In every relationship, there is an elephant. A great, big, beautiful elephant.

The “M-word.”

We won’t permit the thought of it, and we would never dare discuss it out loud. When it does stubbornly ease its way into our subconscious, we feel a sense of shame. Perhaps our cheeks will grow rosy. And it most definitely will be locked away in the secret vault within our minds.

Marriage.

The elusive word every young couple refuses to address.

And why?

Dating, in its very entirety, is a vessel towards marriage. We start relationships for the sole purpose to find the highly-coveted, highly-romanticized “one.” So why should we be ashamed of marital thoughts?

And why should we be scrutinized, ostracized, and vilified if the 'm' word dare escapes our mouths? We wouldn't be disparaged if we were in our mid-twenties for articulating such risqué thoughts; we'd be encouraged. And why is that? Unless I was skipped, I never received a pamphlet that laid out life's biggest rules. I'm unaware of any age limit for the exclamation of marital thoughts. But that doesn't matter. While there may not be a statute, or a codified rule regarding marital thoughts, society has certainly set a limit. A limit I'm still unsure of as I write this. I just know, judging by the wrinkled noses and dismayed faces, that this age certainly exceeds 20.

I'm writing this to say we shouldn't be ashamed, nor should we be made to feel ashamed. We've been deemed old enough to date, an act that invariably leads to marriage, so we should be old enough to romanticize marital thoughts, free of worried looks and judgment.

The conception of marriage should always be shoved to the forethoughts of our minds when we begin a new relationship, and by this I mean the mere thought should be existent. I’m not saying you should ramble on about wedding cakes, veils, and table arrangements on your first date. No. Please don’t do that. I’m simply saying the thought should be there.

This allows us to determine who goes and who stays. We should allow our romantic ideologies to guide us. While they may be fun to be around now, are you really sure you can tolerate the way they chew their food with their mouths open forever? Yeah, sure, they're nice to look at, but do you really want someone whose biggest accomplishment is watching an entire television series in a 24-hour period? I bet your preconceived fantasies of marriage includes something better. Look for it. You deserve everything you've ever imagined.

There is a reason we don’t date until we’ve reached a certain age (usually set and enforced by our own parents) — we simply have not reached the maturity level required to date. Dating is a serious matter and shouldn't be treated so flippantly. Once you begin dating someone, you become responsible for them, as well as yourself. You have been entrusted with something so delicate, something so vulnerable. Their heart is now yours, and yours theirs. Their emotions are now in your possession, and you may toy with them as you please. This is not something to be taken lightly. It isn’t ‘fun.’ It’s dangerous. Risky. Potentially disastrous. Catastrophe and travesty are looming on the horizon, awaiting their moment to storm in and steal the show.

Dating can be fun, and by all rights, it should be. But it shouldn't be for fun.

Our culture seems to have forgotten the true meaning of dating. In fact, the term “dating” has nearly been rendered obsolete. We hook up. We talk. We don’t date. And we certainly don't date with the intention of marriage.

Let's return to the days of promise rings and 'going steady.'

Let's stop talking and start dating.

Let's start take dating seriously, because it deserves as much.

But if you are one of the few who still believe in the sanction of dating, in its importance, then please don’t feel ashamed if you look at your significant other and think “I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with you.”

Don’t be ashamed if you can imagine yourself sitting beside them in matching recliners, 50 years down the road, reading the newspaper. Him, the sports section. Her, the news.

Don’t be ashamed.

If you can’t imagine all that, perhaps they aren't the one. Or perhaps you are not ready to partake in such a journey.