Comparing Notes

by Meg Keene, CEO & Editor-In-Chief

(At a hole-in-the-wall-diner, Thanksgiving weekend)

David: Every time I tell older men I just got married, they shake their head.

Me: Really?

David: Yeah. And then they say, “biggest mistake of your life.”

Me: WHAT? Oh my god, no they don’t.

David: Yeah. They all do. It’s really awkward.

Me: That’s crazy.


Me: You know, women always tell me, “Oh my god, that’s so wonderful, you must be so happy.” and then they pause and tell me, “Just wait till you have kids. They’ll ruin your life, you’ll have no time, you’ll be exhausted, you won’t really have a relationship with your husband anymore, you’ll be totally isolated from the rest of the world.” and then Isweartogod, in the next breath they ask me when we’re having kids.

David: Then they ask you when we’re having kids?

Me: YEAH! At that point I’m so frozen with confusion I have no idea what to say.

David: Weird. No one says that to me.

Me: The strangest part is half the time it’s from people who know better. Sometimes I think they are not even aware of what they’re saying.

David: I love that no one said anything like this before the wedding.

Me: It’s like they are trying to initiate us into a club of depressives.

I’ve been rolling this conversation around in my head the past few weeks, trying to make a wry, mildly amusing post out of it, and I couldn’t get anything to click. Then the other night, when talking to Marie-Eve (more from her to come) I realized why: nothing about this conversation was actually funny. I haven’t quite sorted out what is going on, or why, and why different equally disheartening but totally different things are being said to each of us, but I do know that it’s not funny. I think a lot about cultural self-fulfilling prophecies these days, and about how if we’re told to expect something (over and over and over) it becomes hard not to buy into it, and hard not to live it out in our own lives. So I worry. About what I’m being told, about what David’s being told, about the stories that we’re telling ourselves and each other*. And I’m thinking a lot.

(and to keep you from feeling too glum – before the conversation continues – go read Cate’s poetic and moving post about becoming a mother. That girl gets it right, every single time)

*And let me clarify: there is a difference in our lives from the stories that we’re being told and the examples being set. Our parents both celebrate wedding anniversaries this month, and lets just say, both sets have been happily married a good long time. But words have power. And the words we’re hearing from all sides bother me.

Meg Keene

Meg is the Founder and EIC of APW. She has written two best selling wedding books: A Practical Wedding and A Practical Wedding Planner. Meg has her BFA in Drama from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She lives in Oakland, CA with her husband and two children. For more than you ever wanted to know about Meg, you can visit

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  • I hate that too. Guys are always telling Mr B that his life will be over, never have anymore fun etc etc.

    Drives me crazy.

    And the baby questions are already starting to happen, we're not even married yet!

  • Anonymous

    nail on the head–I think those conversations are just rote. That doesn't mean it's right or OK. I just think those are what people say when they don't have much else to say.

    And yes, they say it because that's what other people told them when they were in your shoes.

    I think we've all gone from freshman to senior and experienced the strange pull of… tradition? hazing? Something. Something dumb.

  • I think the fact that you and David are talking about these things and not just compartmentalizing what people say to you will help greatly. You are aware, and don't they always say that that is the first step to breaking any cycle.

  • Agreed. To everything.

    We typically get the, "What's it like to be married?!" question an when we answering with something along the lines of uh-mazing(!!!) people role their eyes or say just wait until xyz happens, then it'll get bad. Or ask why we decided to get married anyway. The jokes are endless and obnoxious.

    Besides, what is the point of you telling me this? Just let us be happy.

  • joe and i were just talking about the bandied-about finding (oh, marriage research) that getting married lengthens a man's life and shortens a woman's. whether or not it holds water, i'm fairly sure it means he should be the one who has to empty the cat box.

  • Emily

    My parents have been divorced for years, and the other day my father said to me: "The wedding day is the peak, and it's all downhill from there." I don't think he even realized what those words could mean, but it's sad that he is so willingly passing bad feelings about marriage from one generation to the next.

  • Meg, I agree that these comments are not funny, and I usually have the same reaction when I hear them. How depressing! But I wanted to pass on one bit of humor…

    At Thanksgiving, I saw my aunt who has two teenage boys, and she had just had bladder surgery a few days before. I asked her what the surgery was for (first mistake) and she told me that her insides were so stretched out by her two pregnancy that she lost bladder control and has essentially been peeing herself for EIGHT YEARS. The surgery placed a little sling around her bladder to hold it up and hopefully prevent this from happening in the future.

    After telling me all this (in much greater detail), she sighed and said "kids really do a number on you." And then she put her hand on my arm, looked meaningfully into my eyes, and said "but they are SO worth it."

    Ha ha ha!

  • I thought it was just us. For the first couple of months after we got engaged, all of his buddies kept treating him like he'd finally succumbed to a disease to which they'd hoped for his sake that he was immune.

  • I hate it too… it makes me feel bad for my future husband that no one around him seems to be happy for him (except for a few recently married male friends, who thankfully speak well of marriage). It seems like it is just the thing guys think they are supposed to say about marriage… like we're all just dragging them into their death. His dad and mom are just recently divorced, so his dad's comments don't help either!

