I’m going to meander to get to my point today, just so you know….
So I just finished reading Suzanne Venker’s book How To Choose a Husband, and personally, I thought her advice was spot on. In fact, I’ve covered most of it on my blog – Suzanne, have you been reading JudgyBitch?
Ha ha! I don’t really think that. Most of what she writes is just common sense to me. I’m not surprised she’s from Missouri. We small town, rural folk seem to have different values.
Here is Suzanne’s advice in a nutshell:
Reject popular culture. That shit is toxic for women and portrays an image of women and men that is based on media fantasy and not reality.
Get over yourself, you’re not special.
Try acting feminine
Choose your partner sensibly
Don’t shack up
Stop thinking something better will come along
Don’t put your kids in daycare
Stop being so fat
Raise your children first, then go to work, if you want
Don’t get divorced
Understand your life in the context of something greater than yourself
It’s all pretty straightforward, sensible stuff, but what I found really interesting is how Suzanne spins her own first marriage, which ended in divorce. Suzanne and Chris (Husband 1.0) had no children, and I really have no problem with people getting divorced when there are no children involved. Go ahead. You’re only hurting yourself, or perhaps finding a great relief. No kids? Divorce away!
Suzanne ascribes her failure at marriage on the first go to differences in values and class, and then she uses Elizabeth and Darcy in Pride and Prejudice as her example of perfect love!
Darcy is the richest man in Darbyshire! Pemberly is the most magnificent house in the whole county! Darcy is superbly wealthy and absolutely upper class. Elizabeth is one of five daughters born to a clergyman and she is one bad marriage away from abject poverty. She has no personal fortune and cannot inherit the family estate. She is clinging to the edge of respectability by her fingernails.
They could not be more different. The fact that Elizabeth considers Darcy laughably out of her league is the reason she is so impertinent and cheeky with him, and the fact that Elizabeth is not outright hunting Darcy is what makes her so endearing to him.
Their class difference is what makes the whole damn story work.
I don’t know what the real problem in Suzanne’s first marriage was, but to suggest that a clash in class and values is a reason to discard a marriage leaves me feeling very unsettled. Oh, it will bring some conflict, but every marriage has conflict, and approaching the world with a different perspective in class or social order is hardly a reason to destroy a whole relationship.
You see, Mr. JB and I come from very different class and social backgrounds, too. He is very thoroughly middle-class and has spent most of his life in a big city, at the top of the social pecking order. He grew up having dinner every Sunday at a country club! Had his own little suit jacket when he was five! He eats pizza with a knife and fork! He knows what a runcible spoon is and when to use it!
Me, I call that thing a spork, and I never use them. What the hell for?
I was raised on a farm by some wingnut, tinfoil-hat wearing armageddonists who thought the answer to What Would Jesus Do was “beat the fuck out of your children”. We grew all our own food and canned and had bee hives and churned our own butter and wore matching plaid clothes my mom sewed herself.
Our experiences were a little different, to say the least.
And we definitely have different approaches to life as a result.
Here is a story about some very real conflict Mr. JB and I are dealing with, as a direct result of attitudes and perspectives, brought about by our very different social circumstances.
In the town where we live, our city council has purchased a number of different houses to be used for social services purposes. The idea is that when you cluster poor, disadvantaged people together, it normalizes dysfunction and poverty and makes it seem like everyone you know is having a shitty time. So in our town, poor people are dropped into more affluent neighborhoods, where the children can grow up surrounded by more normal folks, leading more normal lives than the ones they have unfortunately been born to.
I like that idea.
This past summer, a little boy, ten years old, moved into our neighborhood. His parents are in jail (I don’t know why) and he has been placed with a foster family, who lives in one of the city-owned houses. I wish I could tell you that the foster family was wonderful and loving and providing for LostBoy, but they are not. They seem to like the check they get for taking care of LostBoy, but not much else. To make matters worse, LostBoy is part of a much maligned racial minority, so he faces enormous stigma and negative stereotypes in his day to day life on top of having to live with a foster family while his parents do their time.
It’s very sad.
LostBoy spent the summer wandering the neighborhood aimlessly and eventually began to start playing with our son, LittleDude, who is seven.
