I’m reading my new best friend 🙂 Gina Barreca‘s book, Perfect Husbands (& Other Fairy Tales): Demystifying Marriage, Men and Romance. Dr. Barreca is an academic who can make all that stuffy research come alive through her gift of humor and insightful writing.
This book tackles understanding the perception of marriage and the evolving roles of husbands and wives. She uncovers men and women’s true feelings about commitment and marriage. And no surprise, many men are not thrilled with the concept of marriage! Even (especially?) married ones!
Her insights shed some light on why some men, even mature, sane, caring midlife men — can run the other way when it seems the dating relationship is getting too serious. One telling story was an exercise she had her college classes complete. She asked each student to anonymously and candidly write one word they associated with the word “husband.” The only thing they added was their age and gender.
Granted, we could argue that their responses were skewed by their age — generally under 22. The majority of responses by the men were things like trapped, caught, p-whipped, while women’s were nearly all positive: partner, companion, friend, lover, provider. Coupled with interviews of older men, both married and unmarried, she reveals that many men see marriage as something they are tricked into and they got the short end of the deal. After the first few years of the honeymoon stage, many men report they feel stuck.
While we can’t declare this one book to be the reporting of a trend — especially since it was published in 1995 — we can better understand why men would feel like bailing when a dating relationship gets closer than he’d like. All is blissful when he can see his lady on his terms, when he wants and for how long. However, when talk shifts to long-term plans, moving in together, even marriage, some see their lifestyle switching in a way they didn’t really consider before. After all, he likes his condo, his boys’ night out, his ability to leave his underwear on the floor until someone is coming over. He can eat directly out of the can over the sink, use paper towels for napkins, and his shirt sleeve for a tissue. Who’s to care?
Gina quotes Rita Rudner, “If you never want to see a man again, say ‘I love you, I want to marry you. I want to have children…’ — he’ll leave skid marks.”
So what are you to do if you want a committed relationship, perhaps even marriage? My suggestion is to discuss the concept academically. Not “How do you feel about marriage?” but something like, “I read a book about how men and women feel differently about the words husband and wife. When you hear the word wife what words come to mind? And husband?” Play this with him and share your words — honestly. And see what comes out of his mouth. Don’t argue or get upset. Allow him to say negative words without jumping on him. He may just be letting you in on the truth.
I remember on a first date that was going really well, I asked my date why he was now online dating when he’d been single for a few years. “My secretary signed me up. She said I needed to get laid.” I said, “And why did you let her post your profile?” “Because she was right!” While I thoroughly enjoyed this man’s company, it was soon apparent he only wanted one thing — and it wasn’t to have a meaningful relationship!
People will tell you the truth if you ask gentle questions and don’t argue or make them wrong for what they say. Just listen and see if what he says aligns with your values. And know that while some men can say the “right” things and act like they want commitment, they may still go poof when things get too serious for them. Of course, there are others who long for a long-term love and know all that this means. The trick is to separate the ones who don’t really know they want to stay single from those who know they want to be coupled.
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