A Short Primer on Love for Men (and for the Women Who Put Up With Us)
Falling in love is easy. Keeping the love strong over the years…not so easy.
People who are rich often like to share their story with others, so that others can benefit as well. So it goes with love. As one can see by my short bio above, I’m retired Navy, and that carries a great deal of meaning. When it comes to romantic relationships, well, the rest of the bio applies: “If I haven’t done it, I’ve usually done something close.” That refers not only to the good, but also the bad. The reputation that sailors have is well-earned indeed. Of course we were all told what not to do…and then we usually went out and did it anyway. In other words, I’ve been around the block a few times. I am once divorced. Most retired sailors have at least one ex-wife, and I sometimes refer to my ex as my “training wife”. That may sound crude, but remember, I am a retired sailor.
My other major qualification is the fact that my Darling and I have been very happily married for twenty-six years, and we’re still going strong. As trite and silly as it sounds, we have true love. It’s real. It’s the realest thing I know. I really am the luckiest man on the planet. I’d dearly love for everyone to have what my Darling and I have…but it takes work. The lessons below are the lessons my Darling and I learned along the way, and are in no particular order.
One more thing before I begin: not everyone will agree with what I say here, and that’s as it should be. What works for me (and what I’ve seen others do right and wrong) will not apply to everyone. For instance, I cannot speak on LGBTQ relationships, but only on my personal experiences. It will be up to the reader to determine what applies, or doesn’t.
- When looking for someone to share your life with, there is one major disqualifying trait: malice. If the person you’re seeing shows malice towards others (e.g. hoping someone else is fired or hurt or worse), then at some point, he or she will turn that malice towards you. In my experience, that is the one factor that unerringly leads to heartbreak or tragedy in a relationship. My Darling had very good reason to hate her ex-husband…but even in private, she never once wished him ill. Instead, she pitied him and wished him happiness! The reason, she said, was because if he was happy with someone else, he would not come after her. There is no malice in my Darling’s heart.
- All too often, a man chooses a woman, thinking that she’ll never change…but women always do. Women are so much like the sea, always and never changing. Just as often, a woman chooses a man, thinking that he’ll change, that she can change him…but men almost never change. If he’s a jerk now, assume that he’s always going to be a jerk.
- The single most common mistake married men make is, “Okay, I’m married now, so I don’t have to work so hard to keep her loving me.” A common mistake that married women make is, “He’s not paying attention to me, but maybe the problem’s with me, or maybe he’s just going through a phase.” Do NOT allow yourself to fall into either of those traps. What I tell young married couples time and time again is that there are two great rules to a happy marriage: (1) the man must never stop courting the woman, and (2) the woman must never allow the man to stop courting her! The constant courtship is what keeps a marriage strong, and so that courtship must continue all through the years and decades and generations, till death do you part. That, and constant courtship is perhaps the best way to keep eyes from wandering.
- Read O. Henry’s classic story, “The Gift of the Magi”, and consider the lesson therein: the man’s happiness was more important to the woman than her own happiness…and the woman’s happiness was more important to the man than his own happiness. That combination is crucial…and sadly, too rare. What’s more, both need to work to preserve the balance of happiness. He needs to strive to keep her happy, and expect nothing in return…and she will do the same for him, again expecting nothing in return. If some more inspiration is needed, listen to Quincy Jones’ “One Hundred Ways”.
- Rub her feet. (credit to Robert A. Heinlein)
- A good marriage is sometimes described as a “mutual appreciation society”. If the guy is wise, he will find reasons to compliment her, to point out what is special about her (real reasons, for she will know whether you’re being sincere or “just being nice”). Notice her hair, her lips, and especially her eyes…just make very sure that you mean it.
- If possible, determine who’s better with the money, and let that person handle it. In all our 26+ years together, my Darling and I have never once argued about money. She handles the money, and I don’t argue. Besides, it seems that a lot of guys tend to think that women just waste money on things like diapers, utilities, food, and the rent payment…and that guys spend money on Really Important Things like computers, cars, beer, and golf. The reason for this is in #8 below:
- Women tend to be more mature than men. Seriously. Women tend to stress over what makes the household function well, whereas when it comes to men…well, we never really grow up, do we? Most other mature men I’ve talked to agree that however old their bodies may be, in their minds, they still feel like they’re seventeen! This is why wives often (usually jokingly) count the husband as one of the kids. So for my fellow husbands out there, listen to her…because she’s probably more mature than you, and she’s right. Usually. Almost always. The point continues in #9 below:
- For the husbands, if you want to avoid a lot of argument and headache, just admit that it’s your fault…because it almost always IS your fault. It really is as if the household is a ship, and you’re the captain…because no matter what happens on board that ship, it’s always his responsibility, his fault. When a ship runs aground, the captain will testify that he had the conn on the bridge, even if he was actually catching a precious couple hours of sleep in his stateroom. Why? Again, whatever happens on that ship, even if he had nothing directly to do with it, is his responsibility, his fault. He failed to make sure the crew was trained, or failed to ensure proper discipline, or failed to ensure the material condition of the ship was kept up. So it goes with the husband - it’s your fault.
