Thursday, June 30, 2011

Finding a Spouse

Getting Married is the biggest decision of your life.  Most people put more thought into choosing their next car than they do into choosing a spouse.   And you do choose!  And it is probably the most fundamental economic decision you make in life.

Finding a soul mate.   It is one of the most talked-about topics.  And legions of online websites and classified ad pages promise to "hook you up" with the "perfect match."   And yet, our high divorce rate attests to the fact that many of these matches are less than perfect.

A marriage is a great way to save money and enjoy life more.  A relationship where two people work together toward common goals is far more effective than living alone, or worse, working against each other.   So many marriages, as I have noted in the past, end up a race to the bottom where each spouse tries to outspend the other to "get the most they can" out of the relationship while they can.  And such relationships rarely last long, and they can be economically devastating.

But for many folks, finding the perfect mate is deemed difficult, if not impossible.

But I think this is because people look for the wrong mate and they look in the wrong places and they have unrealistic expectations driven by the poor normative cues provided by television and the movies.

And some of us may never find a perfect mate, either.   Some folks prefer to live alone, and I know of many such folks.   And there is nothing wrong with that!  Society pressures young people to get married and touts marriage as the greatest thing since sliced bread.  But for many folks, living alone ends up a better option than being in a toxic relationship.

But assuming that you are not one of those people destined to be (and happier being) single, how do you find the right mate?  And what should you look for?

Well, here's my thinking.

1.  Look for someone not entirely like yourself.   Online dating services and computerized dating services promise to find you "the perfect match" in terms of someone with all the same interests as you.  In my mind, these are the worst matches possible.  Why?  Because the relationship becomes more of a competition than a partnership.

If you both like running marathons, you will end up just comparing your relative times with each other to see who is the "winner".  If you are both in the same profession, you will be constantly comparing yourself to your spouse, in terms of income and performance.

Moreover, since you both like the same things, you likely won't be exposing each other to new things - which keeps a relationship interesting.

Everyone has their blind spots in life.   Maybe you are more artistic, but you can't change a light bulb.  Wouldn't it be handy to have a spouse who could?  If you fill in each others' blank areas, you come out ahead in life - and end up complimenting, not competing, with each other.

It is tempting to say you want a spouse who likes all the same movies as you do, so you always agree on what to go see.  But if you like action-adventure movies, and maybe your spouse likes the great auteurs and art films, then you each have something to learn from each other - and expand your horizons, rather than narrow them.

Similarly, having different (but not radically different) political views can be refreshing.  People who just listen to other people with the same views (like the nutjobs on the far left and far right) just end up reinforcing their own views - and perhaps making them more extreme.

Of course, there is a limit to this, as we shall see.  If someone is so different than you, it probably won't work either.  You don't want to marry your clone, but then again, don't marry an alien.

2.  Look for someone not too dissimilar from yourself.  This may sound like contradictory advice from #1 above, but it isn't.  If you marry someone with whom you have nothing in common, you may be headed for trouble - perhaps moreso than by marrying a clone.

For example, a friend of mine came from a middle-class family, went to boarding school, finishing school, and was groomed to be a young executive's wife.  She had a background in Liberal Arts, and her politics were left-leaning.  She enjoyed going to the theater, wine tastings, and cooking gourmet food.

While she dated a number of young men who shared many of her interests, she ended up marrying a Cowboy from the midwest, who was a high-school dropout, right-wing Republican, and an alcoholic.  Why she did this is puzzling - and perhaps my previous post explains why - she felt sorry for him, and being raised in a family of alcoholics, this sort of bizarre relationship felt "normal" to her.

But as a marriage, it was a fiasco.  Accustomed to a certain standard of living, she was always unhappy with the income her husband provided - and the fact that he cashed his paychecks in bars.  No more theater and wine-tastings.  She would be lucky to have a half a six-pack he brought home.

And in short order, she started to feel that she was cheated in life - cheated out of a better spouse, standard of living, and happiness.  And of course she was cheated, but she cheated herself by making such a bizarre choice in spouse.

Marrying a clone is bad, marrying an alien is worse.

3.  Run away from Alcoholism and Drug Use:  If your potential spouse has a drinking or drug problem, walk away.  You are far better off living alone.  Drug use or Alcoholism doesn't "get better" with time, but usually worse.

Never assume that you can cure your spouse of these problems, or that they will "grow out" of them.  In fact, never take on a spouse as a "fixer upper" like a home improvement project.  You can't "fix" people like they are cars.

People do change over time, but radical changes like that take willpower from within, not without - in fact the drug addict or alcoholic will dig in his/her heels the harder you try to change them.

So just move on.  You are better off living alone!

4.  Run away from Mental Illness:  Mental Illness is a tragedy to be sure, but most of us are not equipped to deal with it - even if we are professional therapists.  And the signs of mental illness are usually there, at the get-go, as most of these things manifest themselves around age 15-25.

A weepy, depressed person who makes dramatic suicide attempts is not going to be a fun spouse to be around.  It is sad they are that way, but again, you can't fix them, and it is not your job.  And such folks may latch onto you like a remora to a shark.

