Monday, May 16, 2011

Marriage misconceptions

I first decided I needed a girlfriend, then a wife, to be happy when I was in high school. I was 17, and in the throes of some of the worst of my depression, so anybody can already tell that both my plan, and my overall idea of marriage, were flawed. I distinctly remember me telling myself that I was the perfect husband material: honest, kind, devoted, faithful and hard working.

I also told myself that I was not the perfect boyfriend material: I wasn't confident, outgoing, rich or muscled. And so, I figured I would never become a husband and live a perfect, happy life because I would never be able to accomplish the first step of getting a girlfriend who might one day be my wife. But even though I knew that things were hopeless for the boy I was, I still (vainly) attempted to meet and date girls at every opportunity anyway, in case luck ever went my way.

The truth was that my perceptions of myself were completely false:

- I wasn't honest. I kept secrets and lied to keep people from seeing how depressed I was.
- I wasn't kind. I was rude to, or uninterested in, anyone who wouldn't give me something in return for my friendship.
- I wasn't devoted or faithful. I claimed to want marriage for the love, but I really just wanted sex and a woman to fix my life for me.
- I wasn't hard working. I did what I had to in school, work and life, and no more.

I didn't admit any of these facts to myself until my 21st birthday. When I finally came clean and decided to change my life, it took a year of hard work and three more of adjustment to become the man I was before I got married. But I never re-evaluated that old goal by a deluded scrub to marry and have kids, and that's what brought me to the position I'm in today. I maintained those misconceptions all the way up to my wife's conception, and it wasn't until I knew a baby was coming that I realized how wrong I had been about marriage.

Misconception 1 - I need someone to fix and support me, and marriage is the key.
Truth 1 - I needed to fix and support myself, and I was the key.

Any romantic relationship built upon one-sided caretaking is doomed to fail.

With my first girlfriend, when I was in the inferior position, I didn't realize the damage I was doing not only to her, but to myself. I was forcing her to support me while I did little to help myself, which was completely unfair to her, and I was left getting more complacent and unhappy every day. When I was in the superior position in my marriage, I found myself feeling jaded and underappreciated for all the effort I put into my wife's problems, while she just took and took. Sometimes, I still feel like this.

And even when it comes to a marriage where each person takes care of the other's problems, I likewise fail to see the appeal. For me, as an adult, I can support myself emotionally and financially, no matter what happens. Two weeks after I got abroad, marriage had nothing to offer me, and everything to take.

Getting married for the support, to put it bluntly, is scuzzy. I found myself saying things like this when I was younger:

"I want someone who's always there for me."
"I want someone to take care of me when I'm older."
"I want someone to stand by my side and face the challenges of life with me."

To accept help from someone when I have no other option is fine to me, of course; I've been helped by more than a few people in my life, and I applaud anyone who has the humility to admit their faults and be helped by others. But to force the support from people with marriage? Contractually and morally obligating someone to become my caregiver, instead of trusting my best friend in the world to support me?

If someone truly loves me, I shouldn't need a marriage contract to re-affirm that they'll be there for me when I need them, and I shouldn't need the unspoken threat of financial ruin, homelessness and social stigmatization (divorce) to assure that I get what I want.

Contracting a husband or wife to provide emotional care is lazy, weak and pathetic at best, selfish and manipulative at worst.

Misconception 2 - I'll have more money with a double income.
Truth 2 - I have more debts with a wife.

I have described my financial situation, and in all honesty, things could be worse. My wife could be a spender, a golddigger, obsessed with name brands, or sending presents to friends all over the country that I never see. But she isn't and doesn't. My son could have health problems, expensive tastes, or a mother who spoils him. But he doesn't.

And even saying this, I still make less than 10% of the take home pay that I made before I got married ($100 a month compared to $1500 a month). Tax breaks and a double income don't even begin to make up the money I need to spend on keeping my wife, her family, and our son (mostly her and her family).

Misconception 3 - Marriage means free, plentiful sex.
Truth 3 - Marriage means mechanical sex, which is neither free nor plentiful.

From five times a week to once every month or two. That's what happened after my wife and I got married. It's always something popping up or affecting her mood that keeps us from being together, and since she holds the keys to our sex life, seeing as how I'm always ready and she always has issues coming up, I'm the one who suffers for it.

And because my wife unconsciously knows that sex is a bargaining chip to make me do as she wants (because she holds a monopoly on the people I have sex with, and why would you sleep with someone that you were fighting with?), my sex life is more of a detriment to my overall happiness than something I enjoy or look forward to. It's just another way of getting me to do more things I don't want to do. Four or five years of sexual rejection later, I started rejecting her to keep her from dominating my life in exchange for access to her body.

As for the price, see Misconception 2.

Misconception 4 - I love companionship, so I should get married.
Truth 4 - I love companionship.

