Monday, January 28, 2008


My friend, and more than occasional commenter on my blog, Jim H, posted his thoughts on my recent entry Soul Mates that I thought merited its own discussion.

Jim's blog is called GETTINGtheGIRLS. Before you rush off thinking you're going to learn the secrets to wooing women, I should warn you that the title reflects his and his wife's journey to Ukraine to adopt two teenaged orphans. Our life paths have taken far different courses since they intersected at WTKR-TV in Norfolk, Va. more than a dozen years ago but if, like me, you can appreciate someone's convictions even if they differ greatly from your own, you'll find his blog worth the read.*

He wrote:
Don't mean to be too philosophical about this, but think about our grandparents.

My grandpa worked 35 years at Dow Chemical doing the same thing every day. His work and, from outward appearances, his life was drudgery. But he was a vast human being in every respect.

Today's culture of Me-ism demands that we are "fulfilled" in everything we do. If our job bores us we move on.

Sadly, the same mindset applies to many when it comes to marriage: If my spouse isn't helping me to be happy, then I'm outta here, because happiness is the goal in life.

I've never married so I am, of course, the perfect person to take potshots from the peanut gallery!

I agree that we live in a world in which everything is increasingly disposable. If we don't like something, we can throw it out (or sell it on e-bay or craigslist) and trade up to something new. This includes spouses too. They ain't cheap, though.

Marriages in the old days weren't always as rosy as we romanticize. Back then if you chose your spouse poorly -- if you even got to choose -- you sentenced yourself to a lifetime of physical or mental abuse and you lived in misery until death did you part. Some marriages should end in divorce.

I think there's more than Me-ism involved in today's marriage failure rate. Expectations about many things differed in our grandparents' -- and even our parents' -- times. They expected to go to work for a company and stay their their entire careers. Jim mentioned his grandpa's 35 years at Dow Chemical. My father worked for more than 30 years selling tires for B.F. Goodrich.

People now do not expect to retire from the same company with whom they begin their careers. I've had eight different full-time jobs in seven different states since I graduated college. Jim spent his share of time wandering the roads as a TV news nomad too.

That's no excuse for bailing out on a marriage as soon as tough times hit. People who marry expecting their spouses to make them happy should have never walked down the aisle. No one can make you happy if you can't find happiness in yourself. If in the increasing unlikelihood that I ever marry, I would want my wife to enhance my well-being and occasionally lift me up on the down days. I'd expect to do the same for her. But the woman I marry will be getting a complete, fully-formed, self-reliant person.

I grant you that at -- gasp! -- age -- wheeze! cough! -- 42 now, it took me long enough to get here.

When I mentioned how well my high school friend Jamie and I got along together during my vist last month, we were both on our best behaviour. What made me write her later that I'd love to figure out whether we'd be compatible for longer was how comfortable I felt being myself around her and the sense I got that she was acting with little or no pretense as well.

With anyone I'd have similar feelings about, I'd understand that living happily ever after doesn't mean feeling happy every moment. I'd also want to know that we could disagree respectfully and that we'd give each other the space to be the people we were before we united. You know, the people that that made each of us want to marry the other.

*If Jim ever does create a blog dispensing advice on picking up girls, it will be a smash. To borrow a phrase, the dude was catnip to women.


Jim H. said...

Surely we should expect to have happiness in marriage. But I think most post-moderns have no idea what self sacrifice means and this is something earlier generations lived and breathed.

Every message in the popular culture today screams that self-actualization is the key to happiness, but in my experience (meaning me!), self actualization is just another word for selfishness.

Sure, there were plenty of rotten marriages way back when, but I would be willing to bet that the misery index is much higher now because we've made such an idol of happiness.

That works OK when you're single, but if you take that into marriage and project it onto your spouse, look out!

I just thank God that none of the women in my "catnip" days ever wanted to marry me!

John said...

Another factor at play is that people think that happiness simply happens like magic -- that it's not something they can decide or work at.

Almost two years ago, on the date of my parents' 45th wedding anniversary, I wrote about something I heard on NPR about two people who decided to marry after ONE DATE!

Click here to read my entry from March 2006.

Click here to hear the NPR story.

They could not have known each other well enough to know how compatible they'd be. But the each made the decision that they were going to be happily married. And they were. The NPR story is worth the listen but I'll warn you: On a scale of 1 to 5 Kleenex boxes, this one is a 6.

Jim H. said...

Thanks for the NPR link. That is a beautiful story and one that so beautifully relates why I am trying to say.

They didn't go into their marriage with an escape clause. Theirs was a total committment "in sickness and in health...til death us do part."