How to snag a husband — really?

By Caitlin Kelly

Our rings
Our rings

If there’s one obsession I will never really fathom, it’s rushing young women posthaste to the altar.

Let alone a long line of people — parents/friends/relatives/room-mates/newspaper columnists — shoving them there.

Can we say “heteronormativity?”

Sure we can!

The latest slugest over how to find a decent husband is “Marry Smart”, written by a female Princeton graduate, advising women to get married while they’re still in college, surrounded by — she insists — their best choices; i.e. smart, driven, likely affluent men, (or women.)

Nor, she asserts, will women ever again be as attractive. Even better, kids, get plastic surgery to fix all those jiggly/weird bits while you’re still (yes, really) in high school.

Here’s feminist blog Jezebel’s take on it:

Marry Smart, the retrograde pile of garbage that the ‘Princeton Mom’ has sandwiched between two pieces of cardboard and called a book, drops today. That means Susan Patton is currently making the media rounds, questioning the notion of date rape and insisting that she is “not a provocative person.”

…all copies of Marry Smart will be banned from our separatist compound, and our turkey baster parties are just lovely.

And from Salon:

just exaggerated parroting of dominant and destructive cultural norms, she has styled herself as a cartoon mouthpiece for these ideas.

For a different perspective, here’s part of the favorable review from the socially conservative Wall Street Journal:

Since men, even young college men, distinguish between the women they want to have casual sex with and the women they want to marry and have children with, Ms. Patton devotes much of her book to telling readers how to fall into the second category. Avoid the campus hookup scene—it’s a waste of precious time. Don’t binge-drink—you will do stupid things. Realistically assess your looks and act accordingly: If you are only a “six,” that handsome “ten” knows he can do better than you and is probably out of your league. Lose excess weight. Act like a lady. Don’t swear like a fishwife. Learn to cook. Don’t be a whiny, moody, spoiled, entitled princess (“hothouse tomato” is Ms. Patton’s term). Cultivate a generous spirit and a readiness to forgive. Don’t chase after “bad boys,” especially if they display traits such as drug abuse and physical violence. Don’t be a gold-digger (“earn your own fortune”).

So bizarre!

— Not every woman wants to marry, ever

— Not every woman wants to have children

— Many women are too busy learning, studying and planning their lives to put a ring on it after four years on campus

— Who’s to say your “best choice” is a fellow student?

I’d love to see a similarly finger-wagging book aimed at men, but I’m not holding my breath.

I had a great time at university, double-majoring in English and boys. It was a lot of fun, certainly for a young woman who had been viciously bullied for 2.5 years of high school, and doubted any man would find her attractive. Many did. That was a pleasant surprise, and I took advantage of it.

One of my beaux, whom I dated in my freshman year after meeting him the very first week of school, was a lovely man five years my senior, a fellow journalist. A decent and well-raised man, he made marital noises, but I was having none of it.

We later married others — both of whom left us when we were living in foreign countries where we’d followed them — and we have since re-married, each very happily, again.

I loved him dearly and we remain friends, decades later. But I knew, even at 20, this was not the man for me.

Yes, some people are delighted to marry very young, and it all works out.

It struck me as terrifyingly claustrophobic, even as I had several proposals from handsome, smart, hardworking men when I was in my 20s. I just didn’t want to get married that young, and married only when I was 35, to a handsome, smart, Ivy-educated, hardworking physician I had already known for five years.

A doct-uh!

Who walked out barely two years later and promptly re-married a co-worker.

Ooops.

It took me a long time to find a man who is an excellent husband.

Would Susan Patton have told me to marry him? Hell, no!

My husband, Jose. photo: Caitlin Kelly
My husband, Jose. photo: Caitlin Kelly

We come from different countries, races, religions and socioeconomic backgrounds. He attended state school on scholarship funds through his father’s church.

He’s a gem. But it took the loupe of mid-life appreciation to see that.

We may not have a clue who’s our best match in our 20s, 30s or even our 40s.

How about you?

What advice — whatever your age — would you offer to a young woman hoping to find a good life partner?

The milestone-free life

By Caitlin Kelly

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“There’s a thin line between pleasing yourself and pleasing somebody else”— Indigo Girls

Here’s a great post from blogger Infinite Satori. Her thoughts on milestones — and ignoring them:

Get married in your mid 20s, buy a house in your late 20s, have a baby in your late 20s and early 30s, and the timeline moves along. That’s what they say right? The reality is you don’t have to get married, you don’t even have to have a baby if you truly don’t want to. Before I explain this any further, please know that I am not against any of these. Because I would love to have at least one child one day and if I, one day, decide that marriage is for me it would be because I found the right one who I connect with in all levels. Spiritually, emotionally, physically, mentally, everything. And more importantly, that it feels right to me. To my heart. To my soul. My point is, it’s very important to listen to what you inner voice is telling you. And if it’s telling you that kids aren’t for you, that marriage isn’t for you, listen to it.

