What should a single man do to get to a place where he can pursue marriage? How does he know he’s ready, and how does the woman know he’s ready?
I must admit that this question is an enigma to me. I know of no place that men get to that makes them ready to pursue marriage (Minnesota worked well for me though). A particular man might have a specific goal to accomplish before starting any relationship with a woman, but it would not be transferable. For me, when I could no longer envision my life without Kristen being a part of it, I figured I was ready for marriage. Then all the practical hindrances simply lined up as things to get done so that I could get married. That included things like a formal proposal, meeting her parents, finishing college, getting a job, reading some books on marriage, getting some counseling etc. I think this works for both sexes.
How prepared to support a family do you recommend that a young man be before pursuing a young woman in marriage? (job, school loans paid off, etc.)?
Economics is a real and practical matter, but not the only consideration. Delaying marriage for too long creates its own temptations and problems. And remember, all those preparations (finish school, get a job, save some money) are fleeting preparations. Jobs are lost. Accidents occur. Twins may appear! Savings can disappear. Marriage is a covenant to take on life together, come what may from a wise and sovereign God.
The key is to come up with a plan for supporting yourselves and to be united in it. If possible, it seems best for marriage to be delayed until at least one of the partners can be in the work place. And I strongly recommend living small (used car, small apartment, old sofa, etc.) and paying down school debts as quickly as possible. After all, babies happen! And when they do, the economic dynamics change considerably. In our case, waiting for us both to finish school before getting married was not going to work (the reasons being recorded in the book). We decided to get married after college but before I went to seminary. So for three years, my wife was the main bread winner. But we were united in this arrangement. We agreed that living on pasta and grilled cheese sandwiches together was better than being alone with more monetary comforts. Besides, unless you are living with parents, marriage, with pooled resources, is often cheaper than living separately.
What should a single woman do to prepare for marriage?
Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. This will be quite fulfilling and wonderfully challenging. Living to Great Purpose is God’s plan for us all and prepares us for everything, including marriage, should God provide it. But singles, men and women alike, do well to prepare for it best, to use the words of James 1:27, “by keeping oneself unstained from the world” while finding a place of service in the Great Work of the Gospel, like “visiting orphans and widows in their affliction” (1:27).
My daughter, Megan, is 25, single, and would love to get married, I am sure. But she is engaged in her church, involved in tutoring kids, praying and planning for a variety of missions projects, acquiring job skills, etc. She is well prepared to be a great wife, because she is well devoted to living for Great Purpose, period.
Are there dangers/disadvantages to long "courtships" or long engagements? What do you consider long? What length do you recommend?
Unless two people were in the 8th grade together, long courtships make no sense to me. Really long courtships are usually really doomed relationships. If you meet as freshman in college and you both want to finish school first, you might be courting for 4 years. But that is a relationship that is pursuing a clear plan, and with self-discipline, makes sense. But if you are simply dating a man for 3-5 years, without an engagement and a date certain, that is a relationship that is in a comfortable place and going no where. Like an old chair, it needs to be set out to the curb.
As for engagements, my advice is when you know you want to get married, get to it as soon as possible. I recommend 3-6 months. Given the cultural expectations that families have, 6 months is often the minimum requirement for planning a traditional wedding. I’ve met couples who get engaged and plan for a wedding one year, even two years later. Generally that is hard on virtue and horribly stressful on the relationship. Most of the time the reasons are very material and worldly in nature--also a bad sign. As I wrote in my book, engagements, like the yellow light between the red and green, should be brief. Once you are determined to “Go” step on the gas and go!
Tomorrow, the answer you've all been waiting for...