    I've already had a few people ask about babies, but usually they tell me having a baby is the toughest but most amazing thing you'll ever do, and I think that seems like a good description.

  • Arg! This is one of my wedding pet peeves too. Actually, it was a big issue for me just prior to the first time I was married (quite some time ago). All of my ex-husband's friend were like "Dude. Too bad. Don't you know that sex ends when you get married?"
    I thought that was the worst thing to say on so many levels.
    A) It's totally none of their business.
    B) They were all single so how would they know?
    C) The implication that it's always the wife (and that is what they were all implying) who stops wanting to have sex is so Chauvinist! And untrue!
    D) It's completely inappropriate. Congratulate the happy couple and be on your way.


  • Oh, but as an antidote, a couple of weeks after I got engaged I randomly met a couple who had been married for 50 years and had set foot on every continent and were clearly very happy and in love. Total Inspiration!!

  • I always thought that was really strange and actually very annoying. What is it about our culture that it's acceptable for men to tell grooms-to-be, "It's not too late to run!"

    As if it's totally impossible for a man to want to be in a marriage – they must be thinking of bolting down the aisle and out the door.

    Maybe it's not just about reclaiming the word "wife" – perhaps it's "husband" and "marriage" as well.

  • I'm delurking to say that being married to the right person is the most wonderful thing in the world- I've done it both ways.
    Having a child didn't ruin my last marriage(no, that was his drug use and general neglect and assholeisness:))- when I started dating my current husband watching him fall in love with my daughter and she with him made me love him all the more.
    Love is a choice and a verb. You can't get married and expect to do nothing. You have to do everything you did before, with more courtesy:)
    I love being married and I know some of our friends look at our relationship with just a little jealousy- because they are not willing to take the time and effort it takes to make a great marriage:)

  • Bex

    It's the saddest thing, the way people talk about marriage and family. Even under the guise of joking, it makes me extremely uncomfortable. I'm all for sarcasm and irreverence, but I hate, I absolutely hate, the way society portrays family life. The "ball and chain" references of the sitcoms, the life-is-over once you're married mentality. I think most people don't take it very seriously, and my fiance thinks I'm a bit prudish in my thinking about it, but I think the way we talk about things will ultimately become the way we think about them. Whether we like it or not.

  • Because there is something very powerful about trying to drag another person down. And if you think you might be failing it makes you feel better to tell other people that they are going to screw up too. The have nots want to criticise the haves, the haves get in a competition about who is doing better. It is fundamentally depressing.

  • Just an anecdote…
    My aunt and uncle have had a rough marriage of 35 years, but they have also had an incredibly happy marriage. They also have eleven children. While I don't know that I'm up to the task of having that many kids, and I hope not to go through some of the stuff they have in their marriage, they have a happy, loving relationship, and live fully and passionately. They love and care for their children, but are liking having a little more time to spend with each other as the last of the kids move out. These two lies men and women are told are completely debunked by their marriage and family, at least if you work as hard at marriage as these two have.

  • Another anecdote, from the Midwest…

    This Thanksgiving at my mother-in-law's house, there were quite a few of us ladies in the kitchen cleaning up after the meal. We can barely hear ourselves talk, as all of the kids are running through the house like a pack of wild hyenas, screeching and shouting and knocking over furniture and shoving each other into electronics. After one particularly ear-piercing scream, one of the mom's (who has been complaining non-stop all day long about how horrible having kids is) asks in all seriousness when we're having kids. Then, as if I were no longer in the room, they all began to "vigorously" discuss when that might be.

    Aren't family get togethers great?

  • I hear you. I'm getting married in May and people – not just my grandma – are already asking when we're going to start having kids. I feel like saying, "Shut the F up, cause it's none of your business."
    I don't know why, but it seems that once they get married, people – even those you'd least expect – start using obnoxious cliches and adopt these tired male/female stereotypes. Lame.

  • Meg

    You know, if David had said 20-somethings were saying this to him, I think I would have thought, "Ehhh, idiots." David is not even a guys-guy in a classic sense (60% of his friends are women, I'd say) so it wouldn't have crossed my mind that it was even meaningful. The fact that older men, fully grown men, long married men are saying this though, that threw me for a loop.

    @Lauren. Exactly. Someone recently told me something about how hard chores were after a C-section… and I think I said, "Oh, I don't know, I think labor gives you 6 months off from chores."

    @Cate Hole in the wall. Divey. Steaks for $5 "red wine" for $1. Ick.

  • Penny

    I hate it, too, that it has become unfashionable to admit to being happily married. And I agree that all the snide remarks about being miserable in a marriage can become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

    My husband and I were grocery shopping the other day and I told him I would pay (which, incidentally, only meant that I would swipe the card, as we have a joint household account) and the cashier, who could not have been older than 16, started razzing my husband about "knowing his place" and "doing the man thing" and so on. When we walked out, my husband put his arm around me and said, "She clearly has a lot to learn."

    And yes, she does, but the terrible thing is that she HAS learned those things from people who think marriage is a big joke. It's really sad.

