Dear nieces and nephews (biological and metaphorical),
There's a marriage advice post spreading across the Internet like low-fat mayo over Wonder Bread. It's called "Marriage Isn't for You," and it's full of sweet-sounding ideas handed out by Seth Adam Smith, a guy who resembles the male half of the straight couple that tops every wedding cake. In addition to being handsome, Smith has an inspiring and sad story, so we find ourselves nodding and sharing before we realize what he's really saying.
You'll probably run across his post at some point, and it will probably make an impression, since you are "at that age" and some of you are dating, but I want you to take a closer look and really give some thought to the ideas he feels entitled to share as gospel after a year and a half of marriage.
Marry your best friend: Good advice if you can swing it, and advice that I'd love to see you follow. Of course, my best friend and I are both male. In fact, many people find that their best friend shares their gender. Alas, in 36 states marriage is indeed not for us, often thanks to the intervention of Smith's church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But that probably doesn't bother Smith, since he thinks that...
Marriage is for your future children: Your great-uncles are too old to have kids, but some of them have recently married. You have cousins who can't have children, but they got married. One day my partner and I will get married. Do our marriages still count if they're not about children? They certainly do. You can have a wonderful marriage without having babies. So if you do decide to have children, let it be your choice. Don't let family or friends or anyone tell you that your marriage is less than theirs if it doesn't produce babies.
Marriage is for the other person's happiness: If you love someone, you want them to be happy. And it's very nice to think that you can make another person happy, but it's also very arrogant. What really makes a person happy? Lots of things: family, friends, hobbies, work, and more. It will be your job to add to their lives and help them be even happier. The way to do that is to be happy yourself, with hobbies, friends, and work of your own. And when those things aren't going so well in your lives, you can each help the other through the bad times. Together, two happy people can create an even happier couple, but if you make someone else's happiness your mission in life, you give them the power to make your life a failure. Which brings me to the last point he makes:
A woman's selfless love cures everything (but a man's love can come and go): Smith went through a time when he was being very selfish, and his wife forgave him. That's great for him, but I want you, especially my nieces, to know that you are under no obligation to be the saint in your relationship. If a relationship depends completely on one partner doing all of the forgiving, all of the loving, all of the sacrificing, then it is not a fair relationship, and you deserve a fair relationship. Don't let anyone tell you that real men misbehave and real women forgive. Find someone who is prepared to be just as loving and devoted as you are.
See, "marriage is for others" is exactly what women have been told for centuries, and it's done a lot of harm. "Marriage is for the family" kept women ashamed of their marriage problems and too scared to divorce their husbands. "Marriage is for children" has kept multitudes of women locked in abusive marriages "until the kids are grown."
Cody and I have been together for almost 20 years now, without state sanction, families pushing us together, or children at our feet. Maybe we've managed this long because we didn't have the "benefit" of very much family advice, so we remain reluctant to give much advice ourselves.
But you know what? Since we were never allowed to be the idealized couple atop the wedding cake, we've had to find our own way, and we've learned an awful lot. We have advice for what to do when marriage isn't an option, when kids aren't in the future, when bromides about selflessness give way to realities about careers, priorities, health, and aging. I may not always put that advice on the Internet, but it will always be here for you. And even if we're not the first people you think of, I hope you come to us before you put much stock in some of the popular advice floating around out there.
Follow Wayne Self on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ewayneself