It's high time we started meddling again
Even before the current hell of relationship dystopia, the media—films, books, magazines—tended to focus on the early romance stage of relationship almost exclusively. But as anyone knows who's managed to sustain a long-term relationship, this phase passes quickly, often within the first year, as we begin to realize each other's faults. Then begins the process of adjustment, learning how to cope with these faults in a way that maintains stability. Part of that involves discarding the adolescent notion of "endless romance," and realizing that as two flawed humans, we have to make allowances for one another. That, sometimes, it can be a downright slog to keep going together.
The ancient Greeks had eight different words for love, not just eros or romantic/sexual love. What makes it work is not romantic love but agape, principled love, and storge, familial love. These place the other person's best interests above your own; often that means a willingness to forgo one's own needs and desires momentarily in order to make things work. This often leads to philia, affectionate love. You would not dream of hurting the other person as much as it's within your power not to do so. (Also an aspect of agape.) Tragically, Western society has, as you explain here, turned relationships into yet another commodity to be marketed and consumed. Once the flavour wears off, just discard it like a burger wrapper. No wonder unhappiness is everywhere. Feminism looked down upon our grandparents and great-grandparents for staying in lifelong marriages even when these were less than ideal. But maybe they were just mature enough to realize that life is full of trade-offs: no one gets everything they want. By jumping ship too easily, often all you do is trade one set of problems for a different one. Better to learn how to deal with it responsibly.
I met my wife of thirty-seven years in the church we both attended. I don't expect that that route is nearly as common anymore. I look around at young people and think, "I wouldn't be their age again in this world today for a million dollars", and I don't think that's only reflexive old-fogeyism (though that's probably some of it!); we've just built a world that has steadily stripped away the resources that were once used to navigate your way through life, and replaced them with what? VR headsets?
Great article. From a male late 50s perspective, looking back, I made so many dumb romantic decisions. Addicted to romantic difficulty, and endlessly chasing attractive basket-cases / sociopaths, while blundering past decent, kind, stable women - who were just as attractive but my blueprint, born out of silly Western Romanticism, was that love was not love unless it was accompanied by high drama. Essentially, my teenage / early 20s idea was that if I found a woman easy to be around, then she could not be sexy. How dumb was that? Everything had to be suitable for a Bronte novel. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-30s that I saw sense. At school, I was well tutored in English, maths, science, etc, but how to manage personal finances and how to marry well – both essential aspects for life - you essentially were chucked in at the deep end, with zero assistance. Of course, being a bloke, you had nobody to turn to - obviously, you would never speak to your mates about anything other than football and bantz. You were making life changing decisions on the basis of no experience and no advice. My younger self would have benefitted enormously from some wise adult advice and support. But none was available. The only advice I received was to "not settle down too soon, and play the field". Which advice only makes sense in the patronising and frankly incorrect assumption that all young people are shallow idiots and that nobody ever meets the love of their life before, say, 25. And of course, as the article notes, it’s immeasurably worse for young people nowadays.
I've long thought we need matchmakers, a la fiddler on the roof. I've seen it done informally but that's not enough. Being a Christian committed to chastity before marriage can at least weed out those who prefer the endless options and free sex, and then one ought to be active in a local church. But I know many wonderful Christian young women who haven't found a decent man to marry. This culture has eviscerated men and even those who claim to be Christian often have porn and video game addictions. There really is a dearth. We've got to rebuild culture and family, and I don't see any way of doing that outside of church. And start raising boys to be men, which means encouraging them to get married sooner rather than later, make babies, support your family, and created something beautiful. I'm older and this piece encourages me to perhaps meddle when I might have otherwise have hung back. Thanks for writing this.
There is much truth in this paean to the upsides of aunty meddling. I am broadly sympathetic. But given the particular example you have chosen, it has to be tempered by noting that India (albeit mainly its remote tribal rural parts) is often said to have one of the worst records on marital bullying and violent oppression of women on the planet. It's complicated - especially when the 'dowry system' goes wrong. https://grahamcunningham.substack.com/p/life-in-the-shadows-of-metoo
I have so often entertained the idea of all this. We leave our children to themselves (as I was left to myself) to meet up with strangers in bars and at parties... it is tragic on a massive scale.