  • You know, I had the exact opposite experience. My hubby’s friends are only a couple of years older than mine, but most were already married so his were very excited about our wedding and immediately started wanting to know when we were gonna start riding the Baby Train. Mine, on the other hand, the artsy booze-hounds that they are, were like, “OMG, you’re going to be one of those Married People. Gross. Don’t do it.” The same thing goes for the baby question, I made a bit of a stink before we were married about not wanting kids for a while. Now that we’ve made the decision to maybe not wait as long, I’m fielding questions from the two people that I’ve told about whether Matt’s pressuring me into having kids sooner and how I was totally a liar for saying I wanted to wait. (Those two people? My mom and best friend….)

    I think the best way to combat these statements is to think about where they are coming from. My friends, Drunky McGee and Debby Downer, who told me not to get married? They’re battling their own issues with not wanting to get older and give up the fun young lifestyle, and wanting to be in a relationship themselves and not finding someone yet. Mom’s worried that I won’t finish my Master’s if we start having kids. And my bestie is a gay man who worries about me losing my personality since I’m not a “Wife” and really doesn’t have the options that I do when it comes to family so the way he copes with that is to look down on it a little bit. (If you give everyone except a certain group of people chocolate cake, some will fight for chocolate cake and some will say, “Well screw you, I didn’t want any cake ANYWAY!”) As a whole, these people suck. And I can say that because I love them dearly. But individually? They are either looking out for me or have their own issues that cloud their judgment so therefore I just nod and smile and stick to my guns.

    And for those that you who you don’t love dearly and need to mind their own business? Tell them that this is just your first marriage, so you really don’t think it’s going to get good until your second or third hits and you figure out what you’re doing. Or that you’re just his beard so it’s not like it’s a REAL marriage anyway. And if they ask about kids, tell them that you’re waiting for the price to go down on the black market before you make the commitment. Okay, fine, that might be a bit rude. But they’re a bit rude for offering up their crappy advice.

    P.S. my captcha for this post is "nonaps." Frankly, Meg, I find is spooky that your blog knows I'm tired and insulting that it doesn't want me to get some rest.

  • Anonymous

    Maybe it's just the people you know? Geez, I know a lot of happily married people in their 40's, 50's and 60's who are happy.

    Yes, they have war stories, because many of their marriages are second happy marriages. But they got there eventually.

    I also know younger couples who I consider to have happy marriages. I will not say that children ruined their life, but even happy couples feel the impact of children.

    It's not that they wish they didn't have them; it's just that they change your life so much. Even if you do the same things after the children come, you will do them differently because your circumstances are differently.

    A lot of thing that are easy now will require more planning. But remember, children get older and older and most parents say it gets easier and easier.

  • I only recently have come to realize that while this is a very happy time for me, it can be a totally different experience for my soon to be husband.

    While I am getting all the excited congratulations, he is getting the "are you sure you want to do this?" questioning from others. It doesn't help that he is an attorney specializing in family law. In other words, he does a lot of divorces. A lot.

    And me, with one already failed marriage, we finally had that talk this weekend about what we're doing. I almost called the wedding — not the relationship — off. Just because it does seem like there are so many things out there that seem to work against marriage. It doesn't help either that he does not have very healthy role models for marriage.

    Sometimes I wonder if marriage is an antiquated institution. The other part of me says it doesn't matter if we get married, we're in a long term relationship and can experience all of the pitfalls — and joys — of a marriage without the certificate.

  • My manfriend and I were looking at rings the other day. When we told the salesman that we were still in negotiations he turned to manfriend and said "Sir, you're going to lose!"

    I was like "WHOA. A) it's actually ME who needs some more convincing. And B)if I say yes he will be WINNING." I really don't understand the cultural meme that men NEVER UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES want to get married. And yet aren't they the ones who are supposed to ask?

    Stupid patriarchy.

  • Ugh. This all sounds so familiar. I do tire of the snide comments and baby-making comments and all. I mostly just don't answer them, which probably makes me rude.

    On the other hand, we were very blessed before the wedding because we didn't really hear any of this then. In fact, many of my husband's friends had recently gotten married as well, and were telling him how much they loved it–even the hard stuff. And the single ones seemed just a bit jealous.

  • We're getting baby questions, but that's more because of my age than anything. And I this his dad likes to tease us. ;) We tease back – he hates that we say he's asking when we're gonna get me knocked up. ;) We are hoping to have kids tho. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

    As for the "Biggest mistake of your life" and "Just wait till you have kids" comments, there's probably some underlying "I wanted to let you know what to expect" genuine care there (well, moreso for the 'when you have kids' comment, methinks), but it can be really discouraging to hear. It seems to be a societal expectation for men to appear to resist being "tied down" and for a marriage to fall to pieces once kids come along.

  • Anonymous

    Gosh, I'm 51 and divorced. Have been enjoying the freedom of single life. I'll get married again if I decide I want to to that.

    When you are older, you really won't give a damn about what other people say to you about your life decisions. It not worth the brain cells to mull it over.

    I promise.

