You Don’t Have to Get Married, So Maybe You Shouldn’t

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Old School wedding scene
Screenshot from the movie “Old School” (Image/DreamWorks Pictures)
Frank: “Hey, I just want to thank you one last time for being here. It’s the best day ever.”

Beanie: “Don’t even start with me, Franklin, okay? You need to walk away from this ASAP.”

Frank: “What?”

Beanie: “You need to get out, Frankie. This is it. It’s now or never. You need to get out of here while you’re still single.”

Frank: “I’m not single.”

Beanie: “She’s 30 yards away. You’re single now.”

Frank: “Come on, Marissa’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

Beanie: “Why don’t you give that six months. You don’t think that’ll change? I got a wife, kids. Do I seem like a happy guy to you, Frankie?”

Beanie: “There’s my wife. See that? Always smiling? Hi, honey. Judging, watching, ‘Look at the baby.’”

Mitch Martin: “She’s coming down the aisle, Beanie. Let it go.”

Author’s Note: I think the #1 problem in the world is how poorly humans manage their relationships. Even if you disagree, follow my logic, please. The biggest influence on whether our lives suck or are awesome is the quality of our closest relationships. For most of our lives, that’s the relationship with our spouses or long-term romantic partners. Human conflict is problematic everywhere. But when it’s two people who decided to pool resources and promised to love one another forever, and make and share children? It’s a crisis. The ripple-effect consequences know no bounds. Divorce breaks people, and then broken people break other things.

I think the #1 cause of divorce is relationship-damaging behavior by men who honestly don’t recognize it. Good men with good intentions who damage their wives’ emotional and mental health with behaviors they don’t understand to be as damaging as they are.

How? Why? There are no easy answers. But I think the closest one is: No one knows. Just like people spent decades smoking tobacco without knowing it had dire health consequences.

I think we don’t teach our children the truth about adulthood. That we don’t teach our boys the truth about manhood. Not because we’re liars. But because we didn’t know either.

This is the sixth in a series of posts about The Things We Don’t Teach Men (And How It Ruins Everything).

The Things We Don’t Teach Men: You Don’t Have to Get Married

I can’t prove this, but I believe almost everything we do in life is based off of us modeling the behaviors of others or doing things we believe we are “supposed” to because we think: This is how everyone does it!

Like when we stop our vehicles at red lights or “STOP” signs even though we can see that no other cars or pedestrians could be hurt or affected by us disregarding the traffic signal. Humans are creatures of behavioral habits. And many of those habits start before we can even talk, watching others around us do all the things.

I think that’s why most people get married. Because we grow up with adults who are mostly married or in some stage of dating, and that then makes us believe “Getting married is just what you do when you’re old enough!” Sprinkle in any beliefs about sex being sinful and wrong outside of marriage, and it’s not hard to see why most people make a beeline for a relationship model well known to fail painfully half of the time, and on average, spending $30,000-$40,000 between the engagement rings, wedding bands, wedding receptions and honeymoon trips just to get started.

A few key points here:

I am NOT pro-marriage (unless people plan to have children).

I am NOT anti-marriage.

What I AM is anti-divorce.

I am, I believe, a well-informed pragmatist on the subject. And I know that 95% of people WILL marry, or are planning to marry someday. That’s real-life math. Of all people ages 18 and up in the United States, 9.5 out of 10 are married, used to be married, or are planning to get married.

Thought exercise: Name something besides air, food and water that affects 9.5 out of every 10 people.

Other than cataclysmic apocalyptic things like asteroids striking earth or nuclear holocaust, there aren’t many things capable of impacting the human population as significantly as marriage does. Yet, the majority of people in positions to improve or optimize marriage, and to teach young children the things they need to know to have healthy and successful marriages, don’t seem to be talking about or thinking about any of this stuff.

We tend to not worry about cancer until we’re diagnosed with it.

We tend to not worry about marriage until we’re sobbing in the kitchen watching our wives drive away for the last time with our kids in the backseat.

The Masks We Wear Doom Our Relationships and Families

I got engaged and married sooner than I wanted to. I didn’t feel ready. But all around me, my friends and other couples we knew were getting married.

I was afraid to lose her. My fear of not being with her was bigger than my fear of getting married.

Which is all well and good. My biggest mistake was NOT being more fearful of divorce. But really, there was no way I could have known what I do today. And I never believed divorce was a realistic eventuality. My parents split when I was 4. I always said I would NEVER get divorced, and I meant it.

But I was just a kid. And you can’t know what you don’t know.

I was worried, but it wasn’t enough to scare me off. I assumed EVERYONE worried. I assumed EVERYONE doubted themselves. I assumed EVERYONE must feel this way leading up to their weddings.

The math for me was simple: I loved her and wanted to be with her, and I perceived marriage to be the only way that was going to happen.

We were married at 25.

Prior to marriage, we never had a legitimately honest and vulnerable conversation about sex. Likes, dislikes, fantasies, preferences, etc.

I blame me for this. I have some weird guilt-shame hang-ups about sex. Maybe all boys growing up in Catholic school in small, conservative Midwest towns do.

I wasn’t fully honest about things I liked and felt and wanted in the bedroom. I thought I was being a gentleman because I never wanted my wife to feel like she wasn’t good enough. And I never felt comfortable telling her all of the things I really thought about and felt, because What if she thinks I’m a weird perv and doesn’t want to be with me anymore?!?!

I never wanted to “plan” a date night or to have sex because I had this ridiculous idea in my head that all sex should be an act of passionate spontaneity.

I rarely flirted with my wife the way I did as a young single guy, or the way I can now as an old single guy.

There are several examples, I’m sure, of my wife and I not being as intentionally transparent and honest with one another as we should have out of fear of what the other might think.

The concept of being ACCEPTED is really important to a lot of people. It was always really important to me. Intellectually, I care less today. But emotionally? It still feels the same. There are people I want to like me and it’s not fun when it feels as if they don’t.

But a magical thought occurred to me over the past couple of years of dating, and once I recognized The Truth, almost everything about being single started to feel positive.

It has forever changed the way I feel about human relationships, about career opportunities, and about many significant Life events.

You DO NOT Want to Marry Someone Who Doesn’t Like the REAL You

I can’t begin to explain how powerful this realization was for me.

What am I so afraid of? That someone who is truly not a good fit, or a company that is truly not a good place for me to work, will reject me for being the most honest and real version of myself?

