Why would a woman ever marry a man? “Happy Ever After,” a new book by the behavioral scientist Paul Dolan, argues that women who don’t marry or have children are happier and live longer than those who do. A University of Arizona study from 2017 suggested that divorce improves the health of postmenopausal women. Mountains of academic and anecdotal research indicate that married heterosexual women suffer from an unequal division of labor at home. As the sociologist Lisa Wade has written, “marriage is a moment of subordination”—it is definitionally unequal, and perhaps it follows that it is obsolete. We keep hearing these messages, and we keep getting married anyway, much as the sitcom husband keeps leaving the socks on the floor. And perhaps we stay married in the same resigned spirit as the wife who decides to stop nagging the sitcom husband about the socks and resolves to pick them up herself, without complaint, every day, until one of them is dead.
“Marriageology: The Art and Science of Staying Together,” a warm and companionable volume by Belinda Luscombe, does not really question the notion of marriage as the societal default. As such, the book arrives in the world already feeling like an artifact. “Marriage, that fusty old institution, is worth fighting for,” Luscombe writes. A marriage may “wilt” naturally, like produce, she explains, but a bit of ingenuity may perhaps preserve it, in the way that one refrigerates a vegetable, or pickles it. Preservation is a goal unto itself, and a rebuke to a culture that feels ever more transitory: “Permanence is temporarily out of favor,” the author writes. “Things that have been around for a while are no longer accorded honor simply because they’ve endured.” But Luscombe’s examples of venerated antiques—“beautiful cathedrals, old growth forests, vintage clothes”—do not derive value simply from their age. Some unions resemble an old shed more than the Hagia Sophia.
Luscombe does acknowledge that marriage has been rapidly transformed by economic, technological, and sociological factors: ballooning personal debt, stagnating wages, advances in fertility science, waning stigma against singledom, the rise of L.G.B.T.Q. rights, gender fluidity, the Internet. As material and cultural realities have shifted around marriage, so has its meaning. “People want relationships that will make them more perfect versions of themselves,” Luscombe observes. “They want fulfillment, stimulation, security, devotion, status, liberation, connection, collaboration, personal brand enhancement, transformation.” In a recent essay in the Times, Amanda Hess describes the Internet phenomenon of the “wife guy”—or the man who achieves virality and builds a personal brand by posting about his mate—as a product of an era when “marriage is being pitched less as the fulfillment of a social contract and more as a kind of personal achievement.” “Marriageology” accepts this premise without much in the way of either endorsement or critique; the book’s approach is practical, its imagination conventional. In a couple’s quest toward self-actualization in tandem, Luscombe recommends that they fortify their bond by doing exciting things (skiing, going to concerts) in each other’s company. Such efforts, she writes, create an association between your spouse and your own sense of personal enlargement: a useful confusion of correlation and causation.
“Marriageology” is organized into six topic areas, which are framed as challenges to long-term monogamy: familiarity (“when a relationship is more commute than adventure”), fighting, finances, family, fooling around, and finding help. Luscombe’s hacks for each are fairly intuitive. One should practice gratitude, generosity, and forgiveness. One should steer clear of the “conflict behaviors” most predictive of divorce: contempt, criticism, stonewalling, and defensiveness. The guide brushes an unnecessary but fun veneer of brain science over its prescriptions. It’s best to apologize quickly, so that bad feelings aren’t consolidated and stored in your partner’s long-term memory. Never fight in the car, because images in one’s peripheral vision scan as threatening, and may activate a flight-or-flight response.
Luscombe, a staff writer at Time, has a wry touch, a gift for scene-setting, and an endearingly even temper. But “Marriageology” sweats with a strenuous tolerance for marriage, with the author as the straight-A student dutifully plowing through her least favorite class. On the oft-dispensed marital advice to develop mutual hobbies, Luscombe writes, “research has found that a lot of the so-called ‘shared’ passions end up being the husband’s.” At one point, she describes a recurring fight she has with her spouse. The fight stems from Luscombe’s failure to put the butter dish on the table when she serves dinner; she doesn’t eat butter, so she often forgets. Here, I wanted more from “Marriageology.” Is it the institution of marriage itself that renders a man incapable of fetching his own butter? Is the butter a metaphor for empathy, and has Luscombe neglected to imaginatively connect to her husband’s exact mealtime needs? What is her version of his butter—the thing that she wants? Is it the freedom to envision alternative modes of transporting the butter to the table? Could they both more fully enjoy their symbolic butter if the actual butter found a different path to the table? Would it solve Luscombe’s problem to bring down the actual butter dish on top of her husband’s actual head?
What drew me to John was his ego. It was like a rock; mine was like quicksand. He has the best sense of humor and boundless curiosity. I knew I would never be bored, and I never have. He supports my dreams.
We’ve learned to create a dialogue about our differences and to accept them. Humor kept us alive when we had conflict. We realized we had to stay calm and focused enough to describe ourselves rather than describe each other.
I learned not to run away, to take a break and breathe. To say what I needed or what had hurt me. He’s learned to let me do that. My pauses were me thinking; he took them as I was done, so we had to learn rhythm. We’ve learned deeper understanding, which softens the edges around compromises.
He’s helped me be more patient and tolerant. I’ve become 1,000 times more self-confident. His love has been unconditional. He has seen talent in me I never saw and that took me years to own. He’s become more compassionate, humble, and less defensive.
When I met him, I looked in his eyes and saw his soul, sparkle and intellect. I knew the love we could have would be bedrock. And it has been.
Dr. Gottman I arrived in Seattle in May and dated 60 women in 10 weeks. I found most of them in the personals. Julie was No. 61. She was witty, funny and smart. She was perceptive and insightful, loving and forgiving. She still is. I call her the tiger. She’s very fierce. She’s a good protector of our family.
Why Married Women Are Using Two Last Names on Facebook
Scheuble refers to women like Weissman, who change how they introduce themselves depending on context, as “situational last-name users.” Even some famous double-surname users who ostensibly kept their maiden names to maintain professional recognizability after marriage, have been known to go by different names in different situations. Sandra Day O’Connor has been known to go by “O’Connor”, her husband’s last name in colloquial settings, while Hillary Rodham Clinton has generally gone just by “Clinton” in her campaigns for political office.
.. “Two last names without a hyphen is very much a trend right now,” Tate says, and adds that starting around 2012, women replacing their middle names with their maiden names has been “a big, big name-change trend,” particularly in the South. Both formats, she says, are particularly popular among highly educated women with established careers at the time of marriage. She ascribes that popularity to the fact that this format offers more flexibility than hyphenating. Hyphenated names are “like Krazy Glue,” she says, in that the names have to remain stuck together virtually everywhere: Women who hyphenate have to sign all legal documents with their hyphenated last name, and often feel more obligated to introduce themselves with both last names colloquially—and that, Tate says, can be “a mouthful.”
.. third-grade teacher Alyssa Postman Putzel (née Postman) has adopted what’s sometimes known as a “double-barreled” last name since getting married last summer. Both women appreciate the recognizability it affords them online and in professional contexts
.. While tech has contributed to the popularity of the unhyphenated double surname in the United States, tech is also in some ways standing in the way of it becoming a commonly accepted naming format. Scheuble says she’s come across legal and administrative forms designed to enter last names into databases that can only register a single or hyphenated surname. “You can put a hyphen, but you cannot put a space,” she says. Scheuble recently tried to help her niece who has an inherited double-barrel last name apply for grad school. “God knows where she ended up” within some schools’ administrative systems, Scheuble says. “It’s ridiculous that computer systems make decisions about people’s lives. But that’s what happens.”