Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Settling Downer

Carl Weisman surveyed over fifteen-hundred single men looking for answers to the age old question heard from older, well-meaning relatives; why aren’t you married yet? Only 8% of the men surveyed said they had no intention of ever being married. What the survey revealed is not a gender of playboys, players, commitment-phobes, or losers but a generation or two who learned from the failed unions of parents, friends, and others that a bad marriage is worse then no marriage at all. When interviewed, Carl Weisman reported that the men surveyed were not unhappy with their single status or “walk around all day worried about being married,” but lived happy lives filled with friendships and careers that would be jeopardized by a failed marriage. Some people can argue these men are being too picky, selfish, narrow-minded or egotistical but honestly, don’t we all know a few women who can learn a thing or two from these results?

Know what you want: Maybe women have more pressure to “settle down” and find themselves a good husband, or maybe for some it is the siren song of their biological clock, but far too many women put more time and thought into their next haircut than what they are looking for in a spouse. Defining what you want, and do not want, in a relationship probably sounds unromantic to women who grew up with Cinderella stories and thoughts of princes dancing in their heads, but if you don’t know what you want out of life how will you find it? After a particularly bad relationship in college, a girlfriend and I actually wrote a description of what type of person we were looking to date. Our failed relationships taught us a lot about what we were looking for, and what we weren’t. This silly little exercise helped me avoid some dead-end relationships and bad dates. Why waste time getting to know someone who doesn’t like dogs if your life is incomplete without animals, who wants a large family when you dislike children, or who eats only because our bodies require food when you are a budding gourmet? Knowing yourself, understanding what you are looking to get out of a relationship, and realizing where you are not willing to settle are important ways to gauge whether someone deserves the other half of your mattress for the rest of your life.

Understand you are valuable: Now perfection does not exist but there is such a thing as lowering the bar too far. If you are looking for Dane Cook and you look like a Great Dane, spousal expectations in the looks department might need recalibrating to a more attainable goal. When looking for a relationship it is important to be realistic but also understand “your worth.” Low self-esteem, desperation, desire to escape a situation, or rebounding from a past relationship are just a few of the many reasons women settle for less than they deserve. While we might not all be beautiful enough to snag George Clooney or smart enough to engage in conversation with a brain surgeon, every woman deserves to be in a relationship where she is happy, healthy, loved, respected, and treated well. Everyone is valuable enough to be with a person who keeps their fists, verbal bashing and mental abuse to themselves.

Comfy not necessarily cozy: Do you know people who cling onto a relationship like their favorite old ratty sweatshirt just because it is comfortable? When a relationship gets to a point where you are embarrassed to wear it outside chances are it should be trashed. The time to meet Mr./Ms. Right could pass right under your nose while you are spending time with Mr./Ms. Okay for Now. If your goal is to get married, stop wasting your time with someone who isn’t marriage material.

Compete to Win: From an early age men are encouraged to strive for the best and become winners in sports, academics and friendships. Thirty-six years after the passage of Title IX, which gave women equal access to participate in federally funded educational programs, including sports, a gap in female competitiveness still exists. Parents are often guilty of making boys more competitive and girls more diplomatic, a much more “lady-like” quality. Whether it is because of nature or nurture, women are often less competitive then their male counterparts. Does being less competitive mean women are more compromising within relationships? Compromise is a huge part of a relationship but no one should compromise so much that they lose their competitive edge and themselves in the process.

We’re not picky, we’re savvy consumers: Women receive advice from family, friends, books and other publications to stop being so picky or they’ll never get married. Yet when women are not picky they are labeled as being desperate or easy. This attitude might seem ludicrous and outdated, but I have seen friends berated by their mothers, aunts, sisters and cousins; including one friend whose parents were livid at her inability to “snag a husband” prior to her college graduation, blaming it on her being too “persnickety” with men.

A few writers and pundits are trying to convince women they are too picky in relationships. They should settle for less than true love or, god forbid, risk being alone and giving up marriage, children, a house with a white picket fence, and all the other things women are convinced they should want out of life. Ironically women are encouraged to be more selective with large consumer purchases like cars, but are berated when applying the same level of analysis and scrutiny to men. Those who encourage people to settle in relationships think that being married to the wrong person is better than being alone. Newsflash; there is a difference between being alone and being lonely. True loneliness is experienced not when in a room by oneself, but when sharing a life with a person who might as well be a stranger.