I’ve had the great honor of being an auntie to my friend’s children, and now to their children’s children. I have this privilege only because my friends, my peers, made every effort to include me, a single unmarried woman, into their family life. It is because of my closeness to my female friends--like a sister--that I am perceived as an auntie auntie to their children. And for some odd reason, the children treat me as if I have some wisdom. Again, this is because my friends, my “sisters”, have demonstrated that to their children. This is how we scale it out.
Just an observation on generational ‘progress’ in my own family - My mother came from a very poor country background ( her mother was left post second war to raise the 5 children left at home of 7 - her husband having found another woman and he likely had PTSD - I could write an essay on this alone...) anyway, she married my dad at 17 and he was from a ‘comfortable’ family of professionals who owned their own house post war. They were married for >60 years when she died, but I remember the ferocious arguments growing up - I thought this was normal. I married at 19 and felt committed despite clearly identifying that I’d been ‘in lust’ not love by the time I had 3 young children. I stuck it out ‘for the children’ but also until a viable opportunity arose to leave almost 30 years later. My daughter has had one long term partner and 2 children, one husband and 2 more children but found herself a single mum with children in primary and secondary school. Her comment was, “I’m not going to be like you or Nanny...” Essentially she values her ‘happiness’ above all. I’m not being critical. I do not simply think that she should’ve stuck it out necessarily, but I do think that her generation have had it particularly hard as being between the cultural changes you identify (she was born in 1983). She is unable to see the value of staying until the children are grown or not committing so easily (there’s a pattern here - pregnant within 3 months of each man). I feel for her - she is still looking for this elusive happiness ‘with a man’. If only people sought contentedness as a constant instead of the peaks of happiness.
Men no longer will to marry, and for good reason: marriage laws are insanely punitive to men, and secular-minded women are fickle as hell, ready to dump men and take the kids, house, half his stuff, and a big chunk of his income (so he can never get another woman again) in the process. No fault divorce empowers women to do that, and they do. Until that is fixed, marriage is doomed outside religious enclaves. (Then, during marriage, the law empowers women to use the police as their personal mafia. Domestic violence laws have gotten way out of control, and ignore that women commit the majority of it. 49.7% of violent relationships are reciprocally violent; in nonreciprocally violent relationships, women are the perpetrators in more than 70% of the cases. Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1854883/))
Let's face it: the West had it right for 2000 years. The Catholic Church knew exactly what it was doing. See FishEaters.com
Are you suggesting a “Crossing Delancey ” type of “matchmaker”? Growing up in a non-Jewish culture, it me awhile to understand the idea or believe it actually happened. However, several of my Jewish friends assured me that their parents and aunts and uncles had met that way.
The idea of meeting a potential “significant other” with personal references makes perfect sense compared to the roulette wheel of chance found on the internet.
I love this and completely agree! I've been joking for years now that once I got married and had my first child I became a yenta. Always asking after single friends, prodding "live-ins" to get married, and asking why married couples were waiting so long to have children. A similar thing has happened to my other married and child-having girlfriends--we just can't help ourselves.
And you are spot on about (happily) married women being able to pick out good matches. Once I found my husband (or rather, he found and convinced me), it seemed so easy to tell the men who make good husbands from those who would not. Drawing on my own experience and those of my happily married friends, NOT being attracted to him at first sight and making him "work for it" are interesting factors that seem to matter and go against much of what our culture tells us the beginning of a successful relationship looks like. If he is a good man who cherishes you, the attraction will grow, and his persistence in the beginning is a good indicator that he will continually pursue you (which is affirmation you will need especially after you have children and renegotiate your relationship). Let him care for you and appreciate his loving gestures, and let yourself NEED him. Because despite what feminism tells you about "not needing a man" you do need him if he is good for you, and he needs to be needed, and who doesn't want a mutually dependent, loving partnership?
