Promises, contracts, and false advertising

Moxie, Cecily, Jody and others have thoroughly covered the weight issues raised by Morphing into Mama’s post, so I’m going to focus on the idea that changing after you get married could be considered a form of "false advertising."  First, as Lisa V points out, it’s crazy to think that any of us aren’t going to change.  She writes:

We have had 8 pregnancies, 2 births, 2 adoptions, 3 homes, 7 dogs, 5 cats and more jobs and deaths than I can count.  These things have all left physical and emotional scars on our psyches and bodies. But we are grown-ups, we can handle it.  I love Bert not because of his spare tire or lack of it, but because of who he is and how he has changed my life for the good and the bad, and how we are still here through all of it. To me this whole thing comes down to accepting who your spouse is, not who you wish they were or used to be, but who they are. And then love them and like them and build a life together.

Exactly.  Some of us will gain weight, others will lose, some of us will get new jobs that require us to travel 20 weeks a year, some of us well get laid off, some of us will have life-threatening physical conditions, some of us are going to become alcoholics, or get sober.  There’s a reason the traditional wedding ceremony talks about "for better or for worse."

But I don’t think it’s totally crazy to talk about false advertising in relationships.  Part of what drives me crazy about books like The Rules is what happens if they actually work and attract a man.  Either you’re stuck the rest of your life pretending that you’re totally fascinated by whatever interests him, or he’s going to wake up one day and figure out that you totally lied to him.  Ugh.

Similarly, I think in some ways that wifestyles guy was doing the women he was dating a favor.  If someone’s going to have a huge long list of expectations for the person you’re going to marry, it’s nice to have it out on the table in advance, so you can go screaming in the opposite direction if that’s not the way you want to live your life.  Much better than having it sprung on you after you’re married. Or, worse and more likely, the list stays hidden until you have a child and then all these hidden expectations come out of the woodwork, just when it’s become even harder for you to walk away from the relationship.  (I am, of course, ignoring the fact that this guy didn’t seem to expect that his wife would have a similar list of his responsibilities.)

Getting this stuff on the table up front is one of the arguments for a pre- or post-nuptual agreement.  If you have major disagreements, it’s better to know them sooner rather than later.  Such contracts also promote better negotiations within relationships, because they make sure that everyone has a decent fall-back position (what people who do this stuff professionally call a Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement, or BATNA).

All that said, I don’t think it’s a terrible thing when two people divorce, even without abuse or anything horrific, but when two people find that they have changed in non-compatible ways.  For all the increase in divorce, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the average length of a marriage has also increased, because of the overall increase in life spans — 100 years ago, an awful lot of women were still dying in childbirth.  Is it reasonable to expect people to pledge to stay together for 40 or 50 or 60 years?

9 Responses to “Promises, contracts, and false advertising”

  1. CGG Says:

    I see your point. It’s actually why I never wore makeup or made much effort to dress up when I was still out dating. My mother dressed up and wore make up every day during her first marriage, and I sure as hell didn’t ever plan to end up spending that much time in the bathroom.
    But weight gain and loss happen. Life happens. To expect otherwise just isn’t realistic in a marriage or any other relationship.

  2. MaryGarth Says:

    You’re right–the average length of marriage has increased, compared to a century or more ago, because of increases in life span (men’s as well as women’s, and not all related to death in childbirth).

  3. Laura Says:

    A friend of mine argued in college that monogamy wasn’t a good idea and not the natural state of humans. He argued that 20 years might be a reasonable amount of time, but beyond that he didn’t think so.

  4. jackie Says:

    My parents divorced for exactly that reason– my mother wanted a certain kind of husband in 1969, and by 1980, was completely unhappy with that kind of relationship and husband, while my father was very resistant to changing what they had tacitly agreed on and built together.
    Sometimes your castle becomes your jail, and then you have to break out.
    My husband and I wrote our own vows, and included a provision that we support each other in growing, changing and learning during our marriage. So far, it’s worked out, but we’re certainly not the same people we were when we married, and that’s okay. Hopefully, it will continue to be okay.

