Monday, February 11, 2008

How to Settle (or not)

Darlings, Pretty Lady must be quite, quite serious with you this morning. For it strikes her that in the Matrimonial Wars, a lot of people are getting away with hyperbole and half-truths, brought on, no doubt, by a lack of guidance from Experienced Elders. Pretty Lady is not quite an Elder, yet, but the one thing she does have is Experience. And so she will share it with you, in an attempt to prevent some of you from making Terrible Mistakes.

On the one hand, we have a bit of pragmatic advice from a lady who made the hyperbolic and quixotic decision to while away her wait for Prince Charming by becoming a Single Mother, on purpose, with a Sperm Donor. Thus we understand that this person's nature is already given to extremes:
My advice is this: Settle! That’s right. Don’t worry about passion or intense connection. Don’t nix a guy based on his annoying habit of yelling “Bravo!” in movie theaters. Overlook his halitosis or abysmal sense of aesthetics. Because if you want to have the infrastructure in place to have a family, settling is the way to go. Based on my observations, in fact, settling will probably make you happier in the long run, since many of those who marry with great expectations become more disillusioned with each passing year.
And then we have the predictable Idealist Backlash:
At this point, you realize the entire article is reactionary bullshit the author herself doesn’t believe. How do I know? If she really thinks that being married to a closeted gay man who exchanges housework for her willingness to pretend she doesn’t know what he does on weekend nights, then she would go husband-hunting at her local ex-gay meeting. If you want to be a beard, then there’s an easy, quick, no-nonsense solution for you. I don’t see how it couldn’t work.
Now, now, everybody. Settle down. Pretty Lady means it.

For it strikes her that here we have a classic case of ill-defined terms. Our underlying assumptions regarding these terms may be vastly different; moreover, our experience with reality may encompass similar extremes. On top of it all, Pretty Lady has noticed a distressing tendency in modern society to treat other human beings as mere shopping-mall commodities; as interchangable appendages of Image and Status, and not as the unique package-deal phenomenae that each and every one of us are.

So let us get a few things straight.

First of all, as you well know, Pretty Lady has many times experienced that passionate high, that luminous miracle, that overwhelming compulsion commonly referred to as True Love. She is intimately familiar with the instantaneous familiarity, the roseate view, the suspension of time and physics which accompanies it; she has explored its channels and vicissitudes from haloed beginning to apocalyptic end, time and again.

And she is certain of one thing: This feeling has nothing to do with actual love. It is a strong indication that the object of one's passion has triggered an unhealed Issue in one's psyche, which requires addressing in order to achieve genuine emotional maturity.

This is not to say that one should shun this feeling of True Love, or refuse to explore it. It is merely to say that things are bound to end badly. Be certain to take notes on why that should be, and how to do better next time.

Second of all: if you are the sort of person who sees no ethical problem with dumping a person with whom you have excellent conversation, compatible values, and decent chemistry, simply because you think you can do better, you are a jerk and an asshole and deserve to die alone and forgotten. See above, viz. the commodification of actual human beings. It is narcissistic and disgusting to treat another person as merely a vehicle for the aggrandizement of one's ego; it is a particularly noxious form of parasitism which states, 'well, he's fine for the time being, but I really couldn't consider marrying anyone who wasn't richer/better looking/funnier/more adventurous in bed.'

Ladies, we have a word for the fellow who tells you, "You're nice and all that, but you really need to lose a few pounds." If we expect Equal Rights, we must take equal responsibility for not being Total Pigs.

So: when a person with actual integrity is deciding whether to Settle for her current swain, or to continue trolling the deeps for her soulmate, it is PARAMOUNT to understand that you are not choosing between Mr. Present Tense and Mr. Future Perfect. You are choosing between Mr. Present Tense and being ALONE.

As Pretty Lady's friends know, she once made this painful and difficult choice. The potential partner in question was, really, a dream come true--handsome, wealthy, debonair, adventurous, and inherently monogamous. He also had a quite splendid extended family, with whom Pretty Lady fell collectively in love, and passionately wanted children, who would, of course, be raised on two or three continents simultaneously, surrounded by loving family and friends.

It is important to understand that Pretty Lady did not feel that she could do better than this man. In fact, she was quite convinced that if she left him, she would undoubtedly do worse.

However, looking ten years down the projected line, Pretty Lady saw her future self, and she did not like what she saw. She saw a frustrated, passive-aggressive person who would be unable to constrain herself from doing things which would cause herself and her family great harm. The fact is, she and her paragon were simply not compatible, and something indelible inside Pretty Lady knew it.

