14 February 2012

"Marry Him!" Ponderings

I have a really smart (and Mormon) friend named Betsy. Whenever we get together, we end up talking about recent popular articles about dating and marriage since she has written a number of articles on the same (including a chapter in this book, this article and this article). Last time we talked, she told me that reading Lori Gottlieb's book (not just Gottlieb's article by the same name), Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough, might be worth my time. Reading the book made me want to gather a lot of my thoughts, and what better time to share them than on Valentine's Day?

Though I found Gottlieb's interviews, personal experiences, and statistics interesting, there were a few things that really shocked me--such as the fact that a LOT of women, even short women, are looking for really tall guys. Being short myself, I've never thought much about height. There was one time that I went out with a guy and realized that wearing boots made me feel a bit tall next to him, but I never considered height a determining factor in a relationship. Gottlieb has a hard time budging at all on her height requirement even though she is also quite short. And though I have been member to the "he's too skinny" or "he's too chubby" party, I've nevertheless had great relationships with guys fitting those descriptions. Sure, I've also complained about ridiculous things like prematurely grey hair, big pores (I'm rolling my eyes with you), and unattractive shoes, but in the end I've realized those things aren't as important as other things.

Gottlieb discusses the feeling that many people have--that one can eliminate the possibility of a relationship within one date or one email. As it turns out, many of the successful relationships in the book didn't start out with any kind of butterflies. Similarly, a coworker of mine several years ago told me how she had been irritated by her future husband when she first knew him. "The more I got to know him," she said, "the less he annoyed me." I shook my head in disbelief. How come she even gave him the chance to stop annoying her when instead of butterflies, she felt annoyance? I remember wondering a few years ago if I was too old to feel butterflies. But when it really comes down to it, it's not butterflies I'm looking for--it's mutual constancy, support, help, comfortable companionship, and goals. When Mormon Church leaders describe marriage as “a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other,” I don't see a clear link to butterflies, and I no longer think there needs to be one.

Gottlieb also mentions the problem of too many choices. Modern dating is so unlimited in its numbers that it can be problematic. I think we all know the feeling of going to get something at the store and being so overwhelmed by the different choices that we end up making no choice at all. Or, alternatively, we buy one option only to forever wonder if we should have bought another. We don't want to fully commit because we want to try them all, and the same problem can happen when an online dating site or even a Mormon singles conference shows us thousands of options.

Gottlieb's book is great at convincing its readers to go out with people they wouldn't normally go out with, to create soul mates by actively loving them, and to narrow down relationship needs to only three items.

PhotobucketBut Gottlieb doesn't say much about sex. I think she should. As unpopular as a conservative view on sex may be today, according to statistics that my friend Betsy has gathered, people who save sex for marriage are more satisfied sexually. And I think that when both of you wait, the commitment level goes up. After all, you're not giving it away lightly. You're not only asking, "Is this someone I want to be with the rest of my life?" you're also asking, "Is this someone I'm willing and ready to give myself away to that way?" (Basically, I want to quote huge sections of Betsy's articles. I really think you should read at least one.) However, I realize that most readers of this blog (and of Gottlieb's book) have already made a decision about sex one way or the other. To those who aren't as conservative, let me just say that there is such a thing as re-committed virginity and I believe it can be just as rewarding. For the record, I think the idea of sexual faithfulness to one's future spouse is the most romantic notion out there, and it can be realistic as well.

Gottlieb also doesn't comment much on communication, which is something that is so important to me. Every time I watch any kind of chick flick (as well as other kinds of movies, actually), it seems like the conflict can be boiled down to communication. If people would just talk to each other, so many problems would be solved! And can't the same concept be applied to dating and relationships and marriages? There are, of course, horrible communication failures in Gottlieb's book, such as the woman who broke up with a man because he was doing something minuscule that bugged her. When asked if she'd talked to him about it, she said, "No. He should have already known not to do that." If that one thing was all the woman could complain about, how successful could that relationship have been if they had worked on the behavior together? She gave up the rest of the benefits of the relationship because he "should have" known something? Of course the naysayer in us can say, "Well, maybe he would have reacted badly and refused to change the behavior." True. But what if he'd simply said, "Oh, okay. I didn't realize that was annoying"? Or what if she'd learned to look past that annoying behavior, like my friend did?

