I have discovered the secret to a happy marriage. Seriously.

I discovered the secret to the perfect marriage, and I didn't even realize it.

A friend recently joked that she couldn't imagine what my wife, Elysha, was thinking when she married me.

It's a joke made often. Sometimes even by me. 

Occasionally people have made this statement absent any humor. They know my wife. They know me. They cannot see how the two of us could ever fit together. Apparently absent of any filter, they say it aloud.  

It's never, "I can't imagine what Matt was thinking when he married Elysha." It's always the other way around.

Perhaps this is the hazard of marrying up.

But I hear it often enough that I started to wonder:

What was Elysha thinking? She's a beautiful woman who is more well liked by people than anyone I have ever met. She is intelligent and funny. She's relaxed and easy-going.

What was she thinking when she married me? She could've had anyone. 

Then it occurred to me:

The secret behind our successful marriage is that we both knew exactly what we were getting before we ever tied the knot.

Elysha and I knew each other for about three years before we started dating.

We were colleagues for two years and then friends for a year. Friends dating other people. 

Elysha had the chance to see me up close in a non-romantic setting. She listened to me speak in meetings. Attended my workshops. Watched me interact with children and teachers and parents and administrators. She read my email. Heard what my colleagues had to say about me. Watched me perform in school plays and talent shows. Spent three days every year at a YMCA camp with me and about 100 fifth grade students. 

She saw me at my best and my worst and everything in between.    

Then we became friends. She had a chance to get to know me on a personal level. She met my friends. Visited my apartment. Learned about my hobbies and preferences and quirks. Uncovered my past. Watched how I treated my friends and my girlfriends. 

Only then did we begin dating.  

I don't know what Elysha was thinking when she married me, but she knew exactly what she was getting. She got to know me when my guard was down. We became friends when a relationship was the last thing on either one of our minds, long before we were trying to impress each other. 

This is the secret to a happy marriage: Know what you're getting. And love what you're getting.

Forget the first dates. The blind dates. The dating apps. The matchmaking websites. 

Make some friends. Spend time with your colleagues. Be patient. Get to know people. Get to know them well.  Get to know them as coworkers and friends before you get to know them romantically.  

Then marry one of them.

Marry someone you knew before romance ever entered the picture. Know exactly what you're getting. 

I know. Easier said than done.