I've had talks, walks and experiences with my best friend, my bud, other friends, classmates, family, even strangers that were almost mystical in how deeply they affected me. I have brought light to more than a few of these people in my life, as well. I never married any of these people, either, and still, the times we shared were just as special as my wife and I's best moments.

I'm happiest when I'm around others, true. But that doesn't mean I needed to marry my sister or my guinea pig. In fact, when I was around someone that I liked being around, but they were being irrationally rude or selfish and not listening to my advice on how to change, I just left them alone for a while and came back later. But this isn't possible with marriage; if my wife's in a bad mood, I have no place to go, and nobody else to talk to.

I was lonely before I changed my life at 21, but after that, I never was. And that's because I realized an important fact about life: any time I felt lonely in my scrubby days wasn't because I wasn't married. It was because I was living life wrong. I didn't have to take on all the sacrifice and problems of marriage to be around people, if I had just taken responsibility for, and charge of, my life in the first place. Before I got married, I did just that, and never lacked companionship.

Now that I'm married, I don't have the freedom or time to go out and be with people, much less the interesting life needed for good conversation. And because of this, I need to futilely rely on my marriage for the bulk of my companionship.

Misconception 5 - I want to be with (girl's name) for the rest of my life.
Truth 5 - People change.

I felt this for both my wife and my first girlfriend, but wanting to be with someone until the end was based on a fundamental ignorance of human psychology. People don't change very easily, that's common knowledge. Just look at the old me: I was depressed from age 14 to 21, all because I chose a comfortable pain over an uncertain future. It's tempting to settle and coast through a boring or unfulfilling life, because as I've heard others (and my previous self) say, it's "safer." So all in all, it would seem that getting married to someone who is just like you, as I did with my wife, sounds like a great idea. She's just like me, and people don't usually change, so why not take the plunge?

The problem is this: people don't change easily, that's true... but they do change. It's not common, but when something very, very big happens in a person's life to change the status quo, or when there is a huge shift in their personal power (more or less money, newfound confidence, a new job, etc...) they are likely to become someone very different.

For me, I changed from the depressed me to the awesome me because my friend Leena struck me right in the heart with a pointed question, and shook me out of my complacency, as I described in Then and Now 17. Others change because of things like a death in the family, winning the lottery, getting an excellent job, moving, a major crime happening to them or one of their family or friends...

...or marriage.

Yes, marriage is a big step in life. And if you can accept that fact, and the fact that people don't usually change unless something big happens to them, then you must come to the conclusion that the person you married is likely to change once you've tied that knot. And God help you if you add children to that marriage, which is about as big a change as you can make in life, and who cement that marriage into place. That girl that you married is probably going to change in some way, just like marriage changed my girlfriend from a supportive, hypersexual and bone-thin enjoyer of all things nerdy, to a nagging, frigid, overweight, lazy computerholic.

When that person that you once dated, who was like you in every way, becomes your wife and subsequently changes into someone who does things you don't like, you have three choices: compromise, sacrifice, or divorce. Or more specifically, give up parts of your dreams and happiness, give them all up, or lose your children, half your money and a portion of your livelihood for the rest of your life in alimony and/or child support.

Misconception 6 - I don't have anything else going on, so I'll get married.
Truth 6 - I didn't have anything else going on, so I should have kept looking.

When I was younger, I was so ready to ignore all the problems of marriage and jump straight into it, because I was giving up the very thing I never used or understood in the first place: my life. Before I went to work on myself, I never traveled. I never had a wide network of friends. I never had a car, saved any money, had a girlfriend, had sex, or did anything useful with my life. So of course I was more than willing to give up the life that I never utilized, because I thought things would never get better. Any time I mentioned the words "settle down," "this is getting old" or "wearing thin" regarding my life, it was code for me being too lazy, too weak and/or too cowardly to continue with my unmarried life by breaking out of routines and trying something new.

Unmarried life is about choices, adventure and growth, and marriage is about routine, complacency and stagnation. It's no wonder the old me was so attracted to the latter: it seems so much easier, even though it's anything but. Choosing marriage when in a rut is not only choosing a new life path, it's removing almost every other possible choice in life in the process. It's like taking a sledgehammer to your car's engine when a road trip gets boring.

It wasn't until I started to live the life of a real man and a real winner, that I realized the power to change and enjoy my life was entirely my own. With 20/20 hindsight, I know now how wrong I was to give up before I had even created and cultivated a life for myself, and I know now what I really gave up when I married.

Misconception 7 - A loving marriage is the best thing in the world.
Truth 7 - Love is the best thing in the world.

First, love is unconditional compassion for another. Period.

Marriage does not make any relationship more special than another. The love a man feels for his wife should be the same love he feels for his best friend, ex-girlfriend, father, child or pet: that is, all the love he has to offer. If they mean anything to him, they should receive all he has to give.