  • Anonymous

    "to do"

  • i just read The Meaning of Wife book, and i have to say that book made the prospects of marriage sound more depressing than anything else i've heard lately.

  • I think the solution to avoiding all the negative comments is to wait until you are 'older' to get married… by that time, everyone is so relieved that you'll have someone to "look out for you" as you age (and that it won't be them with a creepy single aunt/ uncle living in the attic) that they won't dare say anything negative.

    And all our friends are dying to get us on the baby train, probably so they can have company and swap baby sitters.

  • Jo

    Wow, those are terrible things to say. I have apparently been lucky – my coworkers keep saying my grin still hasn't worn off and that I must be so happy (we're approaching two months of marriage). And most people that meet us and find out we're newlyweds are genuinely thrilled for us and say we remind them of when they were first married.

    When I was engaged, I had several wonderful conversations with older women about marriage, who shared their secrets of success – talk to each other, take walks together, do projects together (I see a theme). I wonder if a good response to those negative comments might be, "but seriously, what do you do to keep your marriage going well?"

    Let's see them try to answer that! :)

  • LPC

    The research also says that a) the happiest group in the country is married men b) the second happiest group is single women with good financial resources c) children do negatively affect marital happiness. I will only caution you that these statistics aren't pretend. They don't have to be predictive, but they aren't pretend.

  • kc

    Thank you for writing this. The boy has been hearing a varation of this from his unattached guy friends. They rib him about not being able to do anything unless "The Wife" approves. A few like to call me "the ball & chain". We're not even married yet. Obviously, this doesn't sit well with me. It pidgeon holes me into a role I don't want. It takes his choices — to make our relationship a priority, to build a life together– freely made, and makes a mockery of them. Words do have power. We're still struggling with how to react to this (he ignores them, I fume), and I do wonder if it will undermine all the things we're working for. I think it doesn't help that we're the first in his group of friends to get married.

  • Sharing anecdotes is fun!

    I have had a couple of run-ins with the same person, a man who works in another department with whom I interact occasionally. The first one only left me wondering if he thought I was getting fat… the second one was more comical…

    Me: Boy, am I tired today.
    Him: Is that because of a baby?
    Me (in my head): Is he suggesting I am tired because of pregnancy, or because I was up late trying to become pregnant?

  • Ellie

    We had friends – people our age – tell us that marriage was horrible! I hate it almost as much as the older married guys that tell Mark to just stay out of MY way as I plan MY wedding and all he has to do is show up.
    What was great though, is our friend who responded to our congratulations email with "it's a mistake and my office agrees" then got a response out of a longer married friend who said, "I love being married and my office agrees that it's a great institution." So there are some people out there sticking up for marriage!

  • Ella

    I'd love to think that it is a generational thing, or something that's purely based in individual perspectives…however, I hear this from friends in their 30s a lot (especially the kids thing). And the fact that 50% of marriage ends in divorce suggests that it's not just an unlucky few who experience unhappy marriages.

    A book that I found really uplifting — The Good Marriage: How and Why Love Lasts by Judith Wallerstein. It's sort of an ethnography of healthy marriages (which is refreshing given all the negative talk about marriage). She interviews all kinds of couples with good, lasting marriages and the diversity of marriage experiences makes it really interesting to read.

    I think maybe a lot of the negativity has to do with disappointed expectations. It sounds like what you and David are hearing, Meg, has a "cautionary" tone — like, "don't get your expectations up, we don't want you to be disappointed with the reality." I think it would be interesting to ask these people what their expectations of marriage & motherhood were to begin with.

  • Cate Subrosa

    Firstly, not relevant, but what's a hole-in-the-wall dinner?

    Secondly, ugh, people are just so rude. I know it's just joking sometimes, and carrying on unquestioning sometimes, and just trying to be nice/interested sometimes, but both the "uh-oh" to the bloke and the "kids?" to the chick… so rude.

    And thirdly, thanks :) Big hugs to you and Team Practical xx

  • Brandy

    Over the last month, similar things have happened twice. On Thanksgiving Day, I walked into my living room from the kitchen to find a horrifically guilty look on my brother's face. My brother is going to through a divorce with two children. This is my second marriage….and it's in two months. He immediately confessed that he'd just said my betrothed that "it's not too late, do you really want to do this?". I laughed, but it was that awkward "what do I do with that statement" laugh. He apologized, and he really did mean it. So, he's in the clear with me.

    Then this weekend, we had a family reunion, as we always do near Christmas. All the old biddies that were telling me to hurry up and have kids the first time around and hurry up and find a man after the divorce…..were not interested in the fact that I was getting married AT. ALL. Apparently, if you're happy and in a good place, they really don't care what is happening in your life. They just like to prey on you when you're miserable and in a not-too-pleasant place in life.

    The moral I took away from it is if they were happy themselves, they would add to my joy not try to kill it. Misery loves company, right? I chose not to be it's companion.