Getting married to avoid being alone does not cure loneliness. Marriage is hard work and marrying Mr. or Ms. “They’ll do” will only lead to regret, disappointment, hardship, and loneliness. Passion, romance and love help couples survive mundane details of marriage and the times when they really don’t like each other very much (and those times happen to even the happiest of couples). Given the alternative, isn’t it is better to be fussy before the wedding then disappointed afterwards? Maybe if women (and men) were pickier in the first place the divorce rate in the United States would not be hovering over 50%.
“In a city of great expectations, is it time to settle for what you can get?”
“Is it better to fake it than to be alone?”
- Carrie Bradshaw, Sex and the City
Know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em: Men have looked at long term relationships and marriages more practically for generations if only for simple financial reasons; women’s gains in divorce settlements meant men had more to lose if a marriage went south. As women gain power and financial equality they hold better cards in the relationship game and consequently, have more at stake to lose in a divorce and more opportunities to fold their hand in hopes of better deal. Many women have the security and the means to keep playing the game, but just like Vegas; sometimes people fold and give up the winning hand in relationships. A good player knows when a hand is for keeps.

Marriage is a journey, not a destination: Women have it drilled into their head by books, magazines, friends, television, culture and religion that marriage must be checked off their to-do list “or else.” Feminists often tout that “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle,” but try telling that to a woman in her thirties infected by baby rabies and dreaming of a wedding and family. Suddenly even strong, successful women find themselves sacrificing their expectations in a partner and marry someone less than ideal to complete the task of getting married. Women then become focused on planning the perfect wedding to the imperfect spouse and forget the wedding is one day and then it is on to the marriage. Men rarely focus on becoming a groom for a day and are more likely to remain focused on what the wedding really is, the first day of the rest of their lives with a person.

Women often hold their boyfriends on higher pedestals than husbands and allow men to “slide” into poor relationship habits after the wedding. Women are equally guilty at some of these changes, putting little effort into the marriage after all the hard work put into the wedding. It is not okay to lower our standards after becoming a “done deal.” Even worse are women who think men will change when they say “I do.” If a man is a jerk before you get married he will be a jerk after the wedding day.

Don’t Worry, Get Happy: It is a vicious cycle for many women who are unhappily single, start dating someone to only find they still aren’t happy and either get dumped because of their unhappiness or do the dumping. Lather, rinse, repeat. Don’t go looking for happiness in marriage if you are not happy with yourself; no marriage in the world will fix that. One of the most fascinating findings of Carl Weisman’s survey of single men is that for the most part they were happy with their lives and did not need marriage to complete them. Women who adopt this same attitude and see themselves as whole without a spouse, who define their happiness through who they are (and not who they are connected with), know what they want out of life, and know what they are worth would rather be alone then settle for anything less than they deserve.


Drew said...

Great post. Couldn't agree more.

Claire said...

That was great!

I'm married, but I was single for a long time first. I got all the same questions from people who had absolutely no business in asking in the first place. Luckily, I came from a dysfunctional home & was determined to not repeat that cycle, so I used the lessons I'd learned & ended up pretty well! That's not to say that I didn't end up with some real losers here & there, though...

I still have some friends who think they are lacking something because they aren't married. That's sad - I had to be happy as myself first before I could be happy as a couple!

Feh23 said...

Fantastic post...and blog!

Explosive Bombchelle said...

Thank you feh, claire and cousin drew. This is something I really feel passionate about. How many relationships fizzle or implode because one person is looking for another to "complete" them. Damn Jerry Maguire!

Mom T said...

If you and you're wonderfu logic were around 35 years ago I might have taken a different turn. Women in my day were looked at as losers who couldn't "get" a man. How pathetic we fell for that.

Explosive Bombchelle said...

And Mom, we are ever thankful for the strides you and your generation made for us to choose independence over interdependence. We need to continue showing women, and men, the importance of being happy as individuals.