Second, even if the love shared with a wife were more special than the love expressed to any other person on the planet (though I think people are confusing "love" with "love and responsibility" in these cases), that doesn't change the fact that I have a lot less love in my life since I got married. Without being able to travel, go out, volunteer, date, make friends or otherwise experience the world around me, I am closed to the relationships, experiences and love that I could have felt and shared if I were still unmarried.

Misconception 8 - Marriage is the perfect bookend to a tough, but well-lived, life.
Truth 8 - Marriage is work, routine and sacrifice, the very antithesis of rest.

Do you know why movies, books and TV shows always end on the wedding, then fade to black? Because that's when life ends, too. Nobody wants to watch the once dragon-slaying, world-traveling, life-experiencing hero and his love spending the next decades of their lives fighting, washing dishes, watching TV and scraping poop out of their kids' buttcracks, unless they're doing it for the schadenfreude factor.

Marriage is work. It's chores, the 9-5 grind, errands and fights.

It is routine. Wake up, go to work, go home, go to sleep. Whatever surprising things that come up in any of marriage's monotonous days are almost guaranteed to be some kind of extra work or problems to take care of.

It is sacrifice. No more travel, no more sex, no more money, no more time... it's a multitude of things shelved and destroyed for the sake of those around you.

Marriage isn't two people riding a white horse off into the sunset on another adventure. It's a beat up station wagon heading to and from work, stopping only at the bank or the grocery store. If I wanted to live the perfect life after years of working hard to get where I was, I should have just kept on living. It's that simple.

It's not like I wasn't warned about all of this. No less than five times, situations came up in my life that loudly told me that marriage was a bad idea, but I just ignored all the warning signs in favor of that comfortable old goal.

The first was me at a young age, saying something surprising to my mother. She told me that when I was a kid, I said, "I don't want to marry. Then some girl will just steal all my money." Probably something my first father told me. Of course, finances are only one casualty of marriage and I missed the more important issues, but who knew that a kid who hadn't even gone to school yet would be wiser than his counterpart two decades in the future.

The second was, nerdily enough, a video game. I used to religiously play a farming simulation game for the Super Nintendo called Harvest Moon, where you can plant crops, milk cows, raise chickens, chop wood, hike and spend time with the people in town. In that game, you could also get married. As a young man, I was just interested in getting the highest score and best ending, so I chose one of the girls in town to marry and have kids with.

It didn't take long after that to realize what a mistake I had made. If I ever came back late from a long day of work, and my wife went to bed before me, her happiness went down and my score started to suffer. I never had enough time in the game to talk to the people in town, water my crops, pick up my veggies to toss into the collection bin, buy presents for my wife, go treasure hunting and just enjoy a quick trip up the mountain in one day. I started to resent my fictional video game wife for forcing me to come home so early every night, and basically interfering with my ability to not only play the game to its fullest, but to just have fun in the first place. Why I never applied the lesson I learned in this game to real life is beyond me.

The third was taking a long, hard look at the families of those around me, where almost every friend's mother (and my own) were multiple divorcees. This isn't even getting into the national average of first marriage divorces in America alone. Why did I reason that if people got divorced with such frequency, that my married life would be any happier than theirs?

The fourth was several months after dating my first girlfriend in college. After spending a good long while living apart and meeting up to date, take walks, eat, have sex or what have you, we decided to move in together. Then, all of a sudden, I had no time to unwind after ten hours of school to play video games. I had errands and chores to do. Fights and problems got worse and more plentiful, and our sex life dried up.

Relationship fun comes with an expiration date, and that date is usually either the several month mark, or the moment co-habitation begins. I didn't have enough experience with women at that point to know that was true, but I could have at least looked at my friends' relationships and inferred it from them. Out of the dozens of relationships I've seen that all my friends and family were in, not a one of them seemed overly exciting or fun after the critical "several months" or "moving in" point.

The fifth was actually coming abroad after spending so much time fixing myself, and not realizing that I didn't need a wife to be happy. I never re-evaluated my scrub goal, and because of that, I trusted a worthless birth control pill to protect everything I'd worked for. I just didn't listen.

Finally, as a way to show your own self that marriage is not the dream that people make it out to be, do something I never did when I was younger: take a look at the parents around you, out with their kids and husband or wife at the mall or elsewhere. Do they look happy, or is one or both staring blankly off into space with masks of bored unhappiness on their face(s)?

I can certainly tell you what the vast majority of families look like when I see them now, and I can certainly tell you that I'm no different.


  1. This post about the brutal reality of marriage is often left unheard.

    1. I fell for every one of these misconceptions like a hooked salmon. I hope more men can realize where I went wrong and not make my mistakes.