Friday, June 01, 2007

Pick One

Shrinkwrapped has another interesting post on marriage. I started to leave a comment, that once again turned into an essay:

being able to enter and a maintain a healthy marriage reflects the maturity of the individuals involved

This quote you’ve included from Occam’s Beard touches on a point that I believe a good many of my generation (the tail end of X) are missing, among the others you’ve mentioned: Part of a good marriage is determined by the choosing, not just the maintaining.

I’ve come to the belief, from observing my peers, that the societal unwillingness to make value judgments that has prevailed in the last 50 years has affected their ability to make good relationship choices. They are somewhat mired in the idea that it is unbearably uncouth to set a standard of behavior that they find acceptable in others, and more often than not end up with partners who’s behavior they are unhappy with, due to their inability or unwillingness to ask for better. From my peer group I hear a lot of statements such as “but that would be forcing my opinion on them” and “but they’re their own person.” It seems all well and good for casual relationships, but trying to raise a family or secure a marriage with two people who are determined to not attempt to influence each other spells apathy at best, and disaster at worst.

My friends are aghast when they learn that I quit smoking at my husband’s (then fiancée’s) demand. How could he be so controlling? How could I let myself be judged like that? I recognized that smoking was an unhealthy behavior, and though I did not want to quit, the balance of positive things that he brought to our relationship overwhelmed the discomfort of ending a damaging habit. In marriage we try to enhance each other’s positive behaviors, and eliminate or minimize those that cause distress to the relationship. This process necessarily includes value judgments as to what is positive and what is destructive, and the willingness to recognize that not all parts of a person’s character (whether theirs or your own) are desirable.

This would be more of a non-issue if my peers chose someone with opinions and beliefs closer to their own, but, for whatever reason, they do not. In many cases I believe this to be because they have never examined what their opinions and beliefs are in the first place, and so cannot begin to find someone who compliments them. It seems they are throwing darts blind, and tend to marry whichever one gets hit and sticks around long enough. Or worse, in my opinion, the one who gives them the greatest visceral feeling of romantic love.

The most consternation I’ve caused with my peers when discussing marriage is when I ask what their potential intended will bring to the relationship: What are their long-term goals? Do you think they will continue to succeed in their career? Can they provide a sound household? How do you get along with their family? It is extremely offensive to some that I consider things other than romantic love in evaluating a potential relationship. It seems to be a hallmark of the post-Boomer generations that “love conquers all.” The notion that someone would choose a mate based on the financial benefit or stability they could offer does sound archaic and backwards, but if you think you may want to be a stay-at-home-mom, the choice of a man whose life goal is to be a radical performance artist is a recipe for discontent, no matter how “in love” he makes you feel.

Again, this concerns value judgments. How much do I value a future as a stay-at-home-mom? How much do I value his creativity and spontaneity? What do I think I will value 20 years from now? One needs to load up the alternatives and see how the scales tilt.

Watching those scales, before or after marriage, is something my peer group seems unable or unwilling to do, favoring instead a combination of continuing romantic excitement and perfection without change to bolster their relationships. Unfortunately neither of those factors exists more than fleetingly.


At 1/6/07 1:46 PM , Blogger Teri said...

It's a good post, but it doesn't explain my marriage. When we met in college, my husband was a potsmoking, beer drinking, not into money kind of guy. The one thing I knew was that he truly loved me and that nothing would change that for him.

36 years later, it's still the same. He stopped drinking and smoking. And he still doesn't seem to have a regular job. He works around the house and does a wonderful job of it. And that is enough for me. He'll never look for a trophy wife. If I were injured or sick, he'd be there for me. Sometimes there are other considerations besides money. (And I know that someone who wants a family would need someone who would be a good provider. If we'd had children, likely I would be the one at home.)

Great post!

At 1/6/07 3:24 PM , Blogger Erica said...

Ah, but there were things at the beginning you valued as well. Obviously you weren't entirely discontent with the other factors such as pot-smoking, etc. It seems as if some changes were made along the way as well, and some other things did stay the same.

It seems as if you made an educated choice. I have some friends that really want a not into money kind of guy, but end up with a Wall Street mogul because they were the first thing to make them feel tingly, and they never really though about how it would work out values-wise.

I want a provider and a more traditional guy, so my artistic, coffee-shop-working, Zen Buddhism spouting, perpetual studio living, writer boyfriend, though I loved him dearly, really wasn’t going to work. So I went and got the aircraft mechanic who had a solid education plan up through his doctorate and dreams of a nice house with a big yard.

Anyhow, thank you for stopping by, and congratulations to you on your successful marriage. I’m sure I could learn a lot from your 36 years of experience.

At 1/6/07 8:22 PM , Blogger Dust Bunny Queen said...

I think one of the problems with marriage and young people today (ahem...I'm not young) is that they have the idealistic thought that romance is going to last in the heated all consuming form it is when you first meet some one. This idea is fostered by movies and romance novels.

The reality is that after some time the sex cools down and you start to really see the person you are married to (or living with) warts and all. If you didn't look carefully in the first place at the soul inside the person or had a fantasy of that person in your mind then you become disillusioned not just at him/her but also secretly at yourself. Young people are so superficial. It seems to me to be more so than when I was young. {shrug}

I am lucky. My husband of 15 years (second marriage by the way for both of us) is my best friend. He wants to be with me, spend time with me and is a hard working, intelligent, considerate and loving man. He may not be the most handsome, slender, best dressed guy in town. In the meat market of the world he wouldn't be considered choice (if you know what I mean) But to me he is perfect.

I look at marriage as two people being a team. Pulling the same plow to the same destination. There are lots of ruts and thats when you need to pull together even harder. My first marriage (17 years) I was the only one pulling the plow and was emotionally alone with what the meat market would consider a choice cut.

I thank my lucky stars I met my second husband when I was mature enough to see the real person inside.

At 3/6/07 9:21 PM , Blogger Ymarsakar said...

There seems this cultural attitude from the 60s about the Eternal Child syndrome. How everything needs to always be maintained as the rebellious, adolescent, anti-authority perspective of a child. That one needs never to grow up and be "corporate".

People eventually, I think, found out how fake that was. But some people were stuck on it.


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