What is the motivation to date or marry someone, or to earn a job, where the true and authentic version of yourself is incompatible with the other person, or with the place you spend most of your time every day?

Yet, so many people put on masks and try to say things and behave in ways they believe the person they’re dating or the person interviewing them for a job wants to hear and see. So many people are afraid if someone knows the REAL us that we’ll be deemed unworthy of love or employment.

People go to great lengths for acceptance. To feel part of something with the best of intentions. What we often don’t realize until much too late is how many bad things could have been avoided if we were more courageous in sharing our innermost selves and thoughts and desires and beliefs, because the people who want THAT version of you—romantically or professionally—THOSE are the great matches with an incredibly high chance for success.

When you’re young and ignorant like I was, it feels safer to hide certain thoughts and feelings that might earn you a rejection from someone you want to like you. But when the stakes are as high as a marriage, or even a job where you will spend most of your time, there couldn’t be a more important time to be YOU.

Because you’re already good enough. Whether they like you or whether they hire you can’t and won’t change who you really are.

So we must own all the things that make us who we are.

And if we have to suffer dozens or hundreds of personal and professional heartbreaks and disappointments in order to get to our highly filtered matches? On the back end of a difficult divorce, I’m confident saying it feels worth it.

And even if it didn’t? Bad matches are bad matches, no matter how much they like you. And bad matches don’t have happy endings.

When people enforce their boundaries vigilantly while dating, ONLY people with a high probability for success will ever end up exchanging wedding vows with one another.

Your life will suck less and you will have a better chance for succeeding in your relationships if you read and behave according to this:

Please Read This:



You don’t HAVE to get married. You don’t.

And even if you feel like you do, I promise you don’t want to marry someone with whom you have significant compatibility issues. Every day turns into a shit show, and you kind of want to die.

When we exercise bravery, we can embrace disappointment and those BAD things that happen because we understand that all the future good things can’t happen without these moments; then we all have the opportunity to write stories with less horror and trauma and tragedy, and with more humor and hope and happiness.

You know—all the good shit.

69 thoughts on “You Don’t Have to Get Married, So Maybe You Shouldn’t”

  1. 100% yes.
    Compatibility is sooo important, but too often we fail to realize what we should be compatible on and what really doesn’t matter.
    I was married at 22. Bad move. He was a decent guy, had a place of his own, good job and the sex wasn’t bad. Plus, I wanted out of my mother’s house. Those are all shitty reasons to get married. I had a panic attack at my wedding and wanted to leave. I knew in every fiber of my being this was wrong. I did it anyway. After 5 years I wanted out even more but had no idea how to do it and not end up face first in the gutter and back at my mothers. I stayed and had two beautiful babies.
    Problem 1, you should not get married in your twenties. We do not know enough about ourselves let alone how to be a part of a positive couple.
    Problem 2, live on your own first. God I wish I had done that.
    Problem 3, make sure that you can talk to that mother fucker about what’s important to you…and that he thinks what’s important to you is important. Yes, this goes both ways, but this is my story.
    In the end it was truly our core differences that could not be overcome. I wanted to communicate, he wanted to not and just get his way. (that’s it in it’s simplest form)
    The relationship I am in now is very open. We talk about everything. We even talk about how he thinks he will never marry, and I will eventually want to be married. The conversation doesn’t make either of us run away…but it does ensure that both of us are on the same page as communication goes. If at some point I want to get married and he doesn’t, then that will likely be the end of the relationship. I know that. He knows that. Still, right now, we enjoy the hell out of each other and love each other very much.
    I will not make the same mistakes I made before, although I do believe I’ll make some. What I do know is that the new man in my life and I couldn’t talk about our differences…if he just blew me off or told me there was no way in hell he was ever going to get married, well then, I probably would be checking out. I was free and SAFE to express myself, and he the same. Not because we agreed, but because we care for each other and how our feelings are important to the other one.
    Matt, I wish people could really grasp how right you are that you do not need to get married. Boy oh boy though I wish people could have true honest conversations with each other, and be ok with being alone until the “right” one comes along.
    Sheez, I could go on and on….I won’t 🙂

    1. I don’t think there’s even a path to Healthy Relationship for people who don’t know how to be okay alone.

      I share your wishes, Dawn. Thank you very much talking about them.

    1. GOOD marriage is a GREAT thing, IB.

      I’m most certainly a proponent of GOOD marriage. Of raising children with both mom and dad showing them every day what it looks like to love and serve something greater than yourself.

      I hope you don’t think I’m against marriage, or would bad-mouth what marriage is SUPPOSED to be.

      I’m simply bad-mouthing what I perceive to be the practical reality of the average marriage today. (And again, I’m in the United States. For all I know, the “average marriage” looks a lot different in other places, though it wouldn’t appear so based on how many different languages the “dishes post” ran in or the daily traffic here from several countries).

      All that said, if you feel inclined to defend marriage, I most certainly wish you would. Marriage has been getting shit on for YEARS, and I’m afraid we’re all so bad at it that young people WON’T ever want to get married.

      Let me make one thing abundantly clear:

      I don’t think a person or a couple NEEDS marriage.

      But unless we’re going to collectively decide never to reproduce and raise chidren anymore? I think the WORLD needs marriage.

      It’s worth trying to strengthen. One conversation, and one good husband, and one good wife at a time.

  2. Acne affects 95% of people – sorry – couldn’t resist being a smarts**

  3. Even though 25 is only five years younger than I am now, I winced when I heard it. I definitely would not have been ready to get married at 25. I wouldn’t have weighed the seriousness of the proposition accurately. I’m lucky in that my friend group has largely waited until their 30s to start getting engaged and that’s meant peer pressure hasn’t really been a thing yet. I do think if you don’t want to be married while understanding all that that entails, then don’t do it. You have to be really, really sure that this is your adventure partner and, as you said, compatible person in all the most important things.

    1. I think that’s probably cultural for me.

      Where I grew up, most people were getting married in their early to mid-20s. One of my best friends from childhood married his high school girlfriend (and as it turns out, they’re about as high-functioning and beautiful a family as I’ve ever seen. Truly. I’m in awe of them.)

      I don’t know how well you know the U.S., Quinn, but “cultural norms” in certain regions of the country can differ radically, and cultural norms between the cities and rural areas can differ radically too.

