Thursday, February 14, 2008

Marrying Expectation to Reality

Happy Valentine's Day! My husband Michael and I went on our first date 14 years ago. Awww, how sweet, isn't it? His friend was playing guitar at a restaurant, and Michael was pretty self-conscious about the fact that this was a first date on Valentine's Day, especially when it turned out to be a fancy roses-and-champagne special meal. When the waiter said, "So how is everyone's Valentine's Day tonight?" Michael choked out, "It feels more like just another Monday to me."

It worked out though!

So what's our hot date tonight? Glad you asked. We're going to the After-School Program Family Potluck...Woo Hoo!...which brings us to the theme of today's blog post, the Marriage of Expectation and Reality.

I keep thinking about Lori Gottlieb's article Marry Him about setting down with a nice guy rather than waiting for Mr. Perfect to show up, and realized that I have some Mojo Mom advice for single women who want to get married. They're not exactly the main audience for this blog, but hey, it's the internet, we're all connected.

I have said about motherhood that it's not the reality of family life that leaves us frustrated and disappointed, as much as it is the gap between expectation and reality. I feel the same way about marriage. If we all toned down our fantasies we'd be better equipped to deal with family life as it is: messy, demanding, not always fair. Now we didn't come to these fantasies on our own. They are being heavily marketed to each of us. That's more of a topic for another day, but I want to acknowledge that we are not just each individually deluded on this issue.

I really relate to the kernel of wisdom at the heart of Lori's commentary, that you should choose your deal breakers carefully. Beware of issuing ridiculously restraining ultimatums your partner. There are some things you should not compromise on or expect the other person to change, like whether you want to have kids. But beyond that, realize that life is already going to involve so many compromises that you shouldn't throw away a good relationship because it isn't perfect.

I myself issued an overly certain ultimatum that Michael fortunately put in perspective. I had been traumatized by a boss' unfriendly dog in the workplace so I really didn't like dogs when Michael and I got engaged. At one point I said "You really shouldn't marry me if you need to have a dog." (He had grown up with a household full of Shelties.) I was certain at the time that I just couldn't live with a dog. But after we got married, we went to Japan and I fell in love with the Shiba Inu breed--one of the most smart/stubborn-headed, rambunctious breeds on the planet. So I ended up convincing Michael that we should get this puppy even though it made no sense on a practical level. So much for my ultimatum. Ten years later we still have Kiba, our hyper-crazy fuzzball of love. This didn't even involve compromise with his wishes, but a 180 degree turn of my own thinking. But in retrospect, giving in to Michael's wish to have a dog, even if it wasn't my first choice, would have been worth it if it made him happy.

Second issue: On the flip side, if you are in a relationship with deal breakers that are broken, then get out. Don't waste your time trying to make over someone who has major issues of obvious incompatibility. He has a drinking or drug problem that he's not quite ready to address? Lies, steals, belittles or blames you for everything? Pushes your boundaries to see what he can get away with and then chides you for being too sensitive? Lives with his mother and can't imagine leaving her? Is not only broke, but financially irresponsible? He's not sure that he is really that into you, even though you've been together for years? Those are deal breakers in my book.

You have the right to honestly choose your own deal breakers, even if they don't mean that the other person is bad or wrong, or portray you in the most saintly light. I once had a big warning bell go off in the following situation: My longtime boyfriend's father was chronically ill and progressively disabled. Just as my boyfriend and I were reaching the point where we might get engaged, his mother pressed me to read a book about being a family caregiver. This completely freaked me out because she was going directly to me, the girlfriend, with this information rather than giving it to her son. This told me that the women in the family were expected to be the go-to people on caregiving. My boyfriend and I were on shaky ground anyway, and this incident really made me think about what I might be signing up for as a member of this family. It is not specifically why we broke up, but it put me on notice that at age 22 I was far from ready to make a permanent family commitment, including marriage.

So once you run into a true, significant deal breaker, act on it. You are wasting your time sticking with something comfortable that just won't work in the long run. I have seen friends get hung up here because the discomfort or risk of being alone is too painful.

Finally, it is really important to make sure that your actions are aligned with your truest, most authentic goals and values. Do a reality check: if you really want to get married, then do things that support that goal. I don't want this to devolve into a whole lot of retro advice about "stop going for the quick hook-up if you want to find a real relationship." That's pretty obvious. But if you say you want a real relationship but keep pairing up with guys who are chock full of deal breakers, or are unattainable in some way ("He's my soulmate but there's only one problem, he's a priest...), then it's time to re-examine what you really want, and how to accomplish that. Maybe you don't want to be married or in a long-term relationship. That doesn't matter to me. But if you say you want to be married, but keep getting caught up in relationships that are incompatible with that goal, then it's time to have a heart to heart with friends, family, or a good therapist. Above all, be honest with yourself.

What are your thoughts on deal breakers, compromises, and how you know whether you are being true to yourself? Please share your comments!

A Valentine's Day coda. The After-School Potluck isn't our only anniversary celebration. Tomorrow night we're going out on a romantic date, that Michael arranged, babysitter and all. We've still got it.

(This post was slightly edited on February 15)

Labels: , , ,


Blogger WordyDoodles said...

This is sage advice, very balanced. There are people who say "go for the ring!" to the exclusion of considering the long-term prospects, and others who say "forget about it!" way too soon. Hopefully your post will help out those on the fence.

7:40 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home