  • i didn't know what to say when my cousin announced his engagement on facebook and then posted that he "…was talking about the wedding (or more importantly smiling and nodding while listening)…" and it wasn't his comment that was so disturbing to me (although it's mildly concerning), it was the following comments along the lines of, "you're learning early" and "yeah, keep your mouth shut about the wedding."

    this serves no one… patronizing the bride in doing her every bidding and displacing the groom because {gasp!} the wedding just couldn't have anything to do with him.

    sigh. i was floored and saddened by our society that so blindly accepts these sentiments as the norm. :(

  • April

    Was talking with one of my clients on the phone who knows I just got married 2 months ago, and she asked me:

    "Are you still happy?"

    Me: [confused] "Well, YES. Why wouldn't we be?"

    "Well the first year is the hardest, you know!"

    Me: [a bit more confused] "Not for us, we've been practicing for 8years already so I think we'll be fine."

    Hung up and thought, "Why would someone say that to me?!?!"

    It's depressing… I ignore it of course, but it makes me sad and feels like they're deliberately trying to rain on my happiness.

    As for the kids thing, I STILL have to defend my positon on why me and the mister aren't having any. We've been called everything from selfish to stupid to non-conformist. It's a real kick in the teeth sometimes to have your personal values trashed by someone who has no frikkin bid'ness bein' in your bid'ness in the first place!

  • Misery loves company, and misery knows the power of suggestion.

  • agirl

    Gee. What you describe sounds terrible for sure. But I didn't quite realise that people were still subject to *such* an onslaught of negativity around marriage.

    I've been married for almost a year now, and I dunno, maybe my brain has just ignored/deleted the idiots (I have a very marked tendency to ignore f*ckwits), but I really don't think I've had a bunch of womenfolk tell me how marriage or kids is going to ruin my life. The people I know have been pretty positive about the institution on the whole. I've never heard that whole, the first year is the hardest either. (Thank goodness, cause I'd have worried unnecessarily.)

    I don't know about the Boy's experiences with older men though. I'll ask him, but I don't think he's been subject to such a degree of head-shaking either. Strange and interesting.

    And BOTH of us have been harrassed with the baby question, not just me (thank goodness). That is just bloody rude.

  • Sport

    While I haven't had those conversations yet, I have been inundated with the equally jacked "how's wedding planning going" barrage of superficial conversations and questions. Man, I wish people would ask me about how marriage planning is going. I always end up steering my answers to their questions over there anyways.

    Eff that noise. Marriage is going to rock. I'm going to define what it means to me to be a wife every day. And the sad sacks who say crazy ish can just step off or get hip checked.

  • Meg

    Huh. That's really interesting. We haven't heard that particular line of cultural noise, and it had never even occurred to me. I mean five years together is five years together. We're a little giddy still about the wedding and the married getting, so maybe happier than average, but definitely not difficult. I DO see how that could have been the case a generation or two (mostly two) ago where everything was new – living together, etc. etc. etc.


    Quite the contrary. We do not, in general, know unhappy people. If we did, I would have been too bored with the subject to write this post. We know pretty happy people. That's why it's odd. And why it makes me think it's part of the greater cultural story that we tell each other over those long campfire nights. Those stories are worth waking up to listen too, because our unconscious expectations are very powerful things.

    Clearly the people studied do not have husbands who do all the gourmet cooking, laundry, and a fair bit of the chores. ;)

  • The "club" comment is SO PERFECT. It goes along so well with the ridiculous ring ad you posted a couple of days ago.

    I feel like our lives are made up of cliques that we will never be rid of.
    First we're "single", "dating", "in a relationship", "waiting"(which is so dumb, if you want to marry the guy just f*cking propose!)"engaged", and "married". Everyone has their own set of friends in that clique.
    I have my "single" girlfriends/ sister that I party with and the man and I have our "engaged" friends whom we have dinner parties with. THEN there are my "married" friends who can't seem to pull themselves away from their spouses for long enough for me to even have a real conversation about marriage with.
    My own sister yesterday asked me to party with her on NYE because she "can't stand to be around all of these pregnant and married people because that's all they seem to talk about" and you know what? SHE'S SO RIGHT. I know I'm part of the engaged set but I refuse to fall in line with the expectations and ideals SO instead of having a quiet evening with my fiance, I will be drinking champagne from the bottle and dancing my ass off!

    Life is so full of expectations and doubts and worries, I don't see why people seem to forget individuality and personal choice when it comes to marriage and kids.

    I AM GOING TO HAVE IT ALL DAMNIT! I'm going to have a happy, successful marriage and raise a wonderful child and when it gets hard, I'm not going to go and spoil the fun for anyone else.

  • Anonymous


    It isn't true that 50% of marriages end in divorce. The statistic is completely inaccurate.

    You can do some internet research and see for yourself.

    In fact, divorce statistics are very much tied to socioeconomic status now. College-educated couples have a divorce rate somewhere in the twenties percent.

    As you go lower in socioeconomic status, the rate goes up.

    But even the 50% rate that is often touted has to do with the length of time you are studying.

    One thing everyone should consider is that a lot of people simply marry the wrong person, or get married for the wrong reasons. That is always going to come back and bite you.

    I don't know how anyone can make sweeping statements about marriage when it comes down to how two individuals interact.