      I live near Cleveland, Ohio. Compared to New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, Cleveland is a small, irrelevant city.

      But compared to where I grew up a few hours’ drive away (but still in Ohio), it’s a bunch of small towns with a whole lot of farms and fields in between.

      There are many positives, but probably also some negatives, that come along with that.

      When you grow up in a place where everyone meets their future spouse during their college years, or those early years following high school, and starts a family, there’s almost no way to know the dangers of that, and that there’s probably a better way.

  4. Good stuff as usual Matt…. I also like what Dawn has to say…. my wife and I had some serious issues in the early stages of our marriage…it nearly ended… but true to what Dawn lists…1) (and although I believe age is subjective relative to marriage) maturity is crucial for any co-endeavor. Knowing you and allowing you to develop is so critical so that everything is on the table…that goes for both sexes… When our problems began my wife often said we rushed into our marriage without knowing more about each other and ourselves.( she’s so perceptive as well as cute!) 2) even though I had been living on my own on numerous occasions, she never got the opportunity to “taste life” per say… In terms of individuality and independence, she never had a breath of her own fresh air. She went from being someone’s daughter to being someone’s wife, all while watching her friends and younger sister getting that opportunity. I’m certain she longed for the experience. In terms of sex…I’ve been her one and only from beginning to present ( Catholic girls growing up in the 60’s and 70’s could have gone either way) . While my ego would want to believe she never thought of anyone else, I’m not that simple mindedly Nieve . But even prior to our getting married when I suggested her getting a place, she honored her commitment to us by staying the course to our life together….in retrospect that was one of the single handed most courageous and selfless gifts any one human being can give to another. For that she has my undying respect,care and love for as long as we both live. And 3) in terms of communication, in the early years I was a complete asshole…I was a KIA(know it all) but more importantly I didn’t respect her perspective…I wasn’t hearing what she liked and disliked…I put her needs on the back burner. And although she claims I was never selfish…I was indeed selfish with my time ….with hearing her…working on developing the us we are now. All this came to a head 25 years ago….she was done feeling like shit being married to such a dickhead like me…she wanted to be Anne again….she wanted to live. I was crushed…but with deep introspection , counseling , lots of prayers and learning to respect the beautiful love of my life, we turned a corner and made things better and with constant and consistent and purposeful care for our relationship……understanding what brought us together brought us back…. I am grateful everyday for her love and care and everything she has honored me with in our 33 years of marriage. Matt you stress this every time you write….keep the communication, respect, care and love at the forefront…. God bless you all

    1. Thank you, Louie.

      I don’t think I’ve heard from you since you and your wife’s wedding anniversary. I did have that drink for you guys. I hope you had a great time.

      I really appreciate your thoughtful contributions here. Your experiences and journey are significant.

      1. Thank you Matt….Anne just blew a kiss to you in appreciation. The night of our official anniversary I sadly had to work . We managed to get to go out for a fish fry before I had to leave. I still got to look across the table at her beautiful hazel eyes. This Friday we are going to a 60s 70s and 80s dinner dance party in Syracuse. Your kind words are a welcomed acknowledgment of our journey. It only gets better from here! We got this….and I know that with courage, prayer ,introspection ,care and love you all reading and contributing will too. Thanks again Matt

  5. I agree-don’t get married until you are ready. But there’s one complication. What do you do when you don’t want to get married? Do you stop dating? Only date people who tell you up front that they don’t want to get married either? Is this really a conversation you have before you get to know someone? If not, when do you have it?

    The common societal thing seems to be that people date, become a couple, and usually the woman expects that the relationship should lead to marriage. But the guy just never feels ready. I’m definitely not saying in this case that he should just get married. But I am wondering how woman can avoid being in the situation where she has found a great guy and everything is working well, but marriage is not on the horizon.

    If a guy knows he’s not ready for marriage, do you think he should even be in serious relationships? Should he just casually date? Or should he avoid any relationships at all? It seems kind of crappy to miss out on all the benefits of a relationship, but it’s crappy to get to a point in a relationship where you have to break it off because the only problem is that marriage is important to one of you.

    (I am saying it’s the guy who doesn’t want “commitment”, but I am sure it happens in reverse where the lady just wants all the benefits but not the commitment)

    1. somecallmejack

      Well…I’m sure I wasn’t ready for marriage when I got married back in 1981, and I’m pretty sure my wife wasn’t, either. (:-) But, honestly, there are days now when I’m still not sure… 🙁

      How do you know whether you’re ready for marriage, or even want to be married/ready for marriage?

      I am thinking out loud here, but I want to say that I’m not sure you ever really know, and if you do know, you probably don’t (really know). In other words, if you have no questions, you should probably regard that as a yellow flag (about yourself, for yourself) – ?

      I have been exploring the Inner Bonding concept recently and Dr. Paul made a comment that struck me as sensible in one of the presentations I’ve listened to: she said that you don’t ever really “arrive,” so you should think of it as a process, and the important thing was not that you or your relationship partner had reached some specific level of growth/maturity/development but that you were both committed to continuing to do that work and doing it together.

      I suppose that someone might say “whatever else happens, there’s no way I’m getting married” and that might be a red flag for you? But are their, and your, preconceived notions written in stone, or do you take a chance and see what happens as your relationship develops? Perhaps the one who is saying “never” to marriage will change their mind. Perhaps the one who wants to say “yes” to marriage will decide that some other form of relationship/commitment is good.

      Just musing…

      1. Jack,
        “and the important thing was not that you or your relationship partner had reached some specific level of growth/maturity/development but that you were both committed to continuing to do that work and doing it together.”

        Yes, I think it is exactly that…
        As contrary to my previous comment as this may sound I believe family is one the most important and essential things that you need to make happy , functioning, productive human beings. This is for kids AND adults.
        And the reason it is so important is because
        of that statement above.
        That growth, development and maturity is what makes us those really good humans with good lives. And there is nurturing and love that goes into that too .

        I get living together and sharing things in common makes practical sense in some ways, and to clarify I am not advocating the idea that marriage is somehow obsolete or anything- but definitely, and even woefully so, we too often see the marriage as the relationship goal instead of the goal being the fruit of a good relationship.
        We have to learn how to relate and love one another before we can really even begin to model what a marriage be family is supposed to look like.

        That takes educating about love early and often.

