Great post. Good relationships really boil down to both self-respect and mutual respect. Your last sentencehits it nicely: "The real deal is about being able to count on each other no matter what."

The best thing about a relationship is knowing that the other person has your back.

I'll have to come back to this one because it raises some very good issues. I want to discuss the difference between health and beauty as well as some other issues, but my daughter is waking up from a nap. Time to play!


Good point about the 'commercial' aspects. That's exactly what the author means when she talks about "false advertising"--she sees herself as having sold something to her husband (permanent sexiness) in exchange for his commitment to marry her. Weird.


Just to play Devil's Advocate for a moment, the argument seems to boil down to that a marriage should survive the changing of minor conditions. If it really does boil down to this truism, then why are the external factors which generate feelings or appreciation valued ldifferently than the internal factors? By this I mean, people should stay together when their looks change but not when behavior changes. It's OK to divorce if one spouse becomes a workaholic but not if one becomes obese. It's OK to divorce if one spouse becomes a reckless spender and almost bankrupts the family but it's not OK if one's body changes decrease their sex appeal to their spouse.

My point is that people have their own independent valuation metrics and for example, the long hair of a woman may do a whole lot for the internal happiness of her man than the sum of all of her little nicities in the rest of their relationship. Who knows why, and it really doesn't matter, for I'm sure we all know couples which present us with the puzzle of "why are they together."

Would the argument be any different if the personality of the partners changed after marriage? People do change over time - they grow apart and this is seen as a sufficient reason to split up, so why not physical change? Both internal and external factors affect how our partners feel about us and how we make them feel about themselves.

And to make this specific to the issue of women's appearances - look to the evidence of serial monogamy. Men, more often than women, marry younger partners. The more successful the man the more we see "the trophy wife" whereas the more successful the woman we see that she is choosing by other metrics, though to be sure there are some cases of "boy toys."

As I've pointed out elsewhere, the gender imbalance we see in colleges today will exacerbate the shortage of quality men and this will increase the appeal of quality men who are already married. Women aren't going to settle for less, they're just going to broaden their search parameters and put married men into the game. An advantage these women will have over the wives, is that they will be younger and this superficial trait will have added appeal to men. Certainly, youth won't be everything, but it is a feature that is lost amongst the wives. Youth fades but that doesn't mean that it doesn't have appeal and that appeal doesn't generate feelings, and that those feelings don't have value.

So, with the examples of long hair and extreme weight gain, don't you think that they affect a spouse's feelings about their partner? Why should they be valued less than the characteristic of one partner being thoughtful or kind hearted or intelligent or quirky or whatever and how those qualities make one partner feel about their spouse?

The Happy Feminist

I DON'T see the difference between changes in one's appearance and changes in one's personal habits. When you get married, you sign on for changes in appearance AND other kinds of changes. So yeah, if the deal with your partner is "'til death do us part," then I think you need to be prepared for your partner to go through personal changes that you may not like.

That's where respect and reciprocity come in. Each spouse should be mindful of how his or her habits affect the other. Meanwhile, each spouse also should be prepared to exercise tolerance towards the other's habits.

In my marriage, I have become a workaholic. My husband meanwhile, has spent enormous amounts of money on kitchen gadgets, guitars, and cigar paraphernalia. With some missteps here and there ("You spent $2000 on a humidor?!?!?" "You are going to work EVERY weekend this month?!?!?!?"), we have managed to temper our habits out of respect for the other while also not complaining too much about the other's idiosyncracies.

My attitude towards marriage is -- the only potential dealbreakers for me are violence, adultery, or any type of persistent lack of respect. Aside from those, my attitude towards my husband will always be that he is the most fabulous human being ever, even if he spends $500 on a ceramic knife.

The Happy Feminist

Youth fades but that doesn't mean that it doesn't have appeal and that appeal doesn't generate feelings, and that those feelings don't have value.

Whoa. I almost missed that whole paragraph Tango Man, but this is outrageous. No one's forcing anyone in our society to take the vow of "'til death do us part." But when a person takes that vow, he or she should mean it and it should be respected by others. I'm sure a hot young bod may generate feelings in a married man, but I fail to see the "value" in those feelings if they cause him to violate a vow upon which his wife was relying and in which she invested a good portion of her LIFE.