First major conflict: Mr. JB’s protective instincts kicked in and he didn’t want LostBoy anywhere near our kids. No way. His parents are in JAIL, for god’s sake! How could I possibly condone that kind of influence around our children?
Well, it’s not LostBoy’s fault his parents are maniacs. I personally know a lot about being a kid raised by completely insane parents. And the thought of him sitting under a tree, watching while our kids race around on rollerblades with super soakers and jump on the trampoline and do all the fun things kids do just breaks my heart.
I won that round, but it wasn’t over. Once school started (LostBoy still goes to his regular school, not the one in our neighborhood), I noticed something else. Our kids come home from school and immediately have a snack because they’re hungry. LostBoy would come to our house directly after school to play, and he is always very shy about asking for food. He leaves our house at dinnertime, saying that his foster family has a tradition of eating very late.
This means LostBoy is going from 1PM to 8PM without food. That’s crazy. So I told him he never needed to ask to have fruit or crackers or a glass of milk at my house. He could just take what he wanted.
Conflict number two: Mr. JB comes home to find LostBoy helping himself to milk and a banana and he loses his shit. “Why the fuck are we feeding a kid I’ve already paid taxes to feed? His foster family is supposed to feed him! Are you going to invite every poor kid in the neighborhood to just come and raid our fridge whenever they feel like it?”
And he’s right. LostBoy’s foster family IS supposed to feed him, but they’re NOT! And I will not let a little boy go hungry in my house.
You see, Mr. JB has never gone hungry or been ostracized a day in his life, so he has no idea what that feels like. He sees the situation only from his perspective as a provider and a protector. He thinks LostBoy is a bad influence that is only going to get worse. What happens when he’s 16? When he’s not a little boy anymore, but closer to a grown man? Growing up in foster care with dirtbags for parents. From Mr. JB’s perspective the situation looks dangerous and foolish.
And I understand that.
I see the situation through the eyes of a small town girl. We have to live in the world with LostBoy whether we like it or not. And this IS a small town. Our children WILL run into LostBoy again, even after he moves away and goes back to his own family.
I want him to always remember our house and our family as a place where he met with kindness and generosity. When LostBoy becomes LostMan and runs into Pinky or LittleDude, I want him to think of them with benevolence. It is entirely possible that we ARE, in fact, the only people in his whole damn life who have treated him with compassion and gentleness.
Mr. JB and I approach the world with very different attitudes, and yes, that can sometimes lead to conflicts. The situation with LostBoy is not a joke. Mr. JB does NOT agree with how I am handling this situation and we do have arguments about it. If we weren’t arguing about this, though, we would be arguing about something else.
The fact that we have conflicts, and that we do not see the world from the same perspective is not something that threatens our marriage. On the contrary. It makes it stronger. It forces us to know each other better, and to search for compromises that work for everyone.
We haven’t found that compromise yet, but we will. Right now, we are doing things my way, but LostBoy has no illusions about Mr. JB and the lengths to which he would go to protect his family. And that’s probably a good thing. LostBoy is seeing an example of what fathers do, one he probably doesn’t see much of at home. This problem may simply settle itself, when LostBoy’s parents get out of jail and he returns to them. In any case, we will figure things out together, as we always do.
Suzanne’s story about how her first marriage failed, owing to these different perspectives and worldviews, to me, undermines the whole premise of her book. She doesn’t take responsibility for her failed marriage or consider that she was simply selfish and immature and she discarded a good man because he would not bend to her will. No one gets to have their way all the time. Not in any sort of happy marriage.
And sometimes, that sucks. It’s hard to give in to other people when you feel so strongly about a particular issue. Right now, Mr. JB is giving in to me, but those tables could turn fairly easily, and I might have to give in to him.
That’s when marriage gets tough: when compromising your values means compromising yourself. The only way to survive that it is to stop for a moment and consider that you might actually be wrong. Seeing the world from another perspective, being critical of yourself, understanding another person’s point of view and acquiescing in the face of great opposition are not things that threaten or destabilize a marriage: they are the things that make a marriage great.
It’s called being a grown-up, and it’s the first thing you have to do when you choose a husband.
Lots of love,