        1. somecallmejack

          I so much like your speaking about marriage coming out of a good relationship rather than getting married and assuming that for no identifiable reason you’ll have a good relationship.

          Having said that, I do think a lot more people are a lot more “compatible” than they believe. What’s missing is some self-awareness and a commitment to confronting yourself honestly and doing some work rather than slinging blame around.

          Ideally, living together closely (which is what most marriages involve, but could be done in other ways) polishes off your mutual rough spots and grows you up into a better person.

          Unfortunately, too often, I think people just wind up dented and bruised.

          But it doesn’t have to be that way.

          1. “What’s missing is awareness…”
            Yep – that’s the whole “relationships take work” thing. ..I think the reason 95% of people will or plan on getting married is because that’s really how we are wired. Our brains developed in context of our social lives. We developed attachments etc. We experience the feeling of love, and our brains send reward chemicals that also trigger “learning”- so we seek after those things that trigger the good feelings.
            That’s all fine and good until the thing that triggers the good feelings turns around and triggers the bad.
            That’s when we have to grow up, get honest and talk about those things. Nobody likes to feel bad – that’s almost universal except for those rare few.
            We don’t get that far in our Hollywood love stories, we don’t get to the part where we have to own how we hurt our partners, and have to intentionally act in ways that make them feel from those feel good chemicals.
            Love starts off being about all the good we feel – it’s basically about ourselves.
            The work of love is what we give to the other.

      2. Jack….I think we spoke back around Christmas time…. I just want to say that reading some of your comments tells me volumes about your character. Sir you are thoughtful, insightful, intelligent, caring and obviously love your wife and marriage. I don’t really know you from a sack of apples but what I can tell is that you are working very hard to make things better. You and I are about the same age and we seem to be of the same ilk. Deep thinkers and Deep feelers. That said , I would like to offer something I have been saying forever but it speaks in most of my comments. Anything worthwhile is worth a fight to preserve. In marriage especially the fight is generally waged between you and your wife, outside influences,notions, beliefs, social norms, perceptions, emotions and a whole host of things that seemingly come out of nowhere. The foulest of the foes in this fight is yourself. Everything you may have been taught,deprived of,seen,imagined,had ingrained,have been guilted into, talked yourself into and sort of believed ,plays a heavy role. Essentially what I want to say is never give up…not on you not on your marriage not on anyone or anything worth your soul’s involvement . You hit so many nails on the head in your posts that I feel you are winning the fight. You also seem a little Leary as well but sir you got this ! I will pray for you and your wife and family. Not trying to get overly religious with anyone here but my daily prayer is for , strength,courage and wisdom. I will ask of that for you as well as your wife family and all those here on the same journey. Blessings to you and to all

        1. somecallmejack

          “The foulest of the foes in this fight is yourself.”

          Mercy, isn’t that the truth? 🙁

          “I will ask of that for you as well as your wife family and all those here on the same journey. ”

          Thank you, sir. 🙂

    2. Lissy, I don’t think you have to have a marriage to have a commitment to each other and the relationship.
      I don’t think you have to live together and share everything in common. That doesn’t measure commitment or love. I think that is part of what we see, so we just do the same thing- whether it fits us or not.
      I’ve lived by myself more years than I lived at home (which was essentially by myself anyway) so I don’t know if I would adjust very easily to living with someone if that were to ever come up. ..maybe if it made financial and practical sense, there may be a time for that- but I don’t think it’s a requirement to have a commitment in a relationship.

    3. Well this is where I think a commitment to Boundaries and Values comes in.

      Some people believe polyamorous relationships and group sex is a healthy relationship model.

      Others are much more conservative, for any number of reasons, but most of them religious and/or cultural conditioning.

      The older I’ve gotten, the less inclined I’ve been to place Right and Wrong labels on things.

      That’s not always a popular position. I don’t get a lot of blowback when I criticize murder and rape and child abuse and terrorism, obviously, but when it comes to these more nuanced conversations about morality as it pertains to sex and raising children and Right vs. Wrong, there are strong arguments to be made for believing in something and standing up for those.

      I don’t think my “I Don’t Know, So I Don’t Tell Others What to Believe” philosophy is foolproof.


      Aren’t I within my rights to only exist in relationships with people who fit any criteria I want?

      People can have super-narrow parameters, or they can accept virtually all comers, but I think people need to have Core Values and a set of Boundaries that are defined, and communicated to others.

      If Marriage is a Core Value someone has because of religious beliefs, or some other personal reason, and they are with someone that considers marriage a violation of their personal boundaries or values, then I would strongly advise both people to part as friends and choose something else.

      “Values are who YOU are, not who you think you should be in order to fit in.”

      I think Values need to be in alignment between two people to have a realistic chance at Forever.

      And boundaries?

      There are things people can do or say to us. Things we can feel as a result of others actions that violate what we consider okay.

      MANY of us let people violate our boundaries knowing or unknowingly because we’re afraid to change, or afraid to fight, or afraid of something.

      And I think this is how all these good people end up destroying their marriages.

      Boundaries must be vigilantly enforced, even if it means painfully weeding out those who refuse to honor them.

      Values should be openly discussed LONG before anyone exchanges promises of any kind to make sure they don’t fundamentally contradict one another.

      I just can’t see any other way to feel confident and secure in a relationship.

      You have to put EVERYTHING out there. All the scary shit.

      The people who don’t stick? They’re large, painful problems successfully avoided.

      The people who do stick? Keepers.

      1. somecallmejack

        Another crisp observation from Margaret Paul: boundaries are things we adopt about what _we_ are willing to do. Boundaries aren’t about what _other_ people can or cannot do.

        I may not be saying that clearly… “You can’t do that in our relationship” is not a boundary. “If you do that, I am going to do [a specified consequence]” is a boundary. The first is trying to control the other person. The second is describing how we will respond in the relationship.

        1. Powerful distinction, indeed. I would do well to make sure I’m pointing out that critical truth when I talk about boundary enforcement.

          Thank you, again. I don’t think I can describe how big and important I believe that little slice of nuance to be.

          1. somecallmejack

            Yes…and then there’s that little matter of keeping it straight, not only in your head, but in your daily living…

            So many times I think “well, you aren’t being controlling to your wife” and then you get a little time or perspective and you realize “oh $h!t, there I go again…”

        2. Jack- I can agree here, too- boundaries are for yourself, they are they define you, not the other person. They also have a lot to do with self care.

