I’ll never forget the response from one of my male high school Psychology students. I was discussing American courtship practices. I had asked the students why both males and females might act very thoughtful and caring toward each other during courtship and then, once the wedding is over, go back to their “normal” behavior.
Why do couples so often dress better, bring flowers, hold the chair, open the door for the love of their lives, go out to dinner and attempt to keep themselves slim only until the “quarry” has been safely bagged?
When I asked my question, one of my seniors exclaimed, “You mean I’ll have to buy my wife flowers for the rest of my life?” That got a big laugh from the class, but it provoked an interesting conversation about the illogical approach American culture takes toward courtship and marriage. Let me propose three reasons for this puzzling human trait.
One reason is that we want to be successful. Being successful means one has been able to convince his/her significant other that life with them will be marital bliss. There’s nothing wrong with that attitude. It’s using sales techniques tried and trusted for thousands of years.
A second reason for this practice is that we humans are often lazy and shortsighted. We don’t think very clearly, as the late author Steven Covey would say, “with the end in mind.” It takes a lot of work to be thoughtful for a lifetime and most of us don’t have the energy or the maturity to be that consistent with our behavior. We’d rather just “be ourselves.” Unfortunately, our spouses often find our real behaviors irritating, gross and thoughtless.
A third reason is that we fear that to be authentic — to be one’s real self — will not win us a spouse. It’s too risky. To be honest and real about our feelings makes us vulnerable to rejection. And there isn’t much worse than to have someone we care about walk away and end the relationship. So instead, we wear our thoughtful masks until we’re safely, legally married. The masks don’t come off until we feel safe and the pressure is off.
The question I ask to you, dear readers, is this: Isn’t the real importance of marriage living together harmoniously for the rest of our lives and not the wedding that costs thousands of dollars? Shouldn’t we be focusing on the long term rather than the short term?
Many reading this column have suffered the pain of divorce, with the “collateral damage” to our children, friends and families. No one who enters a marriage really believes it will end in divorce; otherwise few would get married. Yet, we still marry because we want the security and commitment that a marriage license brings, both to ourselves and to our progeny.
So what is the solution to this conundrum? My solution is that we make the commitment of courting our spouses for the rest of our lives. It’s a risk, and requires great effort, but isn’t that what love really is?
Love is not only a strong feeling; it’s a conscious decision to be faithful in every way to the ones we declared before God and society that we would love and cherish for the rest of our lives, especially when life gets tough. We should court our spouses for the rest of our lives. That’s my answer to the question.
A few days after my student’s fearful outburst in Psychology, he came back and told the class his mother had supplied a solution to his dilemma. She was a florist and would supply him with flowers for his wife as long as she lived. He was a little relieved. Oh, that all us men had mothers like his!