- Bonus point on taking responsibility: if the wife does something wrong, take responsibility for it (within reason, of course) and defend her honor. If she’s a good girl, she’ll love you for it and will know she can depend on you to be there for her.
- Speaking of defending her honor, chivalry is not dead. Treat her like the princess she certainly is. Open doors for her. Hold her chair for her when sitting down for dinner in the restaurant. When walking along the street, be the one closest to the road. Give her your coat if she’s the least bit chilly…and be happy when she wears it, because if she didn’t love you, she wouldn’t take your coat! Hold the umbrella for her. Be her guard and her protector. And make doggone sure that you do all this if her friends are present!
- Actually, make sure that you do all that not only in public, but especially in private. Treat her every bit as nicely in private as you do in public. That way, she’ll know you’re not just being a gentleman for show, for the rest of the world to see, but because you are a gentleman.
- Never raise your voice to her…for the moment you’ve done so, you’ve lost. This took me a long, long time to learn. But don’t ever raise your voice, for this means that if she does raise her voice, by keeping your voice calm and level, you’re remaining in control of your emotions. By not raising your voice, it also gives more meaning to the words you say quietly. Not only that, but when you absolutely must raise your voice in times of real emergency, it gets everyone’s attention. It’s like the old saying, “a shallow stream is noisy, but a deep river is very quiet.”
- Just as you should never raise your voice to her, also do not order her to do things. You might feel you’re the head of the household, but she is - she must be - your equal. How do you react when someone orders you to do something? Personally, after twenty years of taking orders in the military, I’m more likely to dust off some of the more memorable insults I remember and use them to good effect (“2–6–10” comes to mind). So if you don’t want other people telling you what to do, then don’t order her around. She’s your wife, not your maid. And pick up your own doggone clothes!
- There are two times to give her flowers: (1) all the required times e.g. birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine’s, etc., and (2) “just because”…and #2 is by far the more important. Sure, you’ll give her flowers when you’re supposed to…but “just because” is always the best reason and the best time to give her flowers, or chocolate, or dinner and a movie, or a picnic, or a walk on the beach.
- Yes, you’ll still need to take her to “date movies” whenever you can. Yes, I hated “The Notebook” too. At the end of the movie, there was a woman walking around with a Kleenex box giving out tissues for everyone who was crying. Yes, I was crying. And about two rows in front of me was this big hulking brute of a man who was bent over where no one could see his face, but the way his shoulders were shaking made it obvious that yes, he was crying, too. Why do women love movies like this? See #16 below:
- Why the heck does a woman want to watch soap operas or go see a movie that will make her cry? The very idea drives most men nuts, for it makes no sense to us. So I asked my Darling why she likes soap operas and movies like that, and she replied, “Because I want to see how other women handle it.” DingDingDingDing! And the light bulb went on over my head. When we guys watch 300, with all the blood and gore and laughing in the face of certain death, yeah, we’d do that! “This! Is! Sparta!!!” We’re men…that’s what we do. But now I realize that it’s much the same for women with soap operas and weepy movies: they see women overcoming heartbreaking tragedies and impossible odds to find happiness. So that’s why many women find violent guy-type movies tiresome and boring and even stupid. Just as we guys usually see no sense in soap operas, they see no sense in 300. So while the violence and gratuitous bloodshed of 300 is not something that most women would feel themselves equipped to handle, the tragedy and heartbreak of The Notebook is something that most guys are not equipped to handle. Why? We guys are physically harder and stronger than women…but emotionally, women are stronger than us. We guys identify with the physical contest of man against man on the screen, but women identify with the emotional contest of heart against heart, and heart against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. So go take her to see that heartbreaking weepy date movie, and if you do cry, don’t worry. You’re in good company.
- Do you have ex-girlfriends or ex-wives? Do yourself a big favor and don’t even mention them, or if you must, do so as little as possible. Why? Because if you mention them too much, she may think you’re dwelling on your ex, and life is going to suck for a while. Not only that, but she’s almost certainly got a better memory than you do, and she’s going to remember not just everything you say, but the shape of your mouth, and the look in your eyes as you were discussing your ex. Trust me on this: don’t discuss your exes.
