Confession: I am not married, have never been married and may or may not ever get married—future TBD.

But what I do know (in my humble opinion, of course) is that marriage starts way before you say “I do.”

As part of my profession, as well as my personal interests and investment in the topic of love and relationships, I engage in and moderate discussions with people from all walks of life. One of the main theories I hear most regarding the “single until married” debate is, “Once I get married things will change.”

Many people do not go into great detail about what “things” they are referring to, but those who do deliver vague answers such as, “I’m gonna act right” or “do what I’m supposed to do.” It is as if they feel permitted to not live up to the responsibility of being a quality mate before marriage.

I have a friend I’d describe as a serial monogamist. For almost as long as I’ve known him, he’s always had a girlfriend. And for the most part, he’s been just as committed to being unfaithful as he’s been to not being alone.

What’s even more interesting is that he swears he is going to stop cheating once he gets married. I’m not saying that it isn’t possible; I just believe it is highly unlikely.

But to give my friend the benefit of the doubt, I probed deeper and asked him what would change besides his marital status. He simply told me, “You don’t cheat in marriage.”

I found his response to be hilarious because according to eharmony statistics, 50 percent of men and 39 percent of women admitted to cheating on their spouse at some point in their relationship. So if marriage alone was as powerful as my friend thinks it is, I highly doubt folks would be sleeping with other people.

While I understand that engagement and marriage convey a certain level of seriousness that isn’t meant to be taken lightly, it isn’t a cure-all for your relationship issues. Marriage, unlike becoming a parent, does not automatically influence your character. Hell, becoming a parent doesn’t affect people’s behaviors in some cases. You’ve got to be a decent, desiring and committed human being before saying “I do” in order to take it seriously.

When you are serious about someone in terms of romance, your actions will precede any formal ceremony. You understand that signing a piece of paper holds only as much weight (excluding legal obligations) as you have placed on your actions before entering the union.  During the dating process, if you desire to get married, you should be vetting your partner for long-term compatibility. Isn’t that how most people usually arrive at the engagement stage in the first place?

For those who truly desire to be someone’s spouse—which is different from simply not wanting to be alone—you recognize and put in work well before you are married. In other words, you commit before you legally commit.

And for those of you who say, “He or she isn’t getting wife/husband privileges. Who the hell do you think you are?” I’d simply advise relying on your intuition and life experiences. When you do, maybe you won’t be so quick to categorize and hold back on how well you treat someone due to a title.

Shantell E. Jamison is a digital editor for EBONY. She moderates various events centered on love, relationships, politics and wellness and has appeared on panels throughout the country. Her book, Drive Yourself in the Right Direction, is available now. Keep up with Shantell via her website, Facebook, Twitter @Shantell_em and Instagram @Shantell_em