Like most American women, the path into a career was clear for me, with all the checkpoints to make seeming pretty obvious and constantly urged by books, in popular media, and by the adults in my life. Good grades, check. Good scores after taking all the college-entrance tests multiple times, check. Extracurriculars that look good on a college application, check. A strong high school transcript, check.
Then, in college, it was the same drill, at a higher level: Study like it’s your job, stuff your summers with internships, pursue multiple skills and hobbies, practice for those job interviews. Then pick the best job opportunity you get, and do it all over again out “in the real world.” Somehow, that landed me an extremely satisfying career and wonderful colleagues, for both of which I am deeply grateful.
The path forward into a similarly fulfilling marriage, however, was not so clear. What boxes does one check on the way to the altar and a happily ever after?
Like many other American women, I never made serious plans for how I would find happiness in my personal life with a husband and children. I just assumed it would kind of happen. And nobody gave me specific advice about how to relate to a man, improve myself as a future wife, evaluate a potential spouse, handle tricky personal conversations and questions, or how to responsibly get from “he’s sure hot” to “I do.”
But just like beautiful homes and gardens don’t “just happen,” neither do marriages. Both take a huge amount of attention and conscientious cultivation. Today, many women sadly find this out after their bodies are already winding down their ability to have children, and they regret it for the rest of their lives. If ever our culture and many people in positions of influence in our lives, such as pastors, teachers, and parents, even broach the idea of romance that leads to marriage, the standard advice is quite counterproductive.
Adopting a “girl boss” preen might give one a career edge, but in one’s personal life it is decidedly unattractive to the average man, for example. On the flip side, women often keep men in a holding pattern, psychologically resisting marriage because they’re taught to even subconsciously view it as a ball and chain.
None of my single girlfriends had then, or now, any idea about how to move from dating to marriage even if a guy would ask us out, which in our opinion men ventured far too rarely. It made us wonder if we were ugly or something.
I was blessed far beyond what I deserve. I stumbled into marriage to the most wonderful man I have ever known, at pretty much the perfect time in life. But I was not well instructed in how to love a man, nor have many of my peers had the luck to even land one in the first place. So what’s a girl to do?
Read Suzanne Venker. I met her, an author and now relationship coach, through my work at The Federalist, as she occasionally writes for us. Her fresh and accurate perspective on the dance between the sexes has improved my marriage and helped me understand exactly why most conventional wisdom on this topic is so utterly backwards. Suzanne has helped me flail less in my relationship with my husband — and now sons — and understand men and marriage much better.
While “The Alpha Female’s Guide to Men and Marriage” has been especially illuminating for me, her new “How to Get Hitched (and Stay Hitched)” is an excellent prequel especially for women who are not currently married — but would like to be. Venker describes it as a “12-step program for marriage-minded women.”
It’s really a guide to a set of key mindset and behavior shifts that make women more attractive and loving. It shows women how to take down their internal and external barriers to finding and nurturing love.
Suzanne has been writing and talking about relationships for so long that she is able to put out deceptively simple statements that hit like thunderbolts of clarity. On me, anyway. To just take one example, consider this passage only a few pages in (yes, I did read the whole book):
Women want to find love; they just don’t know how. They consistently ask where the good men have gone and don’t realize it is women who shooed men away by competing with them rather than loving them.
Men don’t want to be married to another version of themselves; they want something different. They want the feminine, the very thing women have been groomed to reject.
You have no idea how much power there is in the feminine; men gravitate toward it like bees to honey. And the good news is, your femininity is lying dormant inside you, ready for you to grab it at any time.
Wow. I could chew on that for weeks.
My relationship with my husband, the closest I’ve ever had with a man, is a key reason I find Venker’s messages so refreshing. Her points immediately resonate with what I’ve learned men are like. Her insights wouldn’t have been immediately clear to me as so insightful before my 12 years of marriage.
So I’m just going to tell you that as an advance warning, because Suzanne’s advice is definitely countercultural. Since our culture is so bad at marriage, however, countercultural is a good start for those seeking happiness.
If you haven’t been successful at love yet, it seems prudent to consider thoughtful advice from people who are. Your alternative is continuing to accept the blaringly absent or blaringly false messages about what relationships should be like from people who keep failing at them.
Another Suzanne insight in this book: messed-up celebrity culture trickles down into our lives even if we don’t want it to. That certainly happened to me, as I grew up in a culturally and religiously conservative home yet still learned to be intrinsically wary of marriage. Venker writes:
Unfortunately, even if you steer clear of pop culture, many of your friends will not — which means they’ll have a different take than you will on how things should be. As a result, your friends may try to steer you in a direction you don’t want to go. That’s why trends are so powerful. Even if you reject them, they affect you indirectly via your friends. And rejecting your friends, or at least their advice and opinions, is significantly harder than rejecting the media.
But the truth is, our culture doesn’t make people happy. It in fact seems designed to keep people unhappy so marketers can string them along for their entire lives, buying stuff in the vain hope it can fill the void where love should be.
So if you want to be happy, you have to be countercultural. A historically high proportion of young people today aren’t getting married or having kids, but marriage makes people happy, and the children who come from marriage make people happy. You may not hear this anywhere else, but it’s true. You know in your heart that it’s true, or you wouldn’t have clicked on this article.
So don’t let selfishness steal your happiness. Make a plan for how you are going to achieve fulfillment in marriage the same way a sensible person makes a plan for achieving other life goals. Suzanne’s book plus a notebook for writing down your life shifts that come from reading it would be a great place to start.