Why Can’t Some “Mr. Rights” Tie The Knot?

(Part 1: How we handle “What Ifs”)

There’s a new book out to talk about this summer during wedding season.  Are grooms really disappearing? I’m not sure this book has it figured out, but it does have some ideas worth looking at.

The author, Carl Weisman set out to learn more about why he and a growing number of eligible men were steering clear or marriage.  He surveyed more than 1500 heterosexual men in his book, “So Why Haven’t You Been Married?  10 Insights into Why He Hasn’t Wed.”  Some of his findings are:

U.S. figures show that in 1980 about 6 percent of men in their early 40s had never married and that this number has now risen to 17 percent.  The online survey found four groups of bachelors:

  • 8 percent that never want to marry,
  • 31 percent who wants to marry but say they won’t settle for anything less than perfection,
  • 31 percent who want to marry and have more realistic expectations, and
  • 30 percent who are on the fence.

72 percent of these male respondents said they were not afraid of marriage, but about half of them said the situation that scared them most was marrying the wrong person.  Therefore, his noteworthy conclusion is that men are much more afraid of being in a bad marriage than they are of being single their whole lives.
It does not seem particularly groundbreaking to discover that men (and women) are afraid of bad marriage and not marriage in theory.  I talk with clients about their relationships, expectations, and fears every week.  Some couples are engaged and looking to feel solid in their relationships; our sessions take on a premarital counseling approach.  But most of my clients aren’t engaged yet.  They are at that crucial step: is this the right person for me?  They are struggling with the fear of not being able to answer this question.

It’s a maddening question, especially when it stands alone.  Of course, there is no objective way to know if you are about to marry the right person.

Do we all have thoughts of “What If…?”

A lot of people — men and women alike — think that before they are ready to take the step of getting engaged or getting married, their relationship has to be perfect.  It’s an understandable fear:  if things aren’t perfect, is perfection still waiting out there in the form of someone else?  But, as married couples soon discover, there is no such thing as “the perfect person.”  (Trust me.  There is no one whose sole purpose in being born was to be your ideal mate.)  What you can aspire to is a perfect — or at least nearly perfect — relationship.

It is the smart and courageous couple that examines their concerns and strengths well in advance.  In session, we discuss:

  •  How it would feel if they knew they were dating the “right” person and making the “right” decision?  It is surprising how vague most of these answers are.  It becomes more a matter of figuring out what exactly “right” means.
  • Solution-focused questions such as “If you are with the right person when you wake up tomorrow morning, what would your life be like?  What would you be doing, feeling, saying to one another?”  I get very specific about important ideas within this topic, and help them check these expectations against the reality of their lives.
  • What fears each person has about committing to a long-term relationship, marriage, and each other in general.  Sometimes what is behind these fears is a solution to moving forward.

The catch is that every person out there comes with a “set” of qualities that makes them who they are (Hopefully the positives outweigh the negatives.)  When we first meet someone, we usually find his or her idiosyncrasies charming.  These same oddities then can later become annoying, even threatening.  You can move on to someone new and see if their unique set of qualities suits you better, but sooner or later you will have to learn how to deal with what you can’t change.
It can be very effective to let a therapist help you figure this out.

When you choose someone to pursue a perfect relationship with, you’re taking a gamble and making an educated guess.  Guess well, and maybe smoothing out the inevitable rough edges of your relationship won’t be too tough.  Guess less well, and there is still hope that your relationship can be happy — it might just take a bit more work. Are you ready to do the work?

The question is not: Can you find the person who is right for you.  Instead, it’s “What can you live with?  What can you not?  And are you going to come to session and figure out what to do about the rest?”