Sunday, December 12, 2010

Role models

I didn’t have good role models on how a good marriage worked as I was growing up. My parents’ relationship failed, mostly due to the actions and inactions of my male genetic donor (though I doubt my mother was entirely blameless). One aunt is still married to her first husband after about twenty years, but that relationship is far from healthy. Another aunt has had one good marriage out of four, and that uncle was badly addicted to narcotics, and wound up committing suicide.

Not one relative that I’ve had close contact with was in a good, healthy, happy marriage. None of my friends’ parents (what few friends I had) were, either.

A lot of my current friends say I just lucked out in finding my husband. I agree, but I also had a role model: Maureen Johnson Smith Long of Robert Heinlein’s To Sail Beyond the Sunset.

So, yes: everything I need to know in life I learned from Robert Heinlein. The specific lessons that Maureen taught me about being a good wife and having a good marriage mostly had to do with my behavior—something I haven’t seen in most marriages I’ve seen fail.

--Dear, don’t bore him with trivia or burden him with your past mistakes. The happiest way to deal with a man is never to tell him anything he does not need to know.

While that one applies in part to past relationships (i.e., don’t go on and on and on about your exes; rather enjoy the relationship you’re in while you apply what you learned from your past failure), it’s not completely good advice anymore—not in this age of herpes, HIV/AIDS and other STDs. That said, that advice doesn’t just apply to past mistakes. If you’ve had a bad day, don’t unload on him when he comes home. It isn’t his fault, and most men don’t know that most women would rather vent than hear suggestions on how to fix things.

He also doesn’t need to hear about your latest argument with your mother.

Another way I try to model my behavior after Maureen’s is this: she tried, in her words, to be a gourmet chef in the kitchen (though, I know my limits), an economist in the household accounts, a duchess in the drawing room, and a perfect whore in the bedroom.

I have my limits, in the kitchen. I’m a decent cook within those limits. (If there’s any interest, I can post some of my more original, easy, quick, and relatively healthy recipes.) I do take pretty good care of the household accounts most of the time—things do tend to slip my mind while I’m pregnant, though. I do have a persona while out in public of a normal, respectable, responsible young wife and mother. Nobody that I don’t know would have any idea that I keep this blog, or that my opinions and beliefs might not follow the mainstream in this area. Last, unlike Maureen, I do tend to be possessive and jealous—I don’t think I could have the same type of open marriage she did in the book. Nor could I fathom wanting to sleep with anyone other than my husband. That said, I do try (and succeed) to be open minded and willing. And joyfully abandoned.

Last, but not least, is this:

--Formal courtesy between husband and wife is even more important than it is between strangers.

I cannot tell you how true this is. I have seen so many couples ignore this, and so many tend to fall into whinging about their spouse, or putting them down (sometimes in their presence), or bullying them, or being rude and expecting it not to matter.

It matters. The closer the proximity, the more it matters when feelings get hurt. The more (and more often) feelings get hurt, the less the one being hurt is inclined to give the other the benefit of the doubt when something just comes out wrong.

Besides that, I love my husband. I cannot bear to see him hurt by anything or anyone. I think it would half kill me if I did it through carelessness, when the same courtesy I extend to strangers could have prevented it. I could not do it on purpose, like I’ve seen other couples do.

I cannot recommend Heinlein’s work enough. The man had a deep understanding of life and human nature that many modern authors lack, and a knack for storytelling that is unmatched in any era, or by any other author.


  1. I don't always agree with Heinlein. Like getting off a first shot fast to rattle the opponent; I can't remember who said "You can't miss fast enough to win", but I'm with them.

    But I think you've picked winners here. I want and need to know if my wife's having a problem at her job; but I don't need to hear all the details about every speed bump in a job she loves.

    Most men don't get (even if they've been told) that women often want to vent rather than get help; most women don't get that men want to help so much that they feel bad if they can't help.

  2. AT 70, I can say that I have NEVER had a successful relationship (2 marriages and several significant others)--

    I am one of those humans where
    'love' relations just don't work!

    Considering the divorce rate, I'm not alone.

  3. Mousie--I don't agree with all of the bits of "wisdom" from the Notebooks in the literal sense; however, if you get your first "shot" off fast in a verbal duel, and it comes anywhere near the mark, it usually does what Heinlein suggests.

    I can't stand listening to my female friends and/or family members vent about the same problem, over and over, without even attempting to fix it. I'm rather like a guy in the way my brain works. I suppose that's why I have many more guy friends than girl friends.

    I found Heinlein in high school, right when I was looking for role models in how to be a happy, responsible, productive adult. I find it sad that I didn't have any in my immediate physical vicinity. Even now, I tend to turn to my mother-in-law for advice, help, understanding, and as a role model more than my own mother.

    OCM: No, you're not alone. Not everyone is cut out to be married, or in a long term relationship, just like not everyone is cut out for college. Doesn't mean that there's anything wrong with it, so long as you're not lonely--and from what I know of you, your critters keep you better company than most people.

    I just wish more people would learn that particular lesson about themselves.


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