These are some selections from Lori Gottlieb's recent book, Marry Me, that I found interesting. They tend to be contrarian and fly straight up against the dominant social norms we come to expect in our "Sex in the City" world:
Women depreciate, men appreciate
“I think the reason some women have an inflated view of themselves is that in high school, they really did have the power, so they grow up thinking it will always be that way. And even in their twenties, they still do, to some extent, because they’re so in demand. A guy will spend all of his money courting her, investing in the relationship, and then one day she’ll suddenly say, ‘You know, you’re a great guy, but I’m just not feeling like this is what I want.”
“In their thirties,” he continued, “it’s the opposite. The girl gives the guy free sex, thinking she’s investing in the relationship that will lead to marriage, but then the guy, who is now the one in demand, suddenly says, ‘You know, I think you’re great, but you’re not who I want to marry.’ And the women are shocked, because guys used to worship them, but the balance of power has changed. And I can’t say I don’t feel slightly vindicated that those same women who rejected me five years ago now complain that they can’t find anyone.”
Weddings as the end rather than as a means to an end
There is an entire industry devoted to fairy-tale weddings and even the newspaper announcements themselves, with their over-the-top “we looked across the room and our eyes met instantly” stories, fuel the fantasy of what love is supposed to look like when we find it. But just as in the movies, these newspaper accounts—the so-called sports pages for women—never tell you what happens in the actual marriage.
Elisa Albert, whose own wedding was featured in The New York Times, knows this all too well. As she put it: “My Times wedding announcement read, as so many do, like a smug sigh of relief.” What followed, though, was a train wreck of a relationship. She was separated within a year, and divorced shortly thereafter.
In her essay in The Modern Jewish Girl’s Guide to Guilt, Albert describes her whirlwind romance leading up to the Times announcement, the fabulous and moving wedding ceremony, and the post-wedding reality that set in as she and her husband realized they were—and always had been—incompatible when it came to marriage. Just as it might be helpful if movies made sequels showing the couples’ marriages, Albert wishes that wedding columns would print “divorce announcements” as follow-ups to all the enviable romantic courtship stories. At least then, she believes, single people would have a better idea of what love is and isn’t.
She has a point. I went through my twenties and thirties saying that I wanted true love, but how could I even know what that was? Married people rarely talk about the reality of their marriages with their single friends, and the only “love” stories most of us see onscreen are the kind where once a couple finally kisses after working out their conflict, it’s like a collective orgasm for the audience. After that, our interest in them deflates. The story’s over. ‘We’re left to assume that these couples go on to happily ever after, but if the couple had so much trouble simply getting together, what makes us think they’ll have more success in holding a marriage together?
Madathil said that when she and her husband got married, “It’s like we started dating at that point—but it’s better than dating, because you know that no matter what happens, you’ll both be there tomorrow. I don’t have to wait by the phone and wonder if he’ll continue the relationship. Ironically enough, it’s the commitment that makes it liberating!”
The focus, she added, goes from “Is this going to work?” to “How can we make this work?” As Madathil and her husband got to know each other, she liked a lot of things about him. She liked the way they talked about things. She liked how they treated each other. But she wasn’t in love with him yet. She fell in love with her husband because of the way they disagreed with each other.
“When everything’s great, it’s easy to fall in love,” she said. “But when you disagree—how you come to a consensus is very telling.
My husband both met and exceeded my expectations. I have never once thought that I could have found someone better.”
How different that was from our culture’s view of love, where having disagreements in the beginning of a relationship seems like the death knell. The beginning of a relationship is supposed to be like a honeymoon. A couple is supposed to feel totally in synch. Any deviation from that is a sign that you’re not compatible. But Madathil is saying it’s not whether you argue—its how you get through the arguments. And the more practice you have getting through those arguments gracefully, she told me, the less you’ll argue later.
Her advice to women who are dating is this: First find a good match, then fall in love. Above all, don’t think you’ve “fallen in love” only to learn too late that it’s a bad match.
People think they have to find their soul mate to have a good marriage. You’re not going to ‘find’ your soul mate. Anyone you meet already has soul mates. Dozens of them. Their mother. Their father. Their lifelong friends. You get married, and after twenty years of love, bearing and raising children, meeting challenges—then you’ll have ‘created’ soul mate status.
Love as a noun and a verb
In Indian culture, people treat “love” as both a verb and a noun. The point is that if you have everything you need in a relationship, but you’re just not feeling it anymore, maybe you’re focusing too much on whether you’re in love (the noun) and not making enough of an effort to love (the verb) your partner. There’s an aspect of love (the verb) that’s a choice. The verb can often create the noun, and the noun can inspire the verb.