So, in order to spare him this travesty, Pretty Lady called it off. Remaining with him for pure social and financial advantage would have been inexcusably selfish. In fact, he found a genuinely compatible lady, and due to Pretty Lady's honest communication and heartfelt recommendation, lived happily ever after. Pretty Lady wrote him a thank-you note for being such a splendid boyfriend, and he wrote her a similar encomium.

And as it happens, having honestly dealt with her Issues, Pretty Lady didn't have to settle for eternal solitude, after all.

So it seems to Pretty Lady that there are varying degrees of Settling, and the author of this article lumps them all in together, willy-nilly. Pretty Lady will enumerate her personal list of Unacceptable Traits in a Matrimonial Partner, which obviate settling of any kind, and automatically strike the person from the lists:

1) Do not marry someone who is gay. Not even if you were molested as a child, and thus find your spouse's sexual revulsion toward yourself to be vaguely reassuring. You will be bound to feel abandoned, creeped out and despondent when he inevitably disappears into the next room with a 'friend.'

2) Do not marry an alcoholic or a drug addict.

3) Do not marry someone who is severely mentally ill.

4) Do not marry a philanderer.

5) Do not marry a compulsive gambler, or who otherwise demonstrates flagrant financial irresponsibility.

Beyond these obvious no-nos, the only necessary traits in a spouse, according to Pretty Lady's rock-bottom list, are:

1) Good conversationalist. You will be conversing with this person, if all goes well, for the rest of your life; make sure you're not bored.

2) Compatible values. This includes values regarding sex, money, and personal responsibility. It is no good marrying a chatty, engaging polyamorist if you are fundamentally monogamous.

3) Decent chemistry. Earthshattering fireworks are not required, but do not marry someone who repulses you. This sort of thing pushes normal everyday conflicts over the top, rather than assisting in resolving them.

If these three items are full and present in your relationship, you are not Settling at all. You are Sensible and Mature. Please reproduce, now.


k said...

That was sensible, indeed.

And how timely! Valentines' Day is just around the corner...

and Walter is stuck in Canada, paperless, incommunicado...

Chris Rywalt said...

I assume you mean one shouldn't marry someone who is gay unless one is also gay. Perhaps, more generally, you should say you shouldn't marry someone with a different gender preference than your own gender.

I mean, I could marry a gay man and make him quite happy, I imagine. I don't think I'd enjoy it that much in the long run, though. In the short run....

But I'm getting off-topic.

I also object regarding True Love. It doesn't have to end badly. Sometimes it's exactly right and has nothing to do with Issues. Sometimes it just is, even if you don't believe in it -- and I certainly didn't -- and it will force itself upon you. It happens.

Anonymous said...

I assume you mean one shouldn't marry someone who is gay unless one is also gay.

Chris, you beat me to it.


Pretty Lady said...

Absolutely. I was not thinking with my usual over-articulated clarity, at all, at all.

Largely what was going through my mind was all of those girls in college who used to get passionate crushes on gay men, and then be devastated because the gay men loved them like sisters. Couple this sort of thing with gay men who are trying to fake 'normality,' and you have epic tragedy.

Anonymous said...

Or you get light comedy, a la Will & Grace.


Chris Rywalt said...

The fact that Will & Grace was a successful TV show is epic tragedy, not light comedy.

EN said...

I did well on your list... although it's all eye of the beholder and all that. I don't think you were over the top in expectations and sometimes people grow on you if you have a few things in common. That said, it's always work.

BoysMom said...

I'd add to #2 compatible religious values, including different Christian denominations. I've seen marriages come apart over the issue of which Sunday School the children will attend and when and at which church they will be baptized; marriages that were reasonably happy previous to children.
So I think, in this day and age of religious tolerence, which is, in general, a good thing, something needs to be said specificly about compatable religions in marriage.

Pretty Lady said...

I would lump that in with 'compatible values' in general, Boysmom. Although it strikes me that any marriage which comes apart solely on the basis of which Sunday school to attend is lacking in more than a bit of maturity and willingness to compromise on behalf of the greater good.

BoysMom said...

Yes, in some ways, Pretty Lady, but when you have "Christmas is Evil" on one side and "Christmas is Good" on the other, or "wicked Mary-worshipers" versus "rebellious anti-pope protestent", things do tend to get heated, and the families inevitably get involved, loudly and damningly, and tell the entire community about how evil their son/daughter-in-law is and how they're trying to drag the grandchildren to Hell. Which is why I'd specificly add it in under values.

