids like him.”

And then there’s: “She’s got a house;” “He cooks;” “She’s quiet;” “He’s smart;” “I just want to get it over with;” “He’s got a big Johnson;” “She’s got a good job;” “I just kind of went with it;” “He’s the first man to give me an orgasm;” “He asked;” “I need somebody to take care of me:” “He’s a freak” or “We look good together.”

Maybe one of these sounds familiar: “We have an understanding;” “I don’t want to die alone;” “I don’t have family of my own and I like his;” “No one else will put up with me;” “He’s a Christian;” “She can cook and clean;” “He can dance;” “She’s got kids and I want to be a father;”  “I wanted out of El Paso;” “He can fix stuff;” “I want  to stay in the U.S.” or “My father liked him.”

While some of those things might enhance a marriage, they can’t be the marriage.  Nevertheless,   on  a foundation that amounts to plywood, more than one couple has  set out to build a marriage that was doomed from day one.  

We should start talking to kids  about the rudiments of marriage about the same time we start talking to them about sex.   I was in sixth grade  when they showed us the infamous sex education film. I’d been waiting  to see this thing for a year. What a letdown.  There was nothing remotely sexy about it.  No sex that I recognized,  mundane narration, a  young adult couple  walking and holding hands and some totally uncalled for footage of a woman giving birth.  

Teachers or someone qualified should explore with pupils  the idea of marriage as something more than  what you do when you grow up. If marriage  isn’t treated as the boogie man, then perhaps it won’t blindside them later as adults.      

And as an adult is when the real lessons would come.  Because to qualify for a marriage license, a couple  would have to attend  an actual three month course.

On the first day of class, a  plainspoken  instructor would casually warn that not every couple in the room will survive the course–a blessing if two people discovered they weren’t suited for one another.

Couples would be implored to rid themselves of  the bullshit fairy tale euphemisms–the knight in shining armor, Prince Charming, the elusive Mr. Right, the almighty Soul Mate and the ethereal notion that a stranger  will fall from the heavens to “complete” them.   

Over three hard-core months, couples would learn that there is no magic, only dedication and common sense.  Marriage, they’d discover,  is not about the  dress, the ring, the wedding, or the honeymoon. Those things are mere symbols of a union to be built on mutual respect, clear and succinct communication, trust, compromise, compassion and the willingness to laugh.   Love, they’d learn, cannot survive without any of those things.

They’d find out that no matter their background or preference, the most important thing each of them brings to the partnership is their individuality. They’d learn that true romance begins with an unflinching, humble  love of self.  

They’d graduate from Marriage School, rich with the knowledge that even the most loving marriage is not perfect, but that if they truly love one another, they can  survive anything, including Marriage School.  

If after all that, the marriage still didn’t work,  once their differences and bitterness subsided,  chances are  those two people would enjoy one hell of a camaraderie.  After all, that’s what they would have learned a real marriage is, anyway–a friendship that caught on fire.  

Steven Ivory is a journalist/author who has covered popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio and TV for more than 30 years.  Respond to him via [email protected]