“Don’t get married, unless…” I told my son, now 30, handsome, smart, tall, successful, considerate, a prize. I’ll get to the “unless” part later.
Men and women have different priorities for marriage, generally, and I will make lots of generalizations in this piece, so be forewarned: this is not the Gospel According to Doug, but it does reflect what I’ve observed or learned in sixty-eight years on the planet, including a dozen romances, three engagements, two marriages, this last, glorious one for 27 years so far. Don’t ask for footnotes. Believe my opinions or not, as you will.
Having issued my disclaimer, I continue. Men mainly marry for romance and sex or sex and romance. They are not looking for a wonderfully clean and neat house and delicious meals, though they will accept them as long as they themselves are not required to pitch in and make the place much nicer than a bachelor pad or have meals a lot better than Chinese or Italian take-out or Wendy’s or McDonald’s.
A minority of men marry so as to have children, but most see kids as what their wives want and as a cost of being married to the woman they want. Some men marry for the benefits of partnership, including financial partnership, as do some women, but that situation is likely to change when the kids come along, going from a net positive to a net negative.
Who’s watching the kids? Men would rather not. Some attention to doing guy things with a son or being Dad to Daddy’s Girl is appealing, but not when it conflicts with the Super Bowl or playing softball or basketball or a night out with the guys.
Occasionally, men like to talk with their wives. Occasionally. At home, I have a staff of ten women who supply around-the-clock nursing care for my beloved quadriplegic wife, Tina Su Cooper. I listen to them talk among themselves, and talk with Tina, and I remain amazed at how much they have to say. I married a quiet woman, a blessing for me. She does like to hear me talk with her and joke with her— or so I believe — but I quickly run out of stuff to say, beyond variations on “I love you.” At times I do miss having the longer conversations we once had. One of our nurses follows behind whoever is home, like a duckling behind its mother, talking non-stop. Another nurse gives T.L.C., “Tina Loving Care,” with continuous commentary, and Tina thrives on it. I wish I could, but I can’t. My supply of small talk is too small.
Men do like their wives to be pretty. It’s like a scenic view. Some use this as a status symbol, having the “trophy wife”. Recently, a woman columnist gave the following advice for girls in their twenties for succeeding at work: be as pretty as you can; be assertive; be warm. My advice is: pretty and warm are great; save “assertive” for the workplace; don’t bring it home. Don’t be challenging your man unless absolutely necessary. Don’t talk to your man in a way that would start a fist-fight if another man did so. That does not mean allowing yourself to be pushed around, taken advantage of, but choose your battles and make them few. Men do not want to marry a competitor, but rather a companion.
Opposites may attract, but similarities help keep you together. Although not deal-breakers, these are problematic: spender vs. saver, rich vs. poor, educated vs. not, drinker vs. abstainer, vegan vs. carnivore, believer vs. atheist, sportsman vs. fashionista, merciful vs. just, conservative vs. liberal, thinker vs. feeler, judgmental vs. tolerant, party animal vs. party pooper, doer vs. watcher, striver vs. enjoyer, other-directed vs. inner-directed.
With mutual respect, some of these differences can be bridged. Different perspectives and values can lead to better decisions sometimes, but at the expense of harmony. Rocky and Adrian may well have “filled gaps,” but that’s Hollywood. Wives of retirees have been known to complain that they married “for better or worse” but not “for lunch.“ There’s a reason birds of a feather flock together.
Can’t have half flying north for the winter. My precious wife and I are very similar in many ways, and it has helped us understand each other and agree on goals and methods. Although she is Asian American, she would agree that our “mixed marriage” is less “mixed” due to race or ethnicity than it is because of gender. Men and women are different. Get over it … if you can.
I live in New York State. Discussing marriage law with my own family lawyer, we agreed that currently the laws, rules, and judges here tend to favor women over men. This represents a change from fifty years ago, in some ways warranted, but it makes marriage in this state less attractive for men than previously.
Then, there are the horror stories: The marriages for money, celebrity, fame, looks, status. The birth control not practiced so a pregnancy would occur. Marriage “on the rebound” from a broken prior romance. The bait and switch of a courtship that promises what the marriage forsakes. The homosexual or bi-sexual who uses the marriage as cover. The clashes with in-laws hostile to the marriage. The pitfalls are many and deep.
If we had a daughter, I might tell her much the same things I would tell our son: Happily married is better than single, which is better than unhappily married. Marry for love but consider practicality, as both will be needed. Each partner will seem to give more than get, as each values somewhat differently the inputs and the results. Have a small, pretty wedding, and put what you saved in the bank. Don’t talk about your marriage with others, except when truly necessary. Don’t demean your partner. Live up to all your marriage vows. Marriage can be wonderful, often is, but love and marriage are both fragile.
In fact, I have been married twice. The first brought me eight happy years, a shock [my wife’s affair], and an unhappy two years separating and divorcing. The second marriage has brought me twenty-seven love-filled years and two special sons, from my wife’s first marriage. I consider myself fortunate.
I told my younger son not to get married unless he really wants children or is madly in love—uxorious—as I am with his mother, my most precious Ting.
Douglas Winslow Cooper, Ph.D., is an author, caregiver, and retired environmental physicist. Dr. Cooper’s book, Ting and I: A Memoir of Love, Courage, and Devotion, is available in paperback or ebook formats from amazon.com, bn.com, and tingandi.com.