    Example: A friend of mine has been married twice. When she was pregnant in her first marriage, her husband was completely detached. When she got up in the middle of the night, he ignored her and kept sleeping. After the baby was born, he was a detached father.

    She is remarried. The second husband has always been very intimate. When she would wake in the middle of the night during pregnancy, he woke up too and sat up with her. If it was happening to her, then it was happening to him. As a father, he is calm and hands on. As a husband, he is madly in love with her.

    Same person – two different experiences of marriage.

  • ceej

    Ariel said "You can't get married and expect to do nothing"
    I have just realised that my relationship is in that 'drifting' stage where neither of is to blame but both of us are not doing enough to make it work. bleh! (i don't think he has realised yet so I am trying to work out how to say it all without it being critism. double bleh!)
    You Meg, and David, from what I can gather here, put a lot of effort in and I think that will show :D Those "older men, fully grown men, long married men" perhaps have put no effort in at all…or maybe it's just the pack mentality?

  • Marisa-Andrea

    @ agirl: Funny that you mentioned the first year being the hardest bit, because that is what we got from tons of our married friends. It was sooo weird, because me and Chris have always just meshed really well and while we do have our disagreements and fights, coming together was not hard. Other things are, sometimes, but that wasn't. And I will say, secretly, I was waiting for the "hard" part when we got married. I wonder if it really is hard for a lot of people or if that is just what everyone who has joined the married club says…

  • I haven't (and my husband hasn't) been exposed to these comments – which I am greatly appreciative of. This is maybe tangential, but in our wider circle there are currently a number of long-time couples, including both those that are married and those that are not, who are splitting up. This is the first time I have been exposed to divorce on more of a peer level. I have to admit that as a newly married person, it sometimes causes me to feel shaken. I was surprised to hear my husband independently share the same sentiment.

    I don't think it is a worn-out campaign slogan, rather a constructive charge, to bring up choosing hope over fear. When I think of people choosing to get married – I appreciate the hopefulness of it (and not in a trivial dismissive way, but out of respect for the way hope can nourish society). It occurs to me that when someone warns marriage to be the biggest mistake or that kids will ruin your life, that person is choosing fear.

    To make a marriage work day after day, year after year (in the midst of cultural prophecies and day to day realities) – it seems like choosing hope is part of the equation.

  • I feel like for some reason people just cannot be supportive of others personal decisions, either out of jealousy due to the fact that their life didn't turn out the way they wanted or because they want to put people down the same way they were. It bothers me a lot. I have been thinking about this too, trying to figure out why it happens. I went through the same thing when I moved in with my boyfriend. Everyone was telling me I would regret it, that we would fight all the time and break up. They were all saying that's what happened to them and I was terrified that we would be miserable. I even started to become miserable and make him miserable for the mere fact that we were supposed to be according to everyone else. Well we've been living together for a while now and we're still happy as can be. But I see this thing happen a lot, when people get married, buy houses, move in together, have kids. Maybe people are so afraid of commitment to anything they resent when others commit. I don't know, but you're right, it isn't funny.

  • Before we got married, my guy's (female) co-workers asked him several times if he was getting cold feet. He found that disturbing and insulting, but luckily didn't have much respect for those coworkers anyway, so was able to brush it off easily. :) And lucky for me, my coworkers have been super pro-marriage, including one who made a point all through my engagement of telling me every time she saw me how marriage was the best thing she ever did and how awesome it was. That was very cool.

    Maybe the moral of the story is that we happily married people need to start evangelizing more? ;)

  • MVB

    I agree with what several people here have said – a lot of it feels like a rote response. These are the set phrases we're supposed to use when people hit a certain milestone, with that "just wait and see" chuckle. My husband hasn't had any strange reactions (YET – we've got the holiday trip home fast approaching), but I get a lot of "enjoy it while it lasts" which I find cynical and sad.

  • sam

    You're right, it's not funny, it's sad.
    Whenever people find out/mention the fact that I was just married it's "Oh I bet you're so happy!" immediately followed by "Give it a year" And they never mean marriage will be better then.
    Why does everyone have to assume marriage can't work out?
    The biggest response Rich gets when our marriage comes up is "Oh, your first?" Like it's just assumed that people will have more than one. What happened to commitment and promising to love someone for life?

  • Sarah

    i think people do just say things because, oh that's what you're "supposed" to say… wouldn't it be nice if people actually thought about the implications before tossing off a crass remark? like how horrible it is to tell someone who just got married that they just made a HUGE mistake, or since when did what's going on with and around my "V" become a public subject of discussion?? hello!

  • You know, I got all kinds of these comment before the wedding. I got both the "kids will ruin your life – when are you having them" and the "marriage is terrible" comments. The most dumbfounding thing I heard was on our honeymoon. G and I were talking to a couple on their 17th anniversary vacation and the husband said "marriage is hard and she'll never just leave you alone to watch sports" in front of both of us "wives." We just smiled and tried to ignore him.
    I admit, I pitied her a little, but I'm also desperately worried that someday that will be me, and him. At which point our marriage will be over and everything everyone ever said will be true.
    But right now, I think all of them are wrong. and I really really really want to be right.