And the notion that the higher ratio of women in college will somehow hurt women by causing men to cast out their first wives or by turning young women into conniving little adulteresses seems both far-fetched and grotesque.

A Pang

Nice post! The comments are thought-provoking too...

First, I'll just note that Morphing Into Mama has replied to the first wave of criticism here. She writes about the "false advertising" bit, "The real issue with false advertising is not whether women should feel the need to project our culture’s fucked-up view of beauty – it’s why so many people feel the need to be someone other than who they are."

Also, although this is off-topic, I'd just like to say that I find TangoMan's theory (that, faced with a shortage of single educated men, educated women would rather break up someone's marriage than remain single or partner with someone who doesn't have a university degree) to be obnoxious. It implies that women are unprincipled and elitist. And the theory is not needed to illustrate the idea that superficial qualities can be just as important as personal virtues in terms of attraction.


I don't see the difference between changes in appearance and behavior either. I'm pointing out that some people seem to hold that being affected by changes in appearance is somehow shallow but changes in behavior are certainly grounds for dissatisfaction.

I don't really know any married couple who had the expectation that the appearance and behavior of their spouses wouldn't change over time. However, I think that most expect the changes to occur within narrow bounds.

My attitude towards marriage is -- the only potential dealbreakers for me are

What I'm saying is that someone else may have their values ordered differently.

In your marriage, you write that you've become a workaholic. Now, what if one of the appeals on your courtship and early marriage was the amount of time you spent with your husband and the quantity of companionship was extremely important to your husband's satisfaction with your marriage. Take away the quantity of time and his satisfaction decreases. Certainly, you're still the same person in other respects, but the workaholism changes the implicit bargain that was there in the beginning of the marriage.

Now, what about how someone else values traits in their partner? Evidence abounds in sociological data that marriage isn't all about deep values and appreciation, that it is in fact a complex affair. Going back to the original examples of long hair and weight gain, it's likely that the wife's long hair pushes certain buttons for the husband and those buttons are just as important to him as behavioral traits are to other people.


But when a person takes that vow, he or she should mean it and it should be respected by others.

Speaking personally, I wholeheartedly agree. Now, are you prepared to do away with no-fault divorce and impose very strict guidelines on the conditions under which divorces will be granted. I put a lot of import on character, my word and my vows and I know other people value these things differently - the rate of divorce is telling testimony to the importance that people place on vows.

I fail to see the "value" in those feelings if they cause him to violate a vow

How to respond to this? The fact that you fail to see this dynamic at work doesn't mean that the sociological data doesn't exist.


It implies that women are unprincipled and elitist.

No, it implies that societal mores will shift in response to environmental signals. In an environment where a single woman is satisfied with her romantic life, then the boundaries are more tightly drawn. Same goes for a married man. The principles here aren't gender specific though their application will likely be so. If you change the environment by reducing the number of college educated men, then single college educated women are faced with a choice - the canary in the coal mine is what is happening with Black women today. They're not, as a group, following the romantic life course of other women. Many are unwillingly single. They're not willing to "marry down." My point is that as the environment changes for single college educated women they will see a choice between men who appeal to them, but are married, and men who hold less appeal, but are single. What they wouldn't consider doing today, that is considering married men to be eligible, they are likely to do tomorrow for the outcome is likely to lead to higher satisfaction.

The Happy Feminist

I am not a big fan of the notion of an implicit bargain at the start of a marriage. I believe that when you sign on to a marriage for the long haul, you have to expect the other person to undergo significant changes. We're talking (we hope) about a decades-long, lifetime proposition. I can't imagine saying to my husband, "You always did X when I first met you, so you have to do X for the rest of our lives." You have to go with the flow. It's your obligation to do so.

I think marriage is about having someone that you can count on to care about you and stay with you-- and that's about the extent of the "bargain." Everything else is up for change. I don't expect my husband to like everything I do, but I count on him to be there until I die.

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