Can anyone pinpoint when we started talking about "dating" instead of "going out with" someone? I used to associate it with American rom-coms. Was it about the same time that we stopped talking about boyfriends and girlfriends and started talking about "partners"? I'm probably just a grumpy stick-in-the-mud mother-heading-to-matriarch, but it I feel a bit sad about these changes in the language we use.
One major problem regarding the emerging of "aunties", at least in the social fabric of the US but probably also the UK and other Western societies, whether they actually be blood relations or not, is that there is less and less intergenerational communing. Makes it particularly difficult for them to find and get to know young singles to vet as possible mates for their "nieces" and "nephews".
I'm a 42 year old man who works in the technology sector (at Substack, actually), and I am stunned at how frequently *I* am asked —by women, but also by men— about these issues. Often my interlocutors are in their early 30s, and I suspect they come to me because I am "aesthetically" contemporary and normative in their context, but have a seemingly successful and in some respects "traditional" marriage, though, I hasted to add, not by design. What is traditional about it, above all, is that my wife and I didn't exercise an enormous amount of forethought or engage in ranking or comparison and were basically committed first, romantic second, as an emergent property of being committed. That is only to say: I think we're married the way people in the "old days" were married, where the marriage is not about us each thinking the other will make us feel good or maximize our potential or whatever horseshit people say; it is not about compatibility, or happiness, or really anything except itself (and, now, the family as a whole). We're married; we're sticking with each other.
I talk often and in public about how many difficult parts there have been. My wife and I are both nuts; I am officially recognized as one by the zeitgeist, in fact, and take lots of medication. We both also come from deranged families full of wonderful people who did terrible things regularly. It doesn't threaten her, or me, or our "identities" (private or social) to say: our marriage has had many extremely rocky and dark chapters. We came very near to divorce during an excruciating time when my wife's drinking was fully out of control; friends recommended we break up; etc. I've never been an easy person to live with. We often joke —although it's not actually untrue— that we felt very much captured as a couple by Kubrick's "The Shining." I wish I were kidding.
We've found recovering from troubles and rough patches and even crises much easier than we expected: the commitment to recovery often accelerates recovery simply by recontextualizing the thing being recovered from as "recoverable, and an obstacle to whatever's next." The crucible of marriage counteracts the hypertrophy of grievances and the self-pity my sex in particular often yields to. I love Abby, and she loves me, but I'm grateful to the institution of marriage beyond that, as I'd be stuck in a much more primitive unhappiness than the primitive unhappinesses I deal with today had it not forced some degree of maturation, self-development, reflection.
Much more than "incidents," though, I think what challenges marriages is categories of thoughts, spirals about e.g. "whether my partner is the right one, the best one for me." I have a lovely loop where Abby will trivially fail to ingratiate herself to my metastatic ego, and I'll think: "She doesn't like me, and in staying with her, I'm repeating the abuse of my childhood by failing to give myself what I need." Therapeutic language in service of utter narcissism! But if "resentful stories we tell ourselves" are the catalyst for most separations, it makes sense too that it's harder to post about: (1) it's shameful, and many of these narratives —as soon as they leave the mouth— are mortifyingly childish / don't "hold up" to a full accounting; and (2) it's hard to post about one's interior world, interior life!
Anyway: phenomenal post.
I’m 100% on board for auntying. When not matchmaking, I may even solve the occasional mystery. One observation: when I was a kid back during bellbottom days, women maintained regular very robust non-occupational social networks. Many good things came from this. Leaving everything up to an algorithm won’t result in what we hope to achieve, so aunties should start coffee or tea nights. Young people are terrified of socializing face to face without phones, so let’s help ease them into it.
I'm of the boomer generation. I'm one of 10, all married once and still. We have over 397 married years among us. My sister, married for 50 years, was asked the secret to staying married. It's very simple: don't get divorced. We had 71 children. No mid-life crises -- everybody was too exhausted. Some still have children at home. It is really sweet to see now how each couple is so enjoying the company of one another. They have been generous with life, and reap the rewards with thanksgiving.