Albert Einstein once said, “Men marry women with the hope they will never change. Women marry men with the hope they will change. Invariably, they’re both disappointed.”
Men and women have completely different expectations of marriage. Men may be slower to arrive at the altar, but once there, they’re typically good to go. They don’t spend the subsequent years trying to change the woman they married, nor do they fantasize about what life with another woman might be like. They just exist.
Women, on the other hand, want to change a man once they’ve married him! Really, when you think about it, this makes no sense. But that’s what they do anyway. When they’re unsuccessful, they begin to imagine what life would be like with another husband. They don’t accept that life is a series of trade-offs and that they can’t get everything they want all wrapped up in one man.
Our culture also doesn’t encourage women to accept trade-offs. They’re taught they’re entitled to it “all” and as a result expect too much. They focus on the “what-ifs” rather than on the what is. Here are the three most common unrealistic expectations women harbor about men and marriage.
1. My Husband Should Be My Soulmate
Here’s what love is not: being swept away on a white horse by a gorgeous, svelte guy who makes gobs of money and who, miraculously, doesn’t drink or gamble or stay out late but who’s a fully engaged husband and father who cooks, cleans, and plays with his kids for hours.
This man Does. Not. Exist. (Or if he does, he’s taken.) Many women say they know this is unrealistic, but they don’t actually accept it. If they did, they wouldn’t be chronically dissatisfied.
Once again, it’s the culture that did it to them. By the time the average woman gets married, she’s been drowning in “rom-coms,” or romantic comedies. These films are meant to be an escape from real life, but rarely are women impervious to such stories. Women feed off romance—we love that stuff! But the message coming out of Hollywood is totally unrealistic.
Love wasn’t even the original purpose of marriage. It was initially about children and property. Even once love did become a focus, women had reasonable expectations for what marriage could deliver. It wasn’t until marriage became entirely optional, as a result of the Pill and women’s growing economic independence, that marriage began to shift from being about duty and obligation (combined with love) to being about finding a soul mate.
What a fruitless mission! So of all the millions of men in the world, a woman is supposed to find this one man who’ll fulfill all her dreams and whose goals and personality mesh so beautifully with hers the two of them will never experience pain or disappointment again? If that’s the plan going in, you’re doomed. The “soul mate” concept sets the bar too high. It’s unsustainable.
In fact, romantic love is a lot like addiction. A crap ton of dopamine gets released in the early months or even years of a relationship, and can make us downright stupid. You’ve heard the adage “love is blind”—that’s where it comes from. But this infatuation period always ends, and the relationship shifts to a different stage. When that happens, people see their partners in a whole new light. Once the initial phase of the relationship has passed, people realize they need a lot more than romance to keep it going. A lot more.
There is no man you can fall in love with for whom this will not be your fate. Let me repeat that, because it’s so important: There is no man you can fall in love with for whom this will not be your fate.
At the end of the day, marriage is a much more pragmatic undertaking than women wish it were. In fact, life in general is a much more pragmatic undertaking than women wish it was. Life can’t be endless parties and entertainment. If you chase that dream, you will be disappointed. The only way to make peace with marriage is to get comfortable with the mundane and find joy within that.
2. I Will Have an Equal Marriage
No expectation has been more damaging to women than the feminist notion of equality. Notice I say the “feminist” notion. That’s because a marriage can be equal, or equal enough, depending on how you define this term, regardless of who does what. So much of what is wrong with feminism has to do with the labeling. If you change the definition of a word or a phrase, the entire scenario looks different.
The kind of equality women have been taught to embrace suggests men and women are interchangeable, and they are not. A marriage can be reasonably fair—I say “reasonably” because nothing in life is fair, to anyone—without husbands and wives living identical lives.
Let’s say you and I went into business together. To make it work, we would no doubt divvy up the tasks associated with the business. You’d be responsible, say, for the bookkeeping and for getting new clients, whereas I’d be responsible for working with the clients. For the business to operate effectively, both of our tasks are equally important. Without one, we can’t have the other. We are a team.
It’s the same way with marriage. Raising a family requires a myriad of tasks that are impossible for one person to do alone successfully. If there’s respect in the marriage, it shouldn’t make any difference who’s performing which task—assuming the tasks have been arranged according to what both people think is best. (And yes, that includes the “traditional” arrangement.) When you start playing tit for tat, your marriage is doomed.
Americans are taught that couples who both work full time and split household chores and childrearing right down the line have an “equal” marriage, and that those who do not do this are living lesser lives. But this version of equality makes no allowances for sex differences. Being capable of doing the same things does not mean you both want to do the same things. And that’s okay!
How much work you or your husband do on the home front depends upon several factors, such as which one of you is home more. Whoever’s home more often—whoever works fewer hours, in other words—is going to do more of the work at home.
When both partners work full-time and year-round, marriage has the potential to become a war zone. It’s not a coincidence that as more and more women became breadwinners, we’ve heard more and more about who’s doing what on the home front. If both partners are living parallel lives, it’s only natural to keep score.
But at the end of the day, it’s about teamwork. So do yourself a favor and forget about equality. It’s a stupid goal for marriage.
3. Marriage Will Make Me Happy
Being happily married does not mean you’ll be happy all the time. On any given day, week, month, or year you will, in fact, not be happy—nor will you have warm fuzzies for your husband. Sometimes your marriage will suck. So go with it; let it suck. Don’t assume that whatever’s happening means you married the wrong man or that your marriage is doomed. Don’t assume that because things aren’t working out the way you want them to at that particular moment in time that you need a different life.
The purpose of marriage is not to make you happy. You and you alone are responsible for that.
This may sound depressing at face value. But once you accept that marriage isn’t designed to make you happy, it frees you up to focus on what does make you happy. By recognizing your happiness level begins and ends with you, your energy will be focused in the right direction.
Now, if you’re chronically unhappy, that is something to address. But if that’s the case, it isn’t necessarily your husband or the marriage that’s causing your unhappiness. It’s likely something that rests within you.
If you divorce a perfectly good man in the hopes of finding another man who’ll make you happy, you will be disappointed. Because that’s not how it works.