Genevieve: Today I am speaking with the award winning author of Hidden in Plain Sight, Dr. Avrum Weiss. Now, this week we’re talking about why men are hesitant to tie the knot. And you recently wrote something about this, which was fascinating in Psychology Today’s magazine. I want us to explore and understand this a little bit more. What are some common examples of speech that frame women as trapping men in a marriage?
Dr. Weiss: Well, at least in this country, there’s an oldie. You know that moms would say to their daughters, “He won’t buy the cow if you give away the milk for free,” was a common saying in this country for a while.
Genevieve: We got here in the UK, too.
Dr. Weiss: I guess really the the fairest way to talk about it is that it’s a prejudice. It’s an unfounded set of beliefs that are not only unfounded, but in this case, actually 180 degrees different from the reality of the situation. And it’s not hard to understand why men would create these beliefs because they’re living in a culture that teaches them not to be dependent and not to be vulnerable. So if they were to actually be honest with themselves about the strength of their desire to have a partner and their need to have a partner, they would be perceived by others, and themselves, as “unmasculine.” So it’s a terrible bind there..
Genevieve: Something to do with this “masculine feminine energy” in a way.
Dr. Weiss: Right. So guys will tease other guys. You know, if you pop into a guy’s bachelor party, you’ll just see guys single and married, denigrating marriage, teasing the guy who’s getting married. “Oh, it’s no more freedom for you.” “We’re going to have this a big blow out because your life is miserable from here on,” and half the guys saying that are married.
Genevieve: Do you think they’re saying that because they’re unhappy? What’s their reason for saying something like that?
Dr. Weiss: Married guys who are saying that they are trapped in a cycle with their partners that they don’t know their way out of. We’ve talked about this before the cycle where the roles get kind of polarized and more of a parent-child relationship than two adult peers with each other. So they feel like misbehave children in their marriage, which not only doesn’t make you feel good about yourself, but it’s not particularly sexy either. So it gets polarized into those roles that neither one of them like.
Genevieve: So how can men stop viewing emotional vulnerability and commitment as a negative thing? How can we turn that into a positive?
Dr. Weiss: You know, I started doing something maybe, I don’t know, ten years ago without even realizing I was doing it. And that is any time I was with a couple who had been married a long time, I studied them very carefully. I just watched to see how they talk to each other, how they looked at each other, how they treated each other, because I thought it’s in my best interest to understand what these people have learned. And sometimes I would ask them, “What could you pass along that you’ve learned?” If you sort of “go with the culture,” you’re going to spend your time looking at unhappy couples and what they don’t like about each other and what makes them unhappy. But you could just as easily bring your gaze over here and look at couples and study couples.
Dr. Weiss: I think you learn a lot in that process. What I learned is that couples who are seen, who report being happily married for decades are nice to each other, considerate, and kind. In my experience, couples who are not so happily partnered are snippy at each other, they have these ongoing power struggles, and they take advantage of the situation in being in public to take a little shot at the other person. It’s often said as a joke, but you feel a little uncomfortable because it’s very clear that this is an issue. They’re not just joking about that.
Genevieve: It’s interesting. Makes total sense as well. So what advice would you give women who are in a romantic relationship with a man who says marriage is a trap?
Dr. Weiss: I don’t want to be flip, but my first response is dump him. He’s not a very mature guy, and do you really want to spend the rest of your life trying to convince somebody that it’s good for them to be with you? I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in that scenario. I want to look across the table at someone whose life is better since they met me and they know it, and that I know my life is better since I met her.
Genevieve: No, and no one should be. So how should a woman bring up the topic of marriage? If it’s something that’s important to her without terrifying her partner.
Dr. Weiss: Well, I would say if you’re worried that bringing it up will terrify your partner, that’s not a great sign.
Genevieve: I totally agree. And actually, should you be getting married if you can’t even have that conversation with each other?
Dr. Weiss: Yeah. Or at least you might want to bring up like this. “You know, we’ve been dating for a year. It seems like a pretty natural thing to talk about our future. But I notice that when I want to talk about that with you, I notice that I hold myself back, worried that it’s not going to go well. Is that something you’re open to talking about with me?”
Genevieve: It seems so easy, doesn’t it, when you just hear it like that.
Dr. Weiss: People say that to me often. Like “You make it sound so simple,” and my response to it is “It’s not easy, but it is simple.”
Genevieve: It is simple, but not easy. How do you see the institution of marriage evolving? I mean, as women are no longer needing the financial support from men. How do you see that changing over time?
Dr. Weiss: Well, I can’t tell you how it’s going to change, but I can certainly join you in saying it has to change and it is changing exactly for the reason you name that. Unfortunately, a large part of the institution of marriage was based on financial dependance by women. So women really couldn’t support themselves, particularly if they wanted to have a family. So marriage became a sort of pragmatic ideal. You know, my grandparents were immigrants and they got married and they started a business. I think they thought about their marriage the same way they thought about their business. Like, “We’re partners in this to help our children have a better life.” The institution is changing that financial aspect of marriage. So people are going to have to find other reasons to be together besides financial dependency.
Genevieve: So for singles who are looking to get coupled up and are looking for a relationship, marriage isn’t always the ultimate goal. It’s being in that loving relationship. So at what point do you think you talk to someone when you’re in the dating space about commitment, whatever that looks like?
Dr. Weiss: Well, I think you have to move past all of the cultural crap about women wanting marriage and men don’t because it’s just going to muck things up. I think you can assume that if it’s something that’s coming up to your mind regularly, it’s probably coming up in their mind as well. I think the conversation starts very simply: “I’ve been thinking about whether we might have a future, and I want to hear your thoughts about that, too. I like the way things are going. I like my life better with you in it. And I find myself starting to wonder about the future. How about you?”
Genevieve: It’s a fascinating subject, and I do feel that marriage, commitment and relationships are changing and there’s nothing wrong in if you’re happy, just maintaining the status quo of being happy
Dr. Weiss: You should be so lucky.
Genevieve: I know, you find someone and you’re both aligned with what you want with your relationship goals, then there’s nothing to stop you carrying on in that vein.
Dr. Weiss: Yeah, people who are dating often ask me questions like that. They pick these sort of arcane things that they think a relationship is all about. And what I ask them is, “What do you think?” Married couples spend the bulk of their time together doing mundane things. It’s not mountain climbing and it’s not going to galleries. It’s sleeping, number one. I don’t mean sex. I mean sleeping, and the other is hanging out together. So if you’re looking for someone to spend the rest of your life together, you should mostly look for somebody you enjoy spending time with because that’s most of what you’re going to do.
Genevieve: And that is so true, that’s great advice for those who are looking to date, because I think sometimes expectations can take over thinking that they need to have all of these things aligned to be commitment and marriage ready. Whereas actually the two things that you’ve just nailed, just hanging out and being able to share a bed together, sleeping.