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Wifey Wednesday: Expectations Around Marriage

Every Wednesday at To Love, Honor and Vacuum we talk marriage! I introduce a topic, and then you either write your own post in response, or leave a comment! That way we learn from each other!

Today I'm going to let the movie Definitely, Maybe launch our discussion. Every now and then a film or book comes along that gets me thinking about marriage in a new way, or shows something that's rather interesting. Definitely, Maybe is definitely not a great film for teaching one how to remain married. It's not even maybe a good film to do that. It focuses on a divorce, and it portrays the child of that divorce as getting over it a little too quickly, and in being primarily concerned that her dad finds someone he really loves. Children don't really work that way. It's like a fantasy to help adults not feel guilty, as opposed to a realistic portrayal of what divorce is really like.

Nevertheless, I did enjoy it, and here's the interesting part: April, a single woman, at one point reveals to her best friend that at some point a light goes on in your head, and you're ready to settle down and have a family and a mortgage. You're tired of the single life and you're now ready to commit. And because you're ready, the person you're with becomes the right person. The person you were with a decade ago wasn't the right person because you weren't ready. So it's more about a person's willingness to commit and settle down than it is about magically finding the right person.

She may be on to something, although personally I'm far less enamoured of the single life than many appear to be. I married at 21, and would have happily done so at 19 if I could have found someone I loved to ask me. But I understand that outside of the Christian context that's not that common!

However, our character April may be on to something, according to Lori Gottlieb in a new infamous article she wrote for Atlantic Monthly called "Marry Him!". She has since turned its popularity into a controversial book, but this single, forty-something mom's premise is this:

MCCALL COVER, JUNE BRIDEImage by George Eastman House via Flickr

When women are young, they're looking for that "perfect" guy. They don't want to settle for something that's not perfect. They don't want a guy who doesn't read enough, or who can't cook, or who doesn't share her sense of humour. So they reject guy after guy, until they find themselves in their late 30s and wanting to have a baby.

Lori Gottlieb had one via the sperm donor route, and quickly discovered that life is hard. It would be so much easier with a partner. And now she wishes that at 25--or even 35--she had not been so picky. She didn't want to settle, but now she wishes she did, because life is more than just a romantic fairytale. Someone else still needs to change the diapers, take the trash out, and help with child care.

She just wants someone to be with, to talk to, to share your life with, but there isn't anybody. Can't she just settle now, though, you ask? I'll let Lori answer that:

No, the problem is that the very nature of dating leaves women my age to wrestle with a completely different level of settling. It’s no longer a matter, as it was in my early 30s, of “just not feeling it,” of wanting to be in love. Consider the men whom older women I know have married in varying degrees of desperation over the past few years: a recovering alcoholic who doesn’t always go to his meetings; a trying-to-make-it-in-his-40s actor; a widower who has three nightmarish kids and who’s still actively grieving for his dead wife; and a socially awkward engineer (so socially awkward that he declined to attend his wife’s book party). It’s not that these women are crazy; it’s that the dating pool has dwindled dramatically and that, due to gender politics, the few available men tend to require far more of a concession than those who were single when we were younger. And while I have a much higher tolerance for settling than I did back then, now I have my son to consider. It’s one thing to settle for a subpar mate; it’s quite another to settle for a subpar father figure for my child. So while there’s more incentive to settle now, there’s less willingness to settle too much, because that would be a disservice to my son.

This doesn’t undermine my case for settling. Instead, it supports my argument to do it young, when settling involves constructing a family environment with a perfectly acceptable man who may not trip your romantic trigger—as opposed to doing it older, when settling involves selling your very soul in exchange for damaged goods. Admittedly, it’s a dicey case to make because, like the divorced women I know who claim they wouldn’t have done anything differently, because then they wouldn’t have Biff and Buffy, I, too, can’t imagine life without my magical son. (Although, had I had children with a Mr. Good Enough, wouldn’t I be as hopelessly in love with those children, too?) I also acknowledge the power of the grass-is-always-greener phenomenon, and allow for the possibility that my life alone is better (if far more difficult) than the life I would have in a comfortable but tepid marriage.

But then my married friends say things like, “Oh, you’re so lucky, you don’t have to negotiate with your husband about the cost of piano lessons” or “You’re so lucky, you don’t have anyone putting the kid in front of the TV and you can raise your son the way you want.” I’ll even hear things like, “You’re so lucky, you don’t have to have sex with someone you don’t want to.”