Similarly, if your potential spouse has more prescription bottles on their nightstand than a pharmacy, back slowly away.

5.  Don't feel sorry for someone!  In this vein, a healthy relationship is never based on feeling sorry for someone.   You meet someone who is needy, clingy, and says they "need you" - and it makes you feel like you are important.  It is nice to be needed and wanted, right?

But the downside to such relationships, is that the need flows one way only - they need you, but are not there for you.  You feel sorry for them, but that is not a healthy relationship basis.

6.  Run away from someone who hits you:  It is normal to get into arguments in a relationship.  But when these routinely resort to fisticuffs or physical abuse, it is time to move on.

7.  Walk away from compulsive gamblers, spenders:  Does your potential spouse get uncomfortable talking about money?   Do they think going to a Casino every weekend is "fun"?  Or do they count shopping as a "hobby?"  Are they heavily in debt and spend most of their income on status items and have little or nothing saved?  This is a tough one, as most young people are this way - but can evolve over time.

A good idea - and the sooner you do it the better - is to be able to sit down and think about your joint financial goals, establishing a budget, and working together toward those goals.  That is sort of the "fun" part of a relationship, as you feel you are both working together to build something, and over time, something is created - your own family, your own wealth, your own estate.

Most marital arguments are about money, and I suspect that money is one of the major reasons many couples break up (behind sex, of course).   If you can figure that out ahead of time, it will save you a lot of grief.

* * *
So how do you find a spouse?  All the eligible men are either married or Gay, right?  And the women either all have weird issues with their mothers, or are borderline stalkers.

It is a conundrum, and there are no easy answers.   And there is no "perfect" mate out there with your name on it - no cosmic lover, preassigned.

And yet many people believe in this - that there is a "perfect mate" out there for them, and when they meet him/her the clouds will open up, rays of light will shine down from heaven, and Karen Carpenter will sing, "Why do birds, suddenly appear?"

It don't work that way in real life.  Your perfect mate doesn't exist, mostly because you are not perfect yourself.   We all have our shortfalls and failings, and expecting our partner to be perfect in every way is just not realistic. A real relationship can be continuous joy, but there will be hard parts as well - difficult times with each other, and due to external circumstances. Unfortunately, a lot of people, trained by the TeeVee to think that Love is eternal bliss, cut and run the first time their spouse leaves the seat up.

And one problem for many young people is that they look for partners in very bad places.  Your typical 20-something may try to find a mate in bars (awful places to go, too loud, too much smoke, too much drink, too much posturing) and the people they find there are usually only interested in sex.

The second worst choice is dating people from work - where you spend the most time and are most likely to meet folks.  If it doesn't work out, it gets, well, awkward, real fast.  And let's face it, the drones you work with are ugly and smell funny.

No seriously, they are probably too much like yourself to be good mate choices.

So around age 28-35, people get desperate and start going online or using computerized dating services.  Here you find stalkers, psychos, and the desperate.   And you do find men who cruise these sites and use these services to find the one-night-stand "pump and dump" partner.  And as I noted before, most of these sites tend to steer people toward someone just like themselves - which often is not an optimal match, but a competitive nightmare.

So how do you find a mate?  I wish I had an easy answer.  People find each other in the weirdest ways, and oftentimes it is when you least expect it that you run into someone.  Cultural events are one good venue, and by this I don't necessarily mean the Opera (although if you are into that, it could be).  If you are a NASCAR fan, maybe that venue is a good place to meet someone with similar (but not identical) interests.  If you like to go hiking, join a hiking club or outdoor group.  If you like the symphony or art, maybe an art gallery or night at the symphony is a place to meet someone.  If you are religious, maybe church is the place.   The key, I think, is not to set out to meet someone, but to just keep an open mind and when you meet someone, to be polite, friendly, and interested, without appearing desperate.

Too often, people shut down when they meet a stranger - someone talks to them, and they think, "who is this weirdo, and why is he talking to me?" and they are rude in reply.   Only later on, do they post a message on Craigslist, under "missed connections" and say, "Sorry I was so rude!  Let's get together!"

Dating is such a difficult time for people, and I'm glad I will never have to go through that again.   And it can be dangerous as well.  My former dental hygienist lost her daughter to a stalker.  She was introduced to this young man on a blind date, and felt he was a bit odd. So she declined a second date.  Not one to take "No" for an answer, this weirdo started following her around and eventually ambushed her outside her apartment, walking right through that restraining order and shooting her.  I wish I had an answer as to how to deal with Stalkers, other than to arm yourself and shoot first. They are the ultimate cowards, in my book.

But it illustrates the dangers in the dating scene.  Choose wisely, or you could be in trouble right away, or in for a lifetime of woe and misery.  Spending the rest of your life in constant shouting matches and alcoholic knock-down drag-outs, knife attacks, dramatic suicide attempts, and the like is no fun at all.   And no fun for your kids, either!  And ask me how I know about the latter.

I am very, very fortunate to find someone who has enough common interests with me, but not so like me that we compete with one another.  Rather, we complete each other.  And that makes a relationship work, I think.