  • I second the whole reclaiming marriage, husband and wife.

    We seem to live in a very anti-marriage society. The idea that you will have more than one or live together miserably "for the kids" is awful. Why not be supportive? Why buy into stereotypical marriage roles of sex-crave, sports watching, hard working husband and frumpy, child-focused housewife? Can't marriage be more?

    My future in-laws have been married for over 40 years (I know, right!). D's Aunts and Uncles have all been married a long time too and are huge advocates of marriage. My family is way different (most of my family is on marriage #2 or #3 and joke of the "next one"). Everyone is being really supportive of what we are getting into, even if there are questions about babies (I mean why else do you get married?!). I think that anyone who knows D and I (and how long we have been together), knows that we are doing this because this is exactly what we want and we won't b buying into any roles.

    I do get very upset when people say "well, the wedding is whatever you want because you're the bride!" Grrrr. No, I am 1 person in this. Sometimes, I wish I were marrying another woman so I wouldn't get that bullshit. What D wants is equally important to what I want.

    I don't like gender roles.

  • Oh. I think it is a worst mistake to go your whole life without letting another person support and love you than to enter into something that may or may not last forever. I think it is worst to be lonely. Don't tell me about mistakes! Marriage (even if it ends) isn't a mistake. Not giving it your all is a mistake! Whenever someone tells me marriage is a mistake, they tend to be divorced or in an unhappy marriage (cue my family), so I like to reply with "can you tell me that you've been the best spouse you could be? That you've loved them with your whole heart? Sacrificed your wants and needs? That you have poured as much energy into your marriage as you have your career, hobbies, etc.? If you can't answer yes to those questions, than marriage isn't a mistake – you are." Zing.

  • I've gotta say, although I really liked meg's original post, a lot of the comments have been rubbing me the wrong way. I agree that we shouldn't automatically ascribe gendered roles to marriage and I agree that we should root for each others' relationships to succeed. However, in this comment thread, I hear a lot of people saying that folks who have qualms with marriage are more depressed than those of us who are married, that divorced people are taking their pain out on us, that gay people are pissed at engaged folks because they feel left out. I think that we should remember that there are a lot of really good reasons to choose not to enter the institution of marriage and there have been a lot of people who have been really hurt by the institution (both men and women who have been forced to cave in to gendered roles that didn't fit them, people who found it very hard to get out of abusive relationships, almost all LGBT people, folks whose parents stayed together when they shouldn't have and had a hard home life because of it). Although I chose to get married, I really respect and admire my friends who have not made the same choice as me and the friends who chose to leave marriages that didn't work for them. I just want us to be sure that, as a. blog community we remember that marriage is not the only worthy choice and that there are actually a lot of things wrong with the institution. People like to say that marriage is about love, but historically, that is not true — when people say annoying things to us, it's not because they din't understand marraige, it's because they DO understand it… They understand how it has been for many years. It's our responsibity to change it. But first we have to acknowlege that our fantasies about what marriage is are not realities — it will take hard work to change marriage into what we want it to be — and not just in our relationships, but in the greater society as well.

    I apologize if there are a lot of typos here — I'm writing on my phone :)

  • You are so right with this one. I'm not even engaged, or anywhere near that point, but I experienced firsthand the damage that can be done by these cultural myths. Last summer my boyfriend did some landscaping work while looking for a job, and one afternoon he was talking with the foreman or whatever about me. He was bragging, grinning, proud of what he had and what we had. The bitter, divorced, middle-aged man responded with cynicism and encouraged him to 'sow his oats' while he was young. This wouldn't have been a problem at all, except that we were a month into three months of being apart… and it really got to him. We had months of trouble after that, and though we're great now (still long-distance, planning on living together when he graduates in May), it really took a toll on us. Now, maybe my guy is too impressionable, but he's also crazy about me and it's maddening that a friend of his would see this and still unload that oat-sowing bullshit on our healthy, happy relationship. Why do these conversations happen, when we all know that everyone loves love?

  • Sara

    seriously. how fucking rude. I hate it when people tell us things like that! The entire first two months after we got married the only thing we heard was how terrible it would be! Why would you say that?

  • Late to the party on this one, and don't have time to read all the comments, so forgive me if I'm repeating anyone — but you hit a nerve for me with the fear mongering with both marriage and parenting. Why do people blame their marriages for their unhappiness? Why do people blame their kids for it? Why do they feel the need to project these issues on others?

    I spent five years trying to get pregnant, and then once I was *finally* expecting, it felt like everyone kept telling me all about how my husband and I would never sleep again, never have time to ourselves, how it'd be so hard and awful, etc etc.

    Granted, I'm only a month into being a parent — BUT I CALL HOGWASH! Everyone's experience with marriage and parenting is different … but like wedding planning, people have WAAAAY more control over their attitudes and reactions to the challenges than they are often willing to understand.

    It seems like people have scripts they just like to deliver. About weddings. About marriage. About children. About all sorts of things. People love to project their issues and call it "wisdom."

    To these folks I say, "Look: just because YOU'RE unhappy with your _____ doesn't mean I'm going to have the same experience."