  5. bj Says:

    Anyone see Cecily’s take on this at “Wasted birth control”? She and husband Charlie married when they were, as she says alcoholic poets. Now, they’re sober, and have jobs. Talk about false advertising.
    I think the false advertising question depends on what you were advertising in the first place. I think there probably are ways in which I could change that would make me no longer a partner for my husband (the most obvious would be if I had some kind of born again experience and became religious, and vice versa).
    Now, when we talk about 20 year monogamy, I guess it just depends on whether you both agree to that going in. One imagines that on the 3rd wife or so someone marrying Trump should have realized that they were a model who would be traded in (I find Trump to be particularly interesting, ’cause it really does seem like he “trades in” wives, the same way that others replace their cars). But as long as the “car” doesn’t think that it’s gotten a permanent deal, that seems fine.
    I remember thinking the same thing about the “Rules” book, when Maureen Dowd said something about perhaps doing it wrong — my thought was that if the “Rules” are the only way to attract a mate, I’d prefer to remain alone and childless.
    PS: my husband can legitmately complain that I oversold my willingness to see movies in theaters when we first started going out. I think that I’ve saw more movies in our 1st month of dating than I’ve seen in our subsequent 16 years of marriage.

  6. Lisa V Says:

    First, I’m flattered you quoted me. Thank you.
    Long-term monogamy is a social construct that seems to make sense in terms of family. Two people who both have the goal of raising their children well and being a good parent is probably ideal. Now some families are lucky enough to achieve this with four people- like step-parents, etc- but not everyone. And there are certainly first marriages that are detrimental to everyone involved including the kids. But in a perfect world it seems like a good idea.
    Beyond kids, I think having one person who you share the bulk of your life with is a great thing. I don’t think the intial thrill of a new relationship is enough to make me want to leave a person who understands me and who I understand. I agree that we probably aren’t wired to make this kind of comittment, and it takes work to overcome the periodic “itches” that pop up. But I always look at those itches and think that in three or four years my life would be pretty much the same but with a different partner. I don’t think it’s worth the pain for everyone involved.

  7. Moxie Says:

    There are two women I know with modern (as in, not the traditional marriages our parents have) marriages I admire. Both have been married since the mid 70s. One says she found the “seven year itch” thing to be true, and that she and her husband have had extended conversations about every seven years completley “renogotiating” (her words) their relationship. The other friend is a lawyer, and she and her husband made a prenup before they got married, and have added riders and changed it whenever new events have happened. She drew up a separate contract when their first child was born and she took a few years off work to care for her (and their second child later).
    I find it very telling that these couples treated changes in their marriages not just as something they had to suck up silently or leave the relationship because of, but instead decided to proactively delineate a new relationship/marriage when things changed. I guess you could argue that it was serial monogamy with the same person, if you wanted to be cutesy. But it makes me thing that it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to sit down every few years and get everything on the table and clearly discuss expectations and changing roles.

  8. Jennifer Says:

    Oh, my husband and I have done exactly what Moxie describes. We’ve been together 10 years, married for nearly 7, and our relationship has had several phases. We did a major renegotiation when our first child turned 1 & we began to realize what we had done to ourselves : )
    And I just have to say how irritating I find the phrase “false advertising” when applied to a marriage. I hate the metaphor. Certainly there’s a business or economic component to marriage, but using that phrase seems to reduce the relationship to _just_ economics. To oversimplify. As if I were a piece of meat that my husband bought back in 1996, and now he’s finding that it’s going bad!

  9. Elevated Umbrella Says:

    Parenting: Buy the Book

    I especially hate the idea that my size 12 ass (which is sometimes a size 14, depending on the month) could impact my kid’s chances in this world. I already drag enough baggage around related to my weight. Do I really need to worry that I’m doing wro…

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