You are probably meant for a different path in life, one that stays true to your purpose here on this planet. Don’t get married because your parents want you to, or because you’re in a long-term relationship and you might as well tie the knot, or have a baby because you’re a woman and that’s what you’re suppose to do, or because you’ve hit that “milestone” and you feel like you need to, or because you need a man to make you happy, or because your peers are all getting married and you don’t want to be left out. You don’t have to hit these societal milestones and timelines and you sure don’t have to plan your life around it most especially if you don’t want to. Create your own life.

Hell, yeah!

Most the women my age are now grandmothers or great-grandmothers, owners of multiple homes, thrilled with their expanding, multi-generational families’ achievements, running a business or enjoying a big fat corporate salary and title. Or they never had to work, having “married well.”

Few of these women, as I have and continue to do, stare into the sky at passing airplanes and still wish I was on one — heading to…who knows where? Somewhere new, somewhere to be tested, to not speak the language, somewhere I need to carry and read a map.

I feel completely out of step with them.

My life never really followed a tidy, laid-out trajectory. I attended university, and graduated, (after much prodding. I love learning, but didn’t enjoy a huge school, University of Toronto, where undergrads just didn’t matter much.) I never wanted an advanced degree so that was the end of that — until I studied interior design in my mid-30s. But after my marriage blew up, I didn’t finish my certificate.

I’ve always pitied people who feel the wrath or contempt from their peers or family for not doing what everyone expects them to — instead of creating and following their own path.

My parents never pressured me to marry, (young or at any age), or have kids or “settle down” or buy property or “grow up.” Thank God.

They wanted me, still, to enjoy life and travel and do the very best work I’m capable of. To be useful and kind to others. My maternal grandmother was married a bunch of times and my father has four kids with four different women, so “normal” doesn’t fit our family too well.

I freelanced as a journalist right out of college, (instead of desperately seeking a full-time job; luckily I had no student debt and Canada’s healthcare system covers everyone, job or no job.) I won a fellowship to Europe for eight months when I was 25, and only took my first staff job after that, at 26. I left after 2.5 years and went to a Montreal newspaper, stayed 1.5 years and followed my first husband to New Hampshire.

I married him late, when I was 35 — and was (sadly but somewhat relievedly) divorced two years later. I was single for six years, then met the man I’ve been with ever since.

Neither of us had children nor a desire to have any.

But when you don’t have children, nor even nieces or nephews, (none that we are close to, now adults anyway), life becomes weirdly shapeless. Nor have we attended others peoples’ kids’ birthdays, christenings, bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings and baby showers. I would have loved to, but we were rarely included.

(We have, sadly, attended wakes and funerals for the parents and partners of friends, honored and proud to do so.)

This makes our lives a milestone-free cycle — work, sleep, play, repeat.

Bizarre, really, when you scan the greeting card section of the drugstore and see the endless iterations of affection and progress most people officially celebrate all through their lives.

Not having children also really forces you to consider and examine — pardon the grandiosity of the word — your legacy.

You haven’t passed along your genes, or your sofa, to anyone.

No one will cherish our carefully-curated stuff 30 or 50 years from now, at least no one related to us.

We’re still stymied making out our wills, deciding who (who?) to leave our eventual estates and assets to: church, charities, friends, almas mater…

Do you feel compelled to hit specific milestones?

What if you don’t?

Just give me the ring, already!

Promotional art by Frank King (c. 1941), highl...
Promotional art by Frank King (c. 1941), highlighting Skeezix’s marriage proposal to Nina Clock. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s a scary/sad trend — spending shitloads of coin on a wedding proposal to make sure that:

1) it’s seen by millions of strangers on social media;

2) it makes you Famous;

3) it makes your proposal so much better than all your BFFs;

4) it’s something you’ll never forget.

(H/T to Small Dog Syndrome.)

Having been the recipient of a few marriage proposals, here’s my wisdom on the matter:

Don’t waste a ton of cash on the proposal. Weddings are expensive. Honeymoons are expensive. Kids and housing and student loans are expensive. Is this truly the best use of your limited funds? (Billionaires and trustafarians, fire when ready.)