- Does she have ex-boyfriends or ex-husbands? Do yourself another big favor and whenever she brings them up, let her talk about them as much as she wants. Yes, that’s unfair…but who said life was fair? Let her talk about them as she will, and it’s okay. Why? Because who is she with? Her ex? Or you? She’s with you, and she chooses to be with you. And if you are patient and understanding enough to allow her to discuss her exes without being insecure or losing your temper, then she’ll know that you’re big-hearted and broad-minded and that she can trust you with her secrets, the ones she won’t even tell her girlfriends. You’re the man, and you can compartmentalize your thoughts. You can lock up the memories of your exes and throw away the key. But she wants to know that there’s someone whom she can trust with her secrets and her memories, the good ones and the bad ones.
- When it comes to marriage, there’s another good song to remember: “Happy Talk” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific. The most important line is: “Happy talk, keep talkin’ happy talk. Talk ‘bout things you’d like to do. You’ve got to have a dream, if you don’t have a dream, then how you gonna have a dream come true?” The two of you need to share your hopes and dreams…remember #4 above: her dream should be more important to you than your own dream, and vice versa. Make her dreams come true, and she’ll make your own dreams come true.
- Is there a time that you should lie? I once heard that French have a saying: “The man who refuses to lie, does not love his wife.” For instance, when she’s just had a baby, you’ll probably think that she’s a mess…but you’d better tell her how beautiful she is, and you’d better mean it. This also goes for things that would needlessly make her more miserable. For instance, three weeks before the aircraft carrier I was on was to deploy, my office on the ship got a phone call telling us that when we hit port in the Middle East, they would blow us up. Our captain warned us not to tell anyone about the phone call, especially our wives. So for three weeks, I comforted her and helped her prepare for me deploying overseas, and I never mentioned that phone call. I only told her that we’ll be safe, there’s nothing to worry about…and that was a lie. We pulled into Dubai, and we were looking nervously at the other civilian ships and boats in the port, to see if any of them was going to blow up next to us. None did, so we drew a collective sigh of relief as we went back out to sea a few days later. Then three days after that, the USS Cole was bombed. We all felt relief (“It wasn’t us!”), and at the same time we felt ashamed and deeply guilty (“It shoulda been us!”). The point is, there are times when you will need to lie. Just make sure that your lies are very, very rare…and only when they are absolutely necessary for her benefit.
- Speaking of lies, there’s another thing I learned along the way: the less one lies, the easier it is to discern when the other person is telling the truth. That sounds counter-intuitive, but in my experience, it’s true. I used to lie a lot when I was younger…and that habit continued on for the first few years my Darling and I were together. But the strange thing was, she’d always catch me in my lies. You see, not everyone lies. There are truth-tellers in this world. My Darling is one such person. So the only way for me to not get caught telling lies was, well, to stop telling lies, and I did so (except as described in #21 above). And I found that by doing so, I began to hear other people differently. I couldn’t always discern when they were lying (or to what degree they were being untruthful), but I became very good at hearing that “ring of truth”, detecting when the other person was being utterly honest. I know that sounds confusing, but it’s true. Make a habit of being as honest as you can (within reason - no need to bring up “dirty laundry”), and after a while, when someone’s being completely honest, you’ll probably feel it on a visceral level just as I do now.
- Gossip: my wife and I gossip all the time…but only to each other. This is one of the great lessons I learned from my wife: if a person is gossiping to you about someone else, then when you’re out of earshot, that person will gossip about you to other people. That’s how I learned, when some other person is gossiping, talking about other people behind their backs, I get very quiet, very quickly. That’s how I learned not to gossip, and how I learned to be much more careful about sharing much information at all about my life or my family’s lives.
- Here’s one that’s perhaps the most crucial of all when it comes to true love: you have to believe that there is such a thing as true love, that you can have true love, and that you’re willing to work hard to make it happen. It’s like the old saying by Henry Ford, “Whether you believe you can or you can’t, you’re right.” If you believe you can have true love, you’re right…you can indeed have true love. But if you believe there’s no such thing, then you’re also right…you’ll never have it. But take it from me - it’s real, and it’s so very precious, worth more than any money in the world.
I hope the above lessons help some of my fellow men to learn how to be better husbands…and hopefully, some women will use what I’ve written to garner a better understanding about men. As the months go by, I’ll add more from the lessons I’ve learned along the way.