When I recently googled “marriage,” the search results included countless blogs, books and websites offering advice for myriad marital problems. The website Brainyquote offered up deeply felt quotes from notables and philosophers like Martin Luther: There is no more lovely, friendly and charming relationship, communion or company than a good marriage. I also found jokes and wry comments lamenting the sorry state of marriage, also (surprisingly) by notables, e.g., Abraham Lincoln: Marriage is neither heaven nor hell, it is simply purgatory, and Socrates: By all means, marry. If you get a good wife, you’ll become happy; if you get a bad one, you’ll become a philosopher. And is there anyone who doesn’t get “funny” emails about men watching their wife’s hearse go by as they continue their golf game?
I mentioned this at a dinner party recently and everyone laughed, as if a bit uncomfortable. I asked about the most important elements for successful cohabitation or marriage, and every woman at the table immediately responded “communication.” When I mentioned “expectation,” practically every one of the men jumped out of their chairs.
Nevertheless, I think we can agree that most romantic relationships begin pretty much the same: attraction, connection, lust, love, and so forth. Our bodies mix up a strong cocktail of pheromones, dopamine and other natural chemicals and we exude enough happiness for the entire universe. We float on puffy pink clouds of desire. In love, we become twenty again. Then we go on to discover one another, the real “other”—the one we expect to communicate with. Eventually, somewhere between the romance and the reality, other expectations creep in. (Cue the advice books, blogs and harsh jokes.)
After quite a few romances and more than a couple of marriages, I am well aware that with each new relationship we tend to forget the lessons of the ones before. In my novel I Love You Today, my main character Maddie looks at Rob with blind love, putting aside his lies and the fact that he’s left another woman for her. She sees him as her soul mate and he promises that there will be no ending to this ideal relationship between two people who supposedly communicate on every level. One of the primary problems lies with their expectations. She expects him to honor his promise, and later his marriage vows, while he is fully aware that he can’t. He expects, in turn, that she will be there for him no matter his trespasses. How often do we enter into so-called committed relationships without asking ourselves the right questions, or any questions at all? We may perceive problems but overlook them, expecting our partner, or even ourselves to change. We allow ourselves to be blinded by love.
In retrospect, I believe my very best relationship may have been the one I wrote about in my memoir, 31 Days. It lasted exactly one month and I knew, from the outset, the very day it would end. Although I fell in love, and was desolate when the last day arrived, I also walked away feeling stronger and more confident. There were moments, after we returned to our respective homes on different continents, when I fantasized about moving abroad to marry this man, but I always knew that was impossible. He was intelligent and sensual and totally committed to his freedom. He could never change, nor would I have wanted him to. I knew I would end up expecting too much from him and the very act of wanting and expecting would eventually leave me heartbroken.
There were valuable lessons for me in that affair—to take the person you love as they are, to look at him with clear eyes and not to read into his thoughts. I learned that problems evident early in relationships don’t usually go away; the change we desire rarely occurs. Most importantly, though, I learned not to have expectations, even in marriage. The more we expect, the more we’re likely to fail.
Marcia Gloster is the author of 31 Days: A Memoir of Seduction and the novel I Love You Today, both published by The Story Plant. The e-book edition of I Love You Today is available for the special price of $2.99 for the entire month of October 2017.