If you’re buying an engagement ring, make sure it’s something she’ll love wearing. Both my engagement rings are unusual, and neither is a single diamond in a raised setting. Not my style! Both are pave, and super-comfortable. Is she sporty? Girly? Super-traditional? Crazy about vintage? (And if so, which styles?)

Don’t propose at the bottom of a hotel escalator. That was proposal Number One from Husband No. 1. I said no, because — really? He tried again in a restaurant about 10 minutes later. No. Then on a street corner in Hanover, NH. The final one was, (cue Rocky theme), on the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum, with a gorgeous ring we had finally chosen on a visit to Boston.

Think twice about the whole bended-knee, in-public thing. For every woman who loves that much attention, some of us hate it. This is a major moment, not a made-for-TV drama! (And what if she says no?)

Even though she’s crying, don’t assume why. I did weep when HN1 proposed, but, (spoiler alert), because I didn’t want to get married to him right away. Maybe, (I realized with a mixture of confusion, guilt and terror), ever. The ring was so damn nice!

If your sweetie says she really doesn’t want an engagement ring, think long and hard before you heave a sigh or relief and blow that cash on something else. She might not like diamonds, (especially conflict diamonds), but she might really welcome something lovely as a memento of this important moment. Earrings? A pendant?

An engagement ring doesn’t have to mean a trip to Kay Jewelers or Tiffany. My first one came from a fancy Boston jeweler, but my second was an estate piece I found at Saks; it looks like an Art Deco ring and would have cost double if it were new, or that old. It might be a family heirloom or something you design or find on Etsy.

Classic "one-knee" proposal, ca. 1815
Classic “one-knee” proposal, ca. 1815 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pick your moment/location carefully. Jose, my second husband, could not have done it better when he chose to pop the question. We emerged from midnight church service one Christmas Eve and it had just started to snow. He knew that two of my worst-ever memories had both happened on Christmas Eve and he wanted to “re-brand” that night with something happier. And so he did!

Have you proposed or been proposed to?

Did you enjoy it?

Quick! Get Marrried!

Wedding cake with hearts and roses on the buff...
Image via Wikipedia

Getting married is still the most important thing you can accomplish?

Are we living in 2010  — or 1810? Maybe 1610?

From the op-ed page of The Wall Street Journal:

Daters are ravenous for advice to order the chaos, even if it comes from a book, like “Marry Him,” that berates them or, like “Committed,” claims that marriage is a terrible institution for women (though the author gets hitched by her memoir’s end).

“People are desperately looking for order out there, because they want to be in committed relationships,” says Jessica Massa, 26, who is developing WTFIsUpWithMyLoveLife.com, an interactive forum to help young people make sense of their relationships or absence thereof. “But the lack of signposts and guidance is making it very hard to get to the point where you end up in one.”

You live together, but only until one of you gets a great job offer in London. You go out to dinner and a movie, but aren’t even sure if it was an actual date. There is no longer that social urgency that pushes couples to the next stage.

The more pressing dating issue for young women today is not that they are skeptical about marriage or too choosy, but that their potential spouses are in less of a hurry to tie the knot than they are. A 2005 poll, “Coming of Age in America,” which surveyed 18- to 24-year-olds, found that women had the edge on eagerness: 55% said they’d like to be married in the next five years, compared with only 42% of men.

Adam Rich, 29, editor of Thrillist, a daily email blast targeting young men, says all this ambiguity is obscuring the traditional march to marriage and giving guys more leeway when it comes to casual dating. “This whole set of cliché indicators—call a girl to ask her out for drinks, then later a dinner date—are becoming less the dating norm. What if he Facebook messages her to meet at a wine bar where they share small plates? Where does that put them on the roadmap to the altar?”

Beth Bailey, the author of “From Front Porch to Back Seat: Courtship in Twentieth-Century America,” thinks this might be an unprecedented time in the history of dating and courtship. “The lack of rules and structure in dating means it’s become more difficult than it’s ever been to get to the place where marriage seems like the obvious next step,” she says.

Help me out here, please.

I mean it.

Why do the next steps have to be “obvious”? To whom? Your parents? Your friends? Your siblings?

Is it because — one can only assume — we are all in a time of such horrifying political and economic insecurity? Go for the gold, as it were (“Put a ring on it”), to ensure something, somewhere will actually be there tomorrow morning or the day after that? Which, as every divorced or unhappily married person well knows, is the the saddest bit of fantasy imaginable.

A familiar prison isn’t much comfort.

I was married, miserably, for two years. I knew on my wedding day it was a bad idea, but wanted more than anything to make it work and tried my best. Like many women by that point in my life, I wanted to be a wife, dammit! I was worn out from independence, making hard and unlovely career choices, my own chronic ambivalence about lifetime commitment, the loss of my family, friends and country to move to the U.S. for my husband.