  6. “When we exercise bravery, we can embrace disappointment and those BAD things that happen because we understand that all the future good things can’t happen without these moments; then we all have the opportunity to write stories with less horror and trauma and tragedy, and with more humor and hope and happiness.” love love love love love love love … best sentence ever. Great post, Matt, as usual. 🙂

  7. “The magic of boundaries”, I really like that line. Relationships are all about boundaries, as well as knowing and expressing your expectations no matter what your fear will be the outcome. How else will you know if they like the real you, or you really like them?Communication is key, something that lacked in my marriage – it only took me twenty years to figure out that that wasn’t going to improve no matter how much I tried to introduce the idea. He and I were a lot like what you described yourself to be, must be the Catholic guilt thing.

    If only one lesson came out of my divorce, it’s that I now have a true compass for my communication skills and I try to stay true to who I am. I am up front and honest from the beginning, possibly bold in some instances. But better to be bold and go home alone than to hold back and end up in another miserable relationship for the next twenty years because I was too afraid to say what I need or think. You’re right, nobody has to get married. It’s time we accept that that’s okay and relax a bit.

    1. I love that you said this. The part about erring on the side of bold.

      That’s it exactly. I am really upfront about what I perceive my shortcomings to be, and once the obligatory pleasantries have been exchanged, I’m not at all afraid to broach what many consider to be uncomfortable topics, because FOR ME, someone unwilling to take deep dives into things, and think about/talk about the stuff that makes us uncomfortable, isn’t someone I can have a successful relationship anyway.

      Better to know that on Date #1 or #2 than later.

      The goal can’t be to “find” someone.

      The goal can’t be to have someone “pick you.”

      The goal can’t be to be with some very specific someone (unless there’s history and familiarity).

      The goal (to me, at least) must be: To live life every day open to the possibility of traveling the Forever Road with someone again, but not specifically seeking it. When you’re the best you possible, and work toward being the best future partner possible, and Life puts you with someone where everything falls into place, then I think those are the people who don’t have to grind and struggle so hard to go the distance.

      When we don’t try to force and manufacture something without all the proper materials and tools.

      We just gather all the things we need and try our best to learn how to use them. And then when Life calls on us to, we’ll be ready.

      1. Those are lessons that aren’t as easily learned in our twenties, either. I was married at 29 but had been with my ex since I was 26 – I thought I was ready and had it all figured out by then. With age comes wisdom I suppose, but wouldn’t it have been great if we were taught that idea, either by example or discussion, while we were growing up? Maybe we could lower the divorce rate just by helping people figure out what they’re really expecting in a relationship, and being comfortable with asking for it or discussing it, before they jump into marriage?
        The dream.

        1. Yes! I agree with what you said about being in your 20’s. I remember spending a good portion of my early 20’s being spent attempting to impress others and also struggling with the person I knew I was. Not exactly the time to commit your life to someone else.

    2. somecallmejack

      “I am up front and honest from the beginning, possibly bold in some instances. But better to be bold and go home alone than to hold back and end up in another miserable relationship for the next twenty years because I was too afraid to say what I need or think.”

      I have come to realize over the last 18 months or so that this is the single hardest thing for me to do. I can literally walk into bullets but talking openly and honestly about what I think, what I want, what I feel makes me freeze up. I can do it in my head, but I cannot get the words past my teeth.

      I am working on this but you ladies should be aware that for some of us, especially those of us who had no role models at all and learned when we were younger that the world was not a safe place for us to open up about what’s going on inside, this is the hardest thing we may ever do in our lifetimes.

      1. If I hadn’t practiced, more than 600 times, publishing things I’m not always comfortable writing about, I wouldn’t be able to do this either.

        I know the feeling you describe.

        And when I talk about wearing masks in our marriages THAT is what I’m talking about. I’m not talking about secret plots and evilness. I’m talking about being so afraid of how someone might react to the truth about us, that something like speech paralysis kicks in.

        I’m glad you said this. Thank you.

      2. I used to be more like that until only recently – divorce has set me free in many ways, more of a free fall most times, but still free. I understand where you’re coming from though, and I sometimes think it’s more generational. It doesn’t seem like my kids are afraid to express themselves to me or their friends, it’s almost assumed that it is their right. They don’t worry that they won’t be liked or accepted nearly as much as I remember worrying. By contrast, I wasn’t led to believe that my opinion counted or was important, or what I needed was necessary. But this latest life shakeup began the question in my head “what have I got to lose at this point?” and usually it’s not much in the grand scheme of things. And when I began to embrace that mantra I honestly felt better in my own skin, and happier overall. Plus, it’s much easier and safer than walking into bullets, for sure! Try it in baby steps, the small things in life, and if one of your ladies doesn’t seem to be on the same page it’s all for the better to find that out sooner than later.

        1. somecallmejack

          Open your mouth (at least, when it’s connected to your heart) – lose the relationship?

          Keep your mouth shut – lose your soul.

          Only one of these is viable…

        2. Another great point. It wasn’t just all the writing here.

          Divorce did a real number on me, and I was in bad shape for a while.

          Things stop scaring you at rock-bottom.

          Unfortunately, that ONE perk of feeling that shitty didn’t last. As normalcy returned, so too did some irrational anxieties.

          Smart and wise enough to recognize them, at least. But not always strong enough to proceed bravely.

          Always working on that.

          1. somecallmejack

            It would be so nice if we could learn this stuff without having to put ourselves, our partners and our kids, among others, through relationship-ectomies. 🙁

  8. Massively appreciate this. My parents keep saying that I’ll change my mind when I get older and I should stay open to love. ? Life. Is. Fulfilling. Regardless. Of. Whether. You’re. Married. Marriage doesn’t equal love. Love doesn’t equal marriage.

  9. Hmmm… the truth as I have experienced it is that being your natural self in many situations doesn’t work. For instance, the natural thing for most guys to do is to excessively chase after a woman they like and be needy with her in the hopes that she will eventually like them and I think we all know that this doesn’t work. I think the key is to work hard on improving who you already are such that just being the new stronger/more improved/more attractive version of yourself appeals to the right people. My humble opinion…

    1. I think that’s fair analysis, good sir.

      I don’t think needy, chasey guys are particularly good candidates for marriage. I would hope no one WOULD marry that kind of person (though I get that this happens).