Most people are not very good at compromising more than a degree or two on their religion. If you (generic plural you) are, that's great, just be sure you won't be upset when your spouse teaches your children to pray to saints (Catholic), that your son can also become a god over his own world(Mormon), or refuses to celebrate holidays (Jehovah's Witness), all things I've seen families come apart over.

Completely unrelated, I think we should bring back the second person singular in blogging. That would clear up so much confusion.

Pretty Lady said...

Good heavens, Boysmom, that IS a concern. It is probably a function of the communities in which I have lived that it isn't something I've come across very often. My cousin in Jackson, however, says she gets very tired of people asking her 'what church do you go to?' as one of the very first things they want to know.

For me, spirituality and religion are extremely private affairs, and I actively resist the attempts of other people to define or control me through them. I consider it completely inappropriate for me to try to control anyone else in that way, even my child or partner. So anyone who tried would probably not make it much farther than the first date.

BoysMom said...

What's your name, what chuch do you go to, where do you/your husband work, and are your kids in school yet/where do your kids go to school at? In that order.
Yes, exactly what your cousin says. I suspect it is because, to a large extent, the churches are the center of social existance. I understand that at one time in many communities the Gange, Masons, Odd Fellows, Rotary, Unions, etc, served a similar purpose. It really isn't just church on Sunday--it's dinners, luncheons, New Years Eve parties, a whole host of weekly Bible Studies, choirs, dances--if you're allowed them, everything.

But considering how often religious discussions get contentious over at Vox Popoli, I'd not have expected you to be surprised that other folks get nasty about religion.
Is your cousin a neighbor of mine, then? If you ever get out this way ask her to take you to Dan's coffee shop in Pinedale, I bet you'd like it. And him. He's our local hippie and photographic artist--every town needs at least one good hippie. Plus he has good coffee. And clothing.

Pretty Lady said...

Oh, my cousin is in Jackson, Mississippi. I forget which state you are in, but it is somewhere out west, no? Wyoming or Montana? There was a reason I fled small-to-medium-size towns for the Big City. In New York, everybody is so different from each other that most of us get along just fine. Our expectations of one another are nearly nil.

My experience at Vox Popoli has led me to believe that it is largely nasty people who get nasty about religion. I have had many perfectly amicable religious discussions with the nice ones, regardless of whether we agreed or not.

But when religion is the basis for your entire community, no doubt any challenge to it is intolerable.

Chris Rywalt said...

Well, one of the main sociological -- one might say evolutionary -- purposes of religion is to break the world into Us and an easily identified Them. If you're founding a religion -- or a cult, either one -- one of the first things you do is find something, anything, no matter how silly it might seem, that tells who is in and who is out. Maybe you grow the hair on the side of your head (because the other guys shave theirs). Maybe you construe one verse of the Bible as meaning you must tithe ten percent of your earnings to your church.

I'm not saying all religions are bogus (or that they're all cults). But they do all share that one thing (at least): There's Us and there's Them. They believe in saints. They believe in full-immersion baptism. They believe in...whatever. As long as there's something it doesn't really matter what it is.

So of course you need to have compatible religious beliefs. That's part of the package, that you mingle and breed only within your group. Helps cohesion. You can't leave your religion if all your friends and family are in it, too. Where would you go? Leave your kids? Who could do that?

Again, I'm not saying this as a criticism, necessarily. It's just how religion works. It might even be necessary for the survival of the species. Who knows?

Anonymous said...

Speaking of cults, have you heard about this weird cannibal cult? It broke off from an older, established religion and it's apparently very widespread and has sects all over the world. Their leader is dead, or undead, or is coming back from the dead any day now, and every week the adherents perform a ritual in which they eat a little piece of his body and drink a little bit of his blood. Some of them are perfectly benign, but others are scary and advocate killing people who believe in other forms of voodoo. Wacky what some believe believe, no?

you know I luv ya, PL, just gotta tease you a bit every now and then.


Desert Cat said...

Anon, you've correctly identified it, and I can tell you it makes some people squeam just a bit to think of it that way and they weasel around with meanings, but he did say it, pretty boldly no less, and at least in a spiritual sense it *is* what the Eucharist is about.

When you understand why cannibals do what they do, you may understand its meaning more deeply.

Desert Cat said...

"You are what you eat..." ;)