    Ok, done ranting now. Great post!!

  • Thank you, Meg!! I love this blog in general, but this post might be the most interesting and thought-provoking I’ve encountered on any wedding blog – and I wish this topic were more often analyzed/addressed.

    Like you, I think a lot about cultural messages, particularly those surrounding marriage (ever read ? fascinating on the sociological level, but disheartening, too. Always makes me go, "People acutally SAY that stuff? UGH).

    What I want to know is, why do people feel the need to pass along this kind of “advice”? I went to a party the other night, and it wasn't long before people began with the ball-and-chain jokes (immediately after congratulating me, wtf?).

    And furthermore, why, on this particular topic, do their words fill me with such dread??

    I’ve received lots of terrible “advice” through the years. Most of it I’m pretty good at tuning out; I generally choose my own offbeat path and ignore the social “norms” I don’t want to include in my life. It takes a certain amount of bravery and self-awareness, though, to flout convention… (which I think many of us have already run smack into, dealing w/weddings, family expectations & the WIC).

    So why should marriage be any different? Yet for some reason, when people start with, "well, eventually your marriage will suck" I begin to worry that it’s only a matter of time before our relationship resembles the unhappy marriages around us. I don’t understand if people tell these stories out of a genuine wish to warn others (i.e. things they wish people would have told them?), or if they repeat these axioms because it’s what they were told (in which case I have to ask, is it self-fulfilling prophecy?), or if they want to vent, or if they simply can’t think of anything else to say?

    It’s hard, though, because I do agree with the comment upthread – historically, marriage is NOT an institution founded on emotional enrichment, adventure, or passion. And I DO believe that we are asking a lot of it nowadays. However, I think it is our responsibility to try and reinvent it. It’s been reinvented many times before, and to assume it has to look like what it did in the 1800s, or 1930s, or 1970s, etc., dooms us before we start. Yes, it’s important to enter into marriage clear-headed, but also with *optimism*. And the alternative – living together unmarried – isn’t going to make things magically different, anyway. People who get skeeved out by the cultural baggage (me, sometimes) are giving it too much power.

    People spouted the same negativity and “warned” me about long-distance relationships, about moving in together, about dating during grad school, etc. And not once has their “advice” proven true. Perhaps because I immediately called bullsh*t. I don’t want to be naïve, but I do want to be hopeful and true to myself (and my guy). And we aren’t the Joneses or the Smiths. There are a surprising number of ways of living, if you have the guts to open your mind.

    Okay, this comment is becoming ridiculously long. But I do think this is an important topic, one I certainly haven't figured out, and would enjoy discussing in more depth (ahh, if only we all lived on the same street or something :)).

  • I was thinking of this post the other day while reading, and came across a beautiful Buddhist story. I'm probably going to re-tell it with a great deal less beauty, but here goes. A wise monk said to another that some people feel the need to cover the world in leather, to soften the harsh blows/rocks underneath their feet. But a much better way, he believed, was to just cover your own feet with shoes, so as to shield yourself – a much more practical solution.

    It resonated with me because ultimately people are always going to say crazy, inappropriate things which are going to touch a nerve: it's got so much to do with where they're at in their own lives. The best we can do, maybe, is to cover our own feet (metaphorically, of course, but I guess nice shoes sometimes help!) and keep trundling on.

    Great post, Meg.

  • My uncle teased me today that I "can't be engaged, [I'm] not carrying any bridal magazines" and went on to say, as we discussed music, "Don't worry about all the details- all your fiance's going to remember is that he got married." I said we're both laid back about it and he said "Good. Then you're all set."

    Its also nice to have my dad tell me that I should care about what happens on my wedding because its the start of the two of us making each other happy for years.

  • My uncle teased me today that I "can't be engaged, [I'm] not carrying any bridal magazines" and went on to say, as we discussed music, "Don't worry about all the details- all your fiance's going to remember is that he got married." I said we're both laid back about it and he said "Good. Then you're all set."

    Its also nice to have my dad tell me that I should care about what happens on my wedding because its the start of the two of us making each other happy for years.

  • K

    They bother me too. We’ve been engaged for a week now and even as soon as a day or two after my fiance started receiving all sorts of really inane comments. He’s been told that he needs to do all the things he loves now because after the wedding I won’t let him and other sarcastic comments. I’m not going to turn into a controlling, codependent beeotch when I add “wife” to who I am. We’re committing to be partners in life.

    What’s even worse are comments from newly weds a year or so out who get into arguments in front of us and then turn to us and say “See, this is what YOU have to look forward to.” Again, somehow marriage will rid us of our five years of learned communication skills?

    This is a favorite quote of mine and so appropriate for this post:
    Watch your thoughts, they become words.
    Watch your words, they become actions.
    Watch your actions, they become habits.
    Watch your habits, they become your character.
    Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.
    — Unknown

  • Ashley

    I just don’t get that. Why would you tell someone that their marriage is a mistake? As if they’re going to jump up and yell, “Well I’d better get a divorce right this very minute! Thank you, oh wise stanger, for your sage advice!”