      Ideally, two self-aware, constantly improving people are the ones getting together.

      In which case, I agree with you. Become self-aware. Constantly improve. Have high standards. Respect yourself and your future family by making really prudent, responsible marriage choices.

      I think approaching it that way weeds out most of the riff-raff, OR protects them from yourself if you know you’re not ready.

  10. Duuuuuuuuude I missed the couple of installments. I ‘m gonna have to go back and check them out because this is soooooo great. Your last paragraph is so on point! Love that, I especially liked “When people enforce their boundaries vigilantly while dating, ONLY people with a high probability for success will ever end up exchanging wedding vows with one another.”

    Dude. Yes. The key is enforcing boundaries vigilantly I can’t tell you what an epic A-HA! Moment I had when you wrote about that sometime last year. Hard lesson to learn, but glad I learned it and I’m so much better because of it. THANKS for posting!

  11. I love living in these days where you don’t have to marry if you don’t feel so called to, and both me and woman get those feelings, I love living in the 2010’s where women aren’t mocked for being alone long term anymore

  12. Rebekah Verbeten

    My husband and I met freshman year of college and got to be really good friends before starting to date (or admitting we were essentially dating already…) at the beginning of junior year. I think it can be easier to start to have the awkward conversations and work out how to communicate well before getting physical. We knew for sure we liked each other just as people before figuring out the romantic side of things.

    More specifically to your topic, we were BOTH on the same page about getting engaged and moving towards the wedding. I’ve never understood the women who do the ‘propose or I’m gone’ ultimatum. Why in the world would you want a proposal that you had to twist his arm to get? If you want to be married, find a guy who also does and you’ve got a much better shot at him listening to you as far as the issues addressed in this blog.

    Sometimes I wonder if they didn’t have it right a century ago with younger women marrying older guys (not the 30-40 year difference, more like 5-10, maybe). Give the guys time to grow up a bit, for lack of a better phrase. That’s not to say it can’t work otherwise. I was 22, he was a couple months shy of 23 when we exchanged vows. But we’ve also had a million conversations about how being good friends first shifted our methods of communication.

    Anyway, there’s the rambling thoughts the article sparked…hope they make sense to someone other than me! 🙂

    1. I used to joke that girls/women should date guys at least five years older than them, as I perceive (at least from teens through 35) to be about a five-year lag between the emotional intelligence and maturity of the two genders. (Example: A 20-year-old female should generally target 25-year-old males to find someone on approximately the same page there.)

      That’s completely pulled out of my ass. I don’t have any sort of data on that. But I would bet that if younger women married men 5-10 years older than them on average, we’d see some positives in the divorce-statistics department.

      I bet the Gottmans have some data to that end. I should look it up.

      1. Rebekah Verbeten

        Exactly! If people of your same age don’t want the same thing you do, look elsewhere!

        Then of course there’s the cultural tradition of the man needing to be able to support his family. Even if it isn’t necessary anymore I get the impression that a lot of guys feel like they need to be capable of that before getting married. Part of why the age difference used to be the norm…income-producing male marrying high-fertility female. Plus nobody used to expect their spouse to make them happy, but that’s a whole separate series of articles, right?

        1. You make excellent observations.

          And I 100% agree with your final thought on how people didn’t used to rely on their spouses to make them happy. People need to find happiness on their own.

          HOWEVER, the counter to that would be that spouses shouldn’t be a source of pain and misery for the other.

          I have all kinds of theories about communities and old village-style living and large families and tight-knit groups of people who grow up together and never disband to any great extent.

          I think people WITHIN those group/family/community dynamics fare much, much, much better in marriage than those of us who live in places far from where we grew up, or are otherwise disconnected from some sort of Tribe.

          They say many hands make light work.

          I think we can apply that to damn near EVERY facet of male-female romantic relationships.

          1. Rebekah Verbeten

            A spouse should definitely not be a source of pain and misery, but I figure it also isn’t fair to put an unfair load on a relationship. I always try really hard to think about whether something that’s bothering me is unreasonable or not. We still talk about it either way, but the approach shifts from ‘can you please change this’ to ‘here’s a line of thought I’m having to fight in my own head.’ Most of the time I avoid expecting him to read my mind 🙂

            I’d be interested to hear those theories. I grew up Air Force, so I probably have a different take on living away from family. You can also live too close…I know a few people who would benefit from not being able to run to Mom and Dad with every little problem. But when we lived away from genetic family, we picked family and put down roots wherever we were (both growing up and when my husband and I lived away from our families). So we found a new Tribe and I’m kind of proving your point in an anecdotal way I suppose!

            Perhaps part of the problem is that so few people have more than a couple of examples of good healthy relationships. And a clear understanding of the work it takes to maintain them. The whole ‘love should just happen’ crap drives me insane. Love is a choice. Some days an easy one to make, and other days you hang on by your fingernails.

          2. somecallmejack

            Just want to quote this for amplification. I have been really thinking, well maybe it’s more like ruminating on, the absence in my upbringing of good examples of either healthy relationships or the understanding of the effort required to have them. 🙁

            “Perhaps part of the problem is that so few people have more than a couple of examples of good healthy relationships. And a clear understanding of the work it takes to maintain them. The whole ‘love should just happen’ crap drives me insane. Love is a choice. Some days an easy one to make, and other days you hang on by your fingernails.”

            Also, to your next post below, where you wrote: “I guess what I’m trying to say is if an expectation for something doesn’t exist, there won’t be disappointment if it doesn’t happen,” I agree…you said what I was trying to say with about 0.1% of the space in column. 😉

          3. Rebekah Verbeten

            Probably took me as long to wordsmith that phrase as it took you to write your whole comment!

            We talk a LOT about how to make sure our kids (just had our 4th girl two months ago!) see us model a solid marriage. See us disagree (respectfully, even if strongly at times) and listen and apologize and be vulnerable and absolutely NEVER use weaknesses as weapons. Hopefully find a way to teach them to find a person/partner/teammate who will work as hard as they will to do those things because the effort makes such a big difference.

            One of your other comments about being taught that opening up is something unsafe really hit home for me. That’s where the friendship my husband and I started with helps us…for some reason it seems easier to be vulnerable with a friend than a lover sometimes. Peeking out from behind the masks. Building that trust and history and feeling like if you say ‘here can you hold my heart for a bit’ you’ll get it back more whole than when you handed it over. From a foundation like that you can take on anything. Still isn’t fun or easy, but as Matt mentioned, many hands make light work. Or less lonely work if nothing else.

