I'm happy to report that I'm riled up again. This is a good thing, because it makes me do useful stuff, like finishing books and writing this here article.
It's not a good thing because usually what gets me riled up is a good woman stuck in a bad spot.
Not so long ago, I met such a woman. She's smart, educated and dazzlingly beautiful. Her poems attest to a nimble intellect, an expansive soul and an observant eye for the truth. A rare individual.
What I did not understand was how she got married to a man who ended up abusing her, cheating on her and blaming his cheating on her ("This is what you deserve"). She had two children with him and is still going through a rancorous divorce two years after separating, putting her in a tough spot financially and emotionally.
How does crap like this happen to good women -- smart women who know better? How do the warning signs elude them?
Well, it can happen in a lot of ways:
- You fall in love, put your frontal lobe in a jar and marry a guy you later on find you don't know all that well.
- Some dude pursues you so doggedly that you just give up after a while.
- You're stuck in a bad living situation and use marriage as an escape route.
- Your parents treated you poorly so you marry a guy who fits that love template 'cause it feels like home, albeit a lousy one.
Since you ladies have more to lose, you should be vigilant about your choice of mate. A 'starter marriage' can derail your career path, saddle you with children you can hardly support, kill the carefree idealism that made you so appealing, tax your mental health, and consume your ultimate irreplaceable asset -- your youth and beauty.
Do I have your attention now? Oh good. One disclaimer before we start: having never been a married woman, I do not speak from firsthand experience. However, I do know good choices from bad ones, so here are some principles to help you decide better:
1) Do not say yes if you're deeply in love.
Is it a good idea to buy a car if you're drunk? Is it a good idea to put an offer on a house when you're high as a kite?
Then it's also not a good idea to accept a marriage proposal if you're in love with someone.
What?!? Isn't that the reason to get married? Isn't this the culmination of every white-wedding dream you've had as a kid?
No, no, no and hell no, sister. That's some weird bill of sale that the romance books have sold you. Up to very recent times in human history, that's not why people got married. And, judging from the 50%+ divorce rates in this country, it's not a very good reason to do so.
Why? Because the most reliable aspect of falling in love is that you will fall out of it. Guaranteed. On average after 18 months, according to scientists.
Generally, you should not make big-ticket decisions in a state of acute intoxication. And being in love is very much a state of acute intoxication.
Brain imaging studies of people in love show that their mind functions as if they're kinda nuts. Whole parts of executive judgment just plain fall out of your cranium.
What should you do instead?
Being in love is drunkenness and impaired judgment. It tends to peak early, then decline -- regression to the mean. Real love tends to build over time, not decline. Only if the crazy love has already worn off, you still find yourself putting up with his smelly socks and nocturnal flatulence, and somehow think he'd make a fine father for your children, then go for it.
Marriage is a vast edifice deserving of a strong foundation. Don't build it on the flimsy leaves of infatuation.
2) Do not marry a man you've known less than 18 months.
Since I know most of you are going to ignore the first principle, at least give yourself this escape hatch. 18 months is the average time it takes to fall out of love -- i.e., about the time it takes for the fog to clear from your eyes and to see the guy for who he really is.
Sure, doing something impulsive can be fun sometimes: "Let's go to the Shotgun Chapel in Vegas and get married!" Kind of like going bungee-jumping on a dare when the bungee cord is broken, or if there is no bungee cord at all and you're just heading into a freefall splat.
Guys make for poor impulse buys. Keep your impulse buys to small things, like a teddy bear or piece of Teuscher chocolate, not men who can potentially ruin your whole life.
3) Get a prenuptial agreement -- especially if you're making good money.
This advice used to be the sole domain of men, but times have changed. A survey revealed that women in New York City make more money on average than the men. And if you're Oprah or J.K. Rowling, whom are you going to find who makes more than you?
Now I know you're different. And I know you and your boy really, really love each other.
But you know what? Nobody goes to the altar not really, really loving each other at that moment. Hate to break it to ya, but it ain't all that special.
So take a deep breath, recognize your humanity (read: fallibility) and concede that, in this country, you've got a 50-50 shot for making this work.
Girl -- you have no idea who you're marrying until you marry him. It's like trying to practice swimming on dry land: no amount of preparation does you any good until you take the plunge.
So be smart about it. And if you truly love him and love yourself, line things up beforehand to avoid a rancorous split should things go sour. Divorce is a terrible, awful, miserable thing -- especially if there are worldly goods, pets and children involved.
And if you've been smart, savvy and industrious enough to build yourself some wealth, protect your life's work. You do not want to be paying alimony to some unemployed deadbeat you no longer like, let alone love.
We'll go through items 4 through 7 on the checklist in the next part of the article.
For more unconventional wisdom on having an awesome love life, get The Tao of Dating: The Smart Woman's Guide to Being Absolutely Irresistible, now available in book, ebook, Kindle™, audiobook, and Sinai™ indestructible stone tablet. Visit the Tao of Dating and Awaken Your Genius blogs.