I loved him deeply; that failure — of my own will to walk away from what I knew was a poor, if deeply powerful, comforting and seductive choice — haunts me still.

I now live with my partner of 10 years, who also had a short, early marriage many years ago. We did get engaged in 2002, so long ago I forgot when it was, (at midnight, on Christmas Eve, I remember that bit), but I haven’t once seriously sat down to pick flowers or invitation styles since then. Life — with recessions and orthopedic surgeries and my mother’s illness and my stepmother’s death from cancer, the gain and loss of several staff jobs, producing two books — continues to intervene. No one’s going anywhere, last time I looked.

A wedding always seems to me like one more thing to fuss over, an addition to our busy, committed lives that keeps falling to the bottom of our long mid-life to-do lists. We do not have kids nor ever planned to. Would I feel any more “married” the next day? One day I’ll find out.

I do understand that imperative to the altar, to take legal responsibility for children — but few others.

We made the biggest commitment (beyond kids) imaginable to me this week — co-signing a mortgage and deed to a shared home. It doesn’t get bigger than that in my world. Finding another secure and affordable home in New York? Terrifying thought.

So, instead of reaching for a pile of six-pound bridal magazines, my priorities this month include re-newing my green card, filing my claims for a writers’ legal settlement in Canada, getting the car fixed so the exhaust doesn’t rattle anymore. Tugging on my partner’s sleeve to get him to the altar, (when it’s my feet dragging), seems a waste of valuable time and energy, something we have increasingly less of in this economy and failing industry, one whose woes scare the hell out of me almost daily.

These days, I feel like we’re already in the same boat, rowing as hard as our arms allow. Yes, we are headed in the same direction, that much is clear. It is not a great time to work  (or love) at cross-purposes, that’s for sure.

But why are Americans — and such young ones — so totally obsessed with getting married? “Closing the deal” as if your partner is (are they?) a real estate transaction?

Weddings, beyond city hall or your living room, are emotionally and financially costly, often five or even six-figure events. So are divorces.

If you must have something concrete, figure out your co-hab agreement. Then chill.


Avoiding An Unholy Rush To The Altar? Date A Canadian Or European

sock monkey wedding cake topper
Image by SpiritMama via Flickr

Want to get married right away? Don’t date a Canadian or European woman, argues Erika Kawalek at Double X:

I want to emphasize something about the difference between the state of affairs for women in America and in the rest of the civilized world. The competitiveness people bring to “dating” and “closing the deal” here is underpinned by intense economic competition and the desire—increasingly, the necessity—for basic social and physical security. There is a secret amongst the Canadian and European women living in the Big Apple. I know this because I am Canadian and my closest girlfriend is French, and when we resident aliens get together we really tear up this country and how it treats its women. (Our dating lives are fine and always have been.) When we talk about dating or the possibility of having family, with a man or on our own or with—gasp!—a coven of like-minded women (why not?), the conversation is framed entirely by the fact that we can count on our native countries to look after us should we—for whatever reason—not be able to make ends meet stateside.

Today’s “Oprah” show offered interesting interviews with women in Rio, Dubai, Istanbul, Tokyo and Copenhagen comparing their lives, showing off their homes, talking about the social and cultural values that affect their daily lives through each nation’s political and economic policies.

Awed by Danish women’s year’s paid maternity leave and four years’ unemployment benefits, among many other social goodies, Oprah asked:  “It’s “socialism, isn’t it?” We call it civilization,” her two interviewees replied.

The Danish women said exactly the same thing as Kawalek  — women there are in no rush to the altar because they know the state will provide them the economic security simply unavailable to Americans. I’ve been struck by this. I know many Canadian women, with good jobs, who own homes and have kids with their partner, who never marry. It’s just not a big deal and people who make it one are seen as a little odd. Living in New York, I’ve been with my American partner for a decade, but only our American friends seem obsessed with when we’ll make it legal.

If women had greater economic power, would this matter as much?

One of the greatest differences I seen in my 20 years living in the U.S. is this absolute obsession with whether a woman is married or not, engaged or not, and how soon she can get a guy to commit, buy a ring and race to the altar. As a result of this marital mania, I know some American men who live in quivering fear, not of commitment per se, but this unholy rush to seal the deal.

If every woman knew she, on her own, had lifetime free health insurance, a wider, deeper and stronger social safety net, college and graduate education free or offered for $5,000, would she really feel as compelled to grab a guy to rescue her?

Would guys breathe a sigh of relief?