          4. somecallmejack

            I think my greatest regret is that in spite of our intentions we did a poor job of modeling a healthy marriage for our kids, and the reality is that they (28 and 26) started their adult lives without a good example of respectfully speaking up for ourselves and constructively resolving our differences with love. Instead they saw a lot of the four horsemen.

            My second greatest regret is that we lived for so many years without that trust and warm companionship between us, and missed a lot that could have been if we had been less timid and more trusting.

            My greatest fear is that after all those years we may have grown so calcified in our hearts and habits that it may turn out to be impossible to work our way to anything like what we could and should have built together.

            Time will tell but time doesn’t feel the way it did in my 20s or 30s or 40s, and there’s very little left of the 50s. (:-/. But we struggle on…

          5. Rebekah Verbeten

            I imagine that would feel like trying to turn the Titanic. Are you both working towards shifting things or is it one-sided? Hope it works for you!

          6. somecallmejack

            Yeah, well, let’s hope that the only comparison to the Titanic is turning things around!!! Yes, we are both working, but we have different goals and different ideas about how to get there and feel different ways about what constitutes progress and what sort of progress sustains hopefulness. None of that is a surprise, of course, so those aren’t negative comments at all. Just woulda been easier to work this out 30 years ago.

          7. Matt,
            I have similar ideology about community and tribes. – However, because the world is what it is today there are rare communities like that. And Frankly, it can feel very nationalistic and exclusive when you are on the “outside.”
            As far as your comment about individuals need to make themselves happy, again – I have a similar ideology, but I think it all should be qualified with “to a certain extent”.

            One of your comments talks about the right to like who you like, and to choose who you will have relationship with-
            That right there – the liking who you like is about someone else making you happy.
            I absolutely believe that everyone gets to deal with their own stuff. In the end they are the ones responsible, but I think it’s natural and normal to want to make someone you care about “happy”- because you like to see that expression on their face, or because you know them well enough to know how they will respond etc.

        2. somecallmejack

          “Plus nobody used to expect their spouse to make them happy, but that’s a whole separate series of articles, right?”

          I want to challenge that, at least partly.

          On the one hand, I do think our ideas of happiness and self-actualization and related concepts have developed a great deal in the last century or so, at least in countries where we have the relative leisure to dwell on the fact that we may be unhappy and unfulfilled. :-\ (cue some ironic-sounding background music, please)

          On the other, I think (and I’m sure just about everyone here agrees?) that the yearning for connection, for relationship-ness, to be known and accepted, to have a few people we really care about witness our lives, is hard-wired into our genetics. I don’t think those are new at all, I think they probably are inherent elements of being Homo Sapiens (or maybe earlier?).

          In a now-long ago and faraway life I used to be very active in 18th century living history. We often see average lifespan figures quoted that look quite short by comparison to today, but what is not often pointed out is that the *average* reflects two mass-mortality periods in life: childhood, and child-bearing. Males who survived childhood, and females who survived childhood and child-bearing, often lived to very advanced ages, even by today’s standards. If you factor out freak accidents that didn’t get modern trauma care and illnesses that couldn’t be defeated with antibiotics, you probably get equivalent life spans. That’s a rambling wind-up to this point: people often assume that our predecessors of, say, 150 years ago (mid-19th century) were somehow more accepting of, more resigned to, less affected by, the deaths of their children and the hardships of life. I can’t prove it quantitatively, but having read a lot of personal correspondence and journals from the 18th and 19th centuries, I offer my opinion that our predecessors were not more accepting, less hurt, more resigned. They hurt and suffered and broke inside just as much as we do.

          I do get wordy, and apologies for that, but I really do want to say that I don’t think we should assume that earlier generations (for example, my late grandparents, who were all born before the start of World War I) didn’t feel the effects of crappy relationships.

          I *do* think that if we’re being careful about words, “happiness,” as we understand it today, and the pain that we experience, may have been very different for them, though. It’s the product of that Buddhist teaching about suffering being essentially self-inflicted when your expectations diverge from your reality. We, today, probably have different (very different?) expectations than my grandparents, and we suffer in proportion to those differences.

          1. Rebekah Verbeten

            “I offer my opinion that our predecessors were not more accepting, less hurt, more resigned. They hurt and suffered and broke inside just as much as we do.”

            Totally agree with you there! They were just as human and in need of connection. My understanding, though, is that marriage was for stability and children and companionship. A ‘love match’ was, for quite some time, seen as irrational, because you couldn’t know if such strong emotions were going to last. Love could grow, but vows were more likely to be said with mutual respect and friendship rather than starry eyes.

            There have always been really crappy situations. But the stuff Matt writes about I think may not have been as common for most previous generations. In part maybe because of clearly defined gender roles which have shifted. In part because of our cultural outlook on ‘happiness’ and ‘fulfillment.’ I guess what I’m trying to say is if an expectation for something doesn’t exist, there won’t be disappointment if it doesn’t happen.

          2. I really like your point about friendship, Rebekah.
            As well as about expectations.
            However – I think that is were personal boundaries comes in to say what a healthy expectation is or isn’t.

          3. Rebekah Verbeten

            I think when it comes to a romantic relationship, expectations get mixed up with boundaries in ways that don’t necessarily happen in platonic ones. Pretty sure Matt had an article relating to choosing a partner (I kind of binged a bunch of his articles when I stumbled across the blog a few weeks ago so some of them blur together a bit). If boundaries/expectations aren’t considered/discussed until after vows are exchanged you set up disaster relationship scenarios where everyone can get very hurt.

            With all of the Hollywood romance and emphasis on soulmates and finding ‘the one’ that is a lot of pressure to put on a relationship…especially with the cultural trend of ‘love shouldn’t be hard.’ Throw in there the discouragement guys tend to get any time they show emotion other than when their team wins the Superbowl/Series/Cup and communication gets even harder.

