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Monday, April 13, 2015

Why I Married a Man Who Was Much Younger, and Why it Didn't Work

People are naturally curious. I live a relatively cheerful and open life with my friends and family, so it's not uncommon for people to ask me about my failed marriage. The most common question is "Why did you marry someone so much younger than you?" The second most common question, for those who know the circumstances, is "Why did you choose someone who was a bit mentally slow and had no education? Didn't you get bored?"

The easiest answers are the direct ones. But this isn't a case of easy answers, despite the appearances.

I fly a great deal for my job and that's when I catch up on my reading. Although I had intended to dig into something meatier this weekend, I realized (in the air of course) that I had forgotten to download a particular book into my Kindle before take-off and I was stuck with a selection of novels I had downloaded "just in case." So as I flipped casually through my selections, I ran across The Scarlet Pimpernel. I had loved it as a teen, and this was a good opportunity to re-read it. Oh, as an adult, do I see so much more there than I did as a child. And so I will let Baroness Orczy explain my choices. Her voice speaks for me just as she speaks for Marguerite:

"He seemed to worship me with a curious intensity of concentrated passion, which went straight to my heart. ... But it has always seemed to me that it must be heavenly to be loved blindly, passionately, wholly. . . worshipped, in fact--and the very fact that [he] was slow and stupid was an attraction for me, as I thought he would love me all the more. A clever man would naturally have other interests, an ambitious man other hopes. . . . I thought that a fool would worship, and think of nothing else. And I was ready to respond... I would have allowed myself to be worshipped, and given infinite tenderness in return. . . ." [Chapter 7]

Some people have mistakenly referred to him as a Trophy Husband, and there is no doubt he could be a very handsome piece of arm jewelry. However, I was not, and never will be, in a position to be able to afford to support a Trophy Husband and certainly that played a part in our demise... yet I did not marry him seeking a Trophy Husband.  

After I married him I discovered that he approaches anything he desperately desires with that same dogged devotion and intensity: Cars, boats, and (in our case) me. But once he gets what he wants, he quickly grows tired of it, like a spoiled child with a new toy. And so, unlike Marguerite and Sir Percy, our marriage was not worth saving and there was nothing hidden under the surface. Even his devotion faded as quickly as a flower picked at noon.

I bet when you saw the title of this article that you thought I was going to say our marriage didn't work because we were from different generations. But he was a big 80s fan and knew more about the 80s than I did, even though he was born the year I graduated from high school. Still, he was from The Entitlement Generation. There is no doubt that there are many people from that generation who, because of their parents, have grown up cossetted and spoiled, never having to pay for bad decisions, and always rewarded for simply existing. However, I have friends from that generation who are hard working and dedicated to their careers and their relationships. 

Some people have told me (in so many words) that *I* was the true fool. And there is some truth in that. I have learned from this, and I have learned that marriage must be between equals. But is it ever truly foolish to desire to love and be loved? And how do you stop a train wreck that has started? I could have walked away many times, but I was often stopped by pity, or love, or hope. 

A year and a half ago, just after my divorce, my father (a retired college professor) peered at me over his glasses and asked "So what have you learned?"  What indeed. To this day, I honestly don't have all the answers, but I will share some of them here. The rest are in a book that I am getting ready to publish.

1. There is a reason that the Bible teaches we should be equally yoked, and I don't think this is merely about faith. We are to try to find people who are similar to us in our values, our outlook in life, our choices. I know many women who hold the men they're with to lower standards than they hold themselves. We cannot continue to give out hall passes in the game of life.

2. Although a handsome face is a nice thing to see first thing in the morning, if there is nothing below the surface, it quickly loses its value. Conversely, men who are not conventionally attractive can open their mouths and become sexy and desirable.

3. Know the character of a man before you marry him. Find out what his family is like and what they say about him. I remember when his cousins were talking about him one day as we sat around the breakfast table, drinking coffee. As carefully as they could, they were warning me. Listen to what friends and family say and don't dismiss it casually. His cousins still stay in touch with me periodically. He has not changed: He never will.

Ultimately, the biggest error was to marry him without our both having the same definition of true love. I do not believe that love is merely a feeling and when the feeling is gone you can leave. Love is behaving lovingly and devotedly, even when you don't feel like it. If we merely indulge in feelings and the whims of the moment, we are doomed before we start. Love is more like values and principles than it is that heady punch-in-the-gut moment you get at the beginning of a new relationship. To me, the definition of love is simple. I wish it were that simple for others.