Fears hold people back from commitment. We fear messy divorces and boring lives, but one of Betsy Vandenberghe's sentences really drove the fact home that I actually want what could be considered a boring life: "[S]o, some bloggers are correct in accusing marriage of lacking excitement, if by that they mean it consists of economic stability, less stress, and fewer doctor visits."

Gottlieb talks about marriage being a business arrangement (arranged marriages are working better than un-arranged marriages, she points out), and how even though that sounds unromantic to modern ears, it's helpful to think of it that way. She's changed her viewpoint from looking for the guy she is proud to show off and who has no issues (not possible) to someone who will help her lead an economically stable life and who will get up in the night when the child cries. That sounds boring when paired with a romantic movie, but it sounds satisfying and safe, doesn't it?

Betsy has also shown me statistics about couples who considered getting divorces and didn't. As it turns out, in the long run, most couples are extremely glad they stayed together. Even after the stress of conflict, spouses enjoy more stability, they're healthier, and their children are happier. Marriage is a piece of work.

Dean Larsen said, “Marriage is not an easy venture. It is largely a one-time-through, do-it yourself project for the husband and wife. I repeatedly encounter the illusion today, especially among younger people, that perfect marriages happen simply if the right two people come together. This is untrue. Marriages don’t succeed automatically. Those who build happy, secure, successful marriages pay the price to do so. They work at it constantly.”

Many marriages today are separated from any religious affiliation, and though the pictures at court houses look lovely in their simplicity, I think there is something truly beautiful and binding about making marriage a religious covenant. After all, religious covenants are more personal than a government's declaration that two are one. They are also stronger than that official oath, because covenants go both ways--we promise God to be faithful to each other and to Him, and He in turn promises to bless us.

Gottlieb's book helped me do some good thinking about what it is I'm looking for and what I need to improve in myself in order to contribute to a great relationship. Though it's a book aimed at women, I think a lot of men (including apostles who keep trying to give motivational talks about getting married) would also benefit from giving Marry Him a quick read.


  1. Excellent post. I think it's right on the money. As a single near-30 guy I have had my own mental negotiations very similar to the ones you described. I think you're right about the butterflies, I'd take not being annoyed over them any day!

  2. I love, I love, I love this post =) Happy Valentine's Day! Again!!

  3. Michelle, this is so spot on!

    I never thought of Chris as boyfriend material (not that he wasn't), until we started to get to know each other on a platonic level. Neither of us is perfect by any stretch, but we compliment each other so well! He for sure helps me improve and that's ultimately what marriage is all about. Growing together.

  4. I love that Michael always LOVES anything you wrote or post. So sweet! I love this post too. And although I haven't been married that long in the grand scheme of things, it is SO true that the constancy, companionship, help with babies in the middle of the night, and the friendship are what I treasure the most about my marriage. Although intimacy is pretty awesome. ;) I will share with you the first part of the story of Crystal and Stuart, because I definitely didn't have "butterflies" with him much before his mission. ;) Great post! Marriage is definitely a leap of faith, one worth taking, especially if you add the Lord to your partnership!

  5. After reading this, I looked back at your comment on my post about engagement planning, and communication is definitely key! I think so many couples start out as friends for that reason. There's no game-playing, no "best behavior" dates, you're already so honest with each other and used to sharing. Even though this is not my particular situation, the honesty and openness was there from the beginning, and for me that was the major difference between this and past relationships.
    You add so many books to my "to read" list, lol. I need to reciprocate soon!

  6. Yes, yes, to all of this. I wasn't impressed by or even attracted to Slice for the first six years I knew him. i never got any "butterflies" that most people think are so important. And now he crashes on the living room floor at 8:30 PM on Valentine's Day, after a dinner of Velveeta shells & cheese.

    He has his faults, and I certainly have mine. But I know he loves me and I appreciate everything he does for me and our little family. Over the years I have realized that love is a CHOICE - a verb and a choice.

  7. Love this post Michelle.


  8. Thank you for all the thanks. I thought my thoughts were rather convoluted, but apparently this post worked out anyway.