            There’s a bunch of nuance that I can’t quite sort out the words to tease out on this topic, but there’s a start…

          4. Lol – Rebekah, yes I think you’ve pretty much summed it up. 🙂
            What I was thinking in regards to expectation is that just like someone could expect their husband to treat them a certain way – let’s say, opening the door for them, another person’s expectations could be that he will ignore me if I ask him a question.
            I read and heard several things a few years ago that talked about what you were saying – in the 1800’s men probably didn’t expect their wife’s legs to be shaven, however I think that is a current expectation. It wasn’t a thing back then (or I’m assuming not) so it couldn’t be expected.
            I tend to err on the side of being layed back, understanding, accepting of what is given etc. So, I’m not saying that you have to have these high expectations to have good personal boundaries. I was just thinking : if boundaries are a sort of division or marker of territory, there is an inside and outside of the boundary. The thing/ action from the outside interacts with you and you decide what that feels like- if it’s tolerable or not, and then you decide what action needs to be taken. Sometimes the action is to stand up for yourself, or remove yourself, but the more important action may be learning to care for yourself – learning what you need to do when presented with that stimulus.(that may just be a bunch of rambling drivel, but it seemed important 🙂 .. basically what I was saying that your expectations are an indication of your boundaries. And there are some expectations both on the high and low end that could be considered healthy or unhealthy. (Like literally what keeps you in balance vs. throws you off balance).

          5. Rebekah Verbeten

            Gotcha Lindsey. I really like that expectations/boundaries interaction the way you explain it. I hate that feeling when you’re not explaining something the way you want to! But I really like that most commenters here seem to ask for the nuance rather than taking offense.

            The way I understand what you wrote as it would dovetail into the blog is that the communication of how a particular action/event interacts with a boundary is where many relationships have a breakdown. The woman sees something as a hostile approach while the guy is looking at a totally different map. Close to what you were thinking? Or am I going off on a whimsical tangent? (frequent occurrence…)

            I do think the masks and ‘best foot forward’ stuff is why we have the cliche. You find your best fit when you aren’t forcing the puzzle pieces. And you figure out all the compatibility topics besides physical. I kind of understand why people fixate on that, but if that’s the foundation for the entire relationship let’s face it, life will get rough when there are dry spells!

            PS-pretty sure there were times in history where the only women who did shave were of a certain profession…

          6. Rebekah – 2 things, 1) I think I am really bad at presenting my ideas at times. ..I’ve heard and read ideas related to expectancy vs. Expectation. …I was using a historical example of how we sort of grow expectations.
            2.) You said “I think when it comes to a romantic relationship, expectations get mixed up with boundaries in ways that don’t necessarily happen in platonic ones. ”
            I couldn’t agree more. You are allowed to be yourself because you are not trying to get this person to like you. (So you think that is why we have that old cliche saying “you’ll find them when you’re aren’t looking?” 🙂

      2. I hate to say your wrong, but I will definitely say the whole 5 years younger/ older idea is flawed.
        First, yeah- it’s very paternalistic
        And second there is a point in time when the whole “shes more mature” thing evens out.
        All rates of development slow as we age.
        Being that I’m in a college town I am regularly around people younger than me. My best friend is 10 years younger than me. That’s in part because she is super mature (she’s a married mother of 2.75 kids and a PhD/ research biologist) and because I had to catch up on some things- but I wouldn’t call myself immature.
        My point being age doesn’t equal maturity, for males or females.

  13. “I am NOT pro-marriage (unless people plan to have children).”

    Care to eleborate?

    1. Sure.

      That was a poor attempt to clarify motivation for writing about this. It isn’t to advocate for marriage, nor rail against it. People can and should decide on their own what makes sense for them.

      Divorce is different. Save for instances of con artisty where one person suckered the other into marriage delibarately, marriages consist of two people who intentionally chose a lifetime commitment togerher. And I think most divorce happens because of an accidental communication breakdown.

      I know many people want divorce after a relationship turns to shit. But what I would like is for people to never get to that point because they’re not negligently doing all the things that kill marriages.

      Circling back to the comment you asked me to elaborate on, I said I’m not pro-marriage, per se. The caveat is kids.

      I don’t think there’s a strong argument for society being better off if we are intentionally having and raising kids outside of marriage. Children thrive when they have two parents at home.

      And in the end, I think kids matter and deserve better than a lifetime of dealing with divorced parents who never honestly wanted it.

      So I’m not pro-marriage, generally. But with kids involved, I am pro marriage because I believe that will make their lives better.

      My motivation

      1. somecallmejack

        So here’s an interesting question and remember it’s not quite 4 a.m. 😉 Is it having two parents that’s better for kids, or is it not growing up in the turmoil and distress that often accompanies divorce? I have no idea what the research says (and I bet it’s all over the map?).

        1. See, as some are aware I have recently gone down the divorce road. Not what I wanted, and I *wish* my kids could have been able to grow up in a house with both parents.

          But my marriage had devolved into a mess, where my wife was completely checked out and had no intention or interest in trying to actually have a relationship again. In her case though, because she wanted the kids to grow up in a “stable home” she felt it was fine for us to have shitty marriage and keep the family together.

          To me, what we were modeling was crap – and I didn’t want my kids growing up thinking that was normal or alright. I wanted her to work on making our marriage the best it could be, and when she wouldn’t I figured it would be best to split the family and at least have the kids be in a spot where they could be in a loving supportive environment at least half the time.

          I’ve met someone new, who seems pretty great so far (yay!), and although it will be a long time before my kids are introduced to her I still believe it will be better in my kids in the long run to be able to witness me in a happy/healthy relationship – even if it’s not with their mom, than to continue to grow up in the environment they were in.

          Actually, I think it’s better for them to see me alone than to see me in the environment they were in.

          Yes, there is turmoil and distress with divorce. But there can also be turmoil and distress when the environment has turned toxic.

          So to Jack’s question – I think the key is to get the kids away from turmoil and distress. Sometimes that means people stay together, and sometimes that means divorce is better.

  14. Pingback: Do You Love Your Spouse Enough?: The Uncomfortable Truth About Who Should Rank #1 Among Our Spouses, Children & Parents | Must Be This Tall To Ride

  15. One thing which would help everyone, including those bitter incel cultist men, would be making being single, being virginal and being child less, less of a thing to be ashamed about, Men and women, but mostly women, get a lot of shame for “never being married” and “not having any kids that sad wah” by everyone not them. We as a society need to be more okay with people being single, not dating, being “Spinsters”, being bachelors, being virginal and not having kids, just, not being weird about it, and not shaming someone for not marrying.
    Men would feel less shame for not dating around and being a “Chad” and women would feel less desperation, and more ease with finding the right person.

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