The lists go on, and each time, I say, “OK, if you’re so unhappy, and if I’m so lucky, leave your husband! In fact, send him over here!”

Not one person has taken me up on this offer.

So what's the point I'm trying to make? I think April was getting something that Lori didn't get until it was too late: when you're ready, you better find somebody to love, instead of trying to find the perfect person. Don't look so much for someone who measures up to your every fantasy; look for someone YOU can love.

Perhaps there are things your husband does that bug you. Maybe you wish that you had found someone more romantic, more wild, more thoughtful, more intellectual, more humorous. The list could go on. But we need to heed what Lori is saying. Life as a single woman is not easy. Marriage has so many benefits, even if your husband does not fulfill every one of your wildest dreams. Perhaps it was not meant to.

Mysterious brideImage by sparktography via Flickr

If you wait to find someone who does, chances are you're going to end up like Lori. Instead, the lesson is to do as April wanted: find someone and love them. Make them into the right person because you have chosen to be with them. That doesn't mean that we should just marry anybody; but it does mean that if you're not happy in your marriage, perhaps we should stop focusing on whether or not he was the right one to marry, and start focusing on how WE can become the right one.

It is hard going through life alone. If you are married, you now no longer have to. That is a blessing. Does the fact that he doesn't take the garbage out without you prodding really make that much of a difference? Does the fact that he belches in bed really matter in the long run?

The more we love, the more we work on ourselves, the more we change the dynamic in the marriage. I have seen Keith and me grow closer and closer together personality wise, interest wise, and faithwise just because we have chosen to walk this life together. It's not about whether or not he meets your every fantasy; it's about whether or not you commit to loving him and walking with him. Nobody will ever meet all your fantasies; but your marriage can become a glorious union when you stop judging him and start being grateful for what you do have.

I know Lori wishes she could trade places. So let's not take our husbands for granted!

Now, do you have any marriage advice for us? Thoughts on how to be sure that YOU'RE the right person, instead of waiting for him to be perfect? Share in the Mr. Linky below, or leave a comment! Let's talk!

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At 8:32 AM , Blogger Terry @ Breathing Grace said…

Good post, Sheila. A welcome dose of common sense in a world where dating has become a carnival with everyone looking for Mr. or Ms. Perfect- neither of whom exist, by the way.

Though I'd bet more women could find someone to love if they watched fewer movies.



At 9:12 AM , Blogger Melissa, Multi-Tasking Mama said…

so true...your post inspired my post and the linky isn't live yet so here is the link

Thanks for hosting Wifey Wednesdays!!


At 10:34 AM , Blogger Tessa said…

My marriage advice to myself is "patience is a virtue." Sometimes my relationship with my husband requires a lot of prayer and patience and forgiveness. When I get to those points that he's driving me crazy by playing computer too late or not taking out the trash, I try to remember all the good things he does. I also start piling trash on the counter to the point that it becomes an eyesore and he cleans it all up ;)


At 12:50 PM , Anonymous Bonnie said…

A little off topic, but this quote from Beth Moore tickled me this week as we are going through our "The Excellent Wife" bible study at my church.

"Submission to your husband is learning how to DUCK so God can smack him."

A whole new look on the subject and a giggle too.


At 1:37 PM , Blogger Burkulater said…

Coming from a girl who married at 21 and got pregnant 1 month later, I can truly say that I'm glad I didn't take the alternate route. My girlfriends are all nearing 30 and still not talking much about having babies, which is perfectly fine, but I'm glad we jumped in head first, so-to-speak! I think our culture is moving into the mentality of having to be "ready" and "knowing yourself," as if you can every really be ready to have kids or know yourself completely. Obviously, if there are serious issues that need the attention of a counselor, it is probably wise to wait.

On another note, I am glad that you mentioned that it is uncommon for children to push their parents to move on to someone else. I've seen this a lot in movies and it certainly ISN'T true. My husband's parents divorced when he was in his 20's and it's still extremely hard on him to see them moving on with someone else.


At 11:15 AM , Blogger Tea With Tiffany said…

Congrats on being nominated for Top 100 Blessed Aroma at Internet Cafe Devotions. :)


At 9:19 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

Thanks, Sheila for your consistently common-sense posts...I always enjoy stopping by to browse your blog. Two of my favourite bits of advice (about marriage) that I'll pass on when I'm asked by younger friends are:

1. To not be so worried about finding the perfect man for you - find a man whose faults you can live with!
2. Sex isn't the icing on the's the grease in the engine that keeps everything running more smoothly.

It is amazing how many of them are surprised by this...


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Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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