My kids have entered the marrying years. This happened much sooner than I might have anticipated. My daughter just got engaged to a wonderful man, which is all very nice. But, this also means that I’ve reached THAT age. That age where I’ve gone from being the bride, or maybe the bride’s maid or matron of honor to mother of the bride. That’s a big transition. It also means I get asked for a lot of marriage advice. Because I am one of the luckily marrieds. I’ve got a little more than a quarter century of good marriage under my belt. So, I have been getting asked over the past couple of years by these, clearly thoughtful would-be brides and grooms (with great taste in mentor figures) just what makes a happy marriage?
I generally say, “Velcro.”
Look, I have been doling out advice to my kids and their friends on this subject for years. Years. When my kids first started the dating years, I would offer my perspective as often as they would let me (which wasn’t as often as they should have, naturally, but still).
Most big life decisions- college, grad school, first job, getting bangs, in the end they don’t matter all that much. You can change colleges, opt out of the grad school, or pick a new job. In my experience you can pretty much do them all at once-- often on a whim. There are very few decisions that we make in life that can’t be done in pencil with a good eraser firmly in hand. (Okay, bangs do take a little while to grow out once you’ve realized the mistake, but the job thing… that one is easily fixed.)
Who you marry, though? Now that one… that one matters. Because there is nothing quite like the comfort and blessing of a good marriage. Marrying John was the best decision I ever made. Pretty much every other good decision flowed from that one.
Likewise, I find that people in the throes of a bad marriage cannot seem to get anything else right either. The choice of a mate fills your days and colors every single thing about your life. This one matters, kids.
If this is such a big decision, how can you be sure that you’re making the right choice? Is being madly, passionately in love the answer? Love is wonderful but it is also, pay attention here, just so not enough.
Also if you love him and you have all these good things about your relationship piled up together, can you just change the few, tiny little, hardly worth mentioning things about him that you can’t stand? Er, no.
Never. Never. Never.
There will always be good and bad parts of the person you’re marrying. Always. The notion that you’ll find the perfect person who is the perfect match is mostly a myth. You’ll have to trust me on this, but you aren’t perfect either. Marrying someone you plan to change though will just make both of you miserable. No one wins when you say, “I love you forever and always… now change.”
Trying to change your partner into something they aren’t, rather than accepting who they are and will become over time is folly at best. And, I believe the medical term is “batshit crazy”, at worst.
I used to tell my daughter and her friends to think of boys like they would a prom dress. The girls might decide that what they most wanted was a lovely, pink, lacy, frilly concoction of a prom dress. Right away, they’d find a dress with lots of lace and lots of frills, only it was mud brown. Hmm. What if you are a size eight, and the dress is a size two, but the price is right? Do you buy that mud brown skimpy dress, bring it home, hang it in your closet and hope it will change? I am telling you the answer better be no. And the same thing goes for the boys.
You shouldn’t bring home a giraffe and hope he will turn into a kitten. It makes everyone miserable. It (he) just won’t fit. (Also, just as a note, box training a giraffe can be awful.)
So, if love is not enough and if no one will change, then what is the secret?
I told you,“Velcro.”
The more points of contact that you have, the stronger the bond.
You want to choose a mate with whom you share lots of commonality. If you are a homebody who relishes family time and you pick a fellow who is a sports fanatic playing on six different amateur teams and following six more teams as a spectator, then you will be unlikely to get your needs met. Likewise, if you love hang gliding, and scuba diving and mountain trekking, choosing a guy who has three thousand books and loves nothing so much as curling up in front of the fire with a book and his cat will mean that your lives will be spent in an uneasy accord.
Look, go on vacation and see if you pick the same activities. Does one of you plan everything out? Do you pick all the trains, hotels and restaurants in advance? Did you buy a bunch of guides and maps while he wants to meander through little towns and just find a B&B that looks cute? Because that’s how life will be. Life and vacation have a lot in common. One of you will be frustrated by all the planning and logistics and the other will get sick to death of spontaneity that results in hotels with shared bathrooms for God’s sake! (Which we would have known about if only we had planned a little better!)
Values matter, too. It is not the flavor of values that matter so much, there is a wide way of living well out there. But it matters that the two of you match. And think about your time. How do you want to spend it? It also doesn’t matter about how you say you want to spend your time. It only matters how you actually spend it. I say I want to weigh thirty pounds less only I keep accidentally forgetting to lose it. Why? Because how I actually spend my time is cooking and baking and thinking about cooking and baking. Which, as you might imagine, leads to eating. I am not a dieter, and I not-so-secretly believe exercise is probably bad for you. So while I may say I want to lose thirty pounds, the person marrying me should look elsewhere if fit is an adjective that they use a lot. John happens actually to be fit, but he’s also by the fire with three thousand books and is pretty fond of the whole cooking and baking thing.
Look at the Velcro. See those millions of little grabby pieces that glom onto millions of little pokey pieces? That’s a marriage right there. Velcro knows what it is, and it works. Velcro does not try to be a pipe cleaner. Or try to be a size two. Or take up hang gliding. It just lets the pipe cleaners be pipe cleaners. You know, it doesn’t even try to be glue. Velcro knows itself. And it knows that what it really needs is another piece of Velcro with just the right pokey or grabby bits and lots and lots of surface contact. The more points of contact, the firmer it will stick.
A good marriage is just like that. Choose wisely and hold fast.