Hellen Chen, the self-proclaimed Matchmaker of the Century, thinks we’re all spending too much time dating and hoping to fall in love.
Chen believes dating is a recipe for heartbreak, and marriage should come first. if you really want to get married, she says, you should simply commit to marriage and let romance happen later.
Strange as it may seem, she may just be on to something.
Why get married before falling in love?
If you spend too much time dating too many people, her theory goes, you’re bound to get crushed rather than fall in love.
Chen suggests that only once you have someone to come home to will you experience the freedom you’ve never known before.
“Before you build a house,” Chen says, “you need a piece of land. How the land looks is not important. The most important point is to find the land first before you can build a house.”
It’s the barrier separating two single people that she feels poses the greatest problems. If you just get rid of that by getting married, well, apparently, problem solved.
It’s not that she’s expecting you to book a chapel on the first date, but her message is clear: Stop nitpicking every date to death in order to find reasons not to commit. Stop wasting years and years in relationship limbo, cohabitating with someone you’re not sure about.
If you want a happy relationship, you have to settle to some degree, Chen asserts, so stop all this nonsense and just get married already.
Before you dismiss Chen as some out-of-touch relic, remember that what she’s advocating isn’t much different from what others have said before.
In her book “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough” (and the notoriously polarizing viral article of the same name she published in The Atlantic), Lori Gottlieb warned us that we’d live to regret the day we let that nice guy with the receding hairline or questionable spelling get snapped up by some other woman who was willing to overlook such superficial flaws. If you find something wrong with everyone, she advised, you’ll end up with fewer and fewer men to choose from.
She made her point, reached a lot of people, and perhaps humbled more than a few women into solid marriages they might otherwise have missed. (Did Gottlieb herself ever settle? Word on the street, says Melanie Notkin in her book “Otherhood: Modern Women Finding A New Kind of Happiness,” is that she has not.)
In his book, “The Paradox Of Choice: Why More Is Less,” psychologist Barry Schwartz explains his own theory that too many options tend to confuse people, breed anxiety, and lead to a kind of paralysis when it comes to making decisions. An abundance, or even a perceived abundance, of partner choices, may actually prevent you from choosing just one. After all, a better partner might be just around the corner.
And Dan Slater, author of “Love in the Time of Algorithms: What Technology Does to Meeting and Mating,”; believes online dating even poses a threat to monogamy or at least happy monogamy. If you know there are other potential mates out there, he posits, why would you put up with characteristics you don’t like in one person?
Anyone who watched “Love Is Blind” is well aware Chen’s approach can go better than in your wildest dreams — or quickly bring you to crashing down to a brutal reality.
But putting up with every one of your partner’s flaws is exactly what you must do, says Chen, as that is a partner’s job!
She makes it clear that this is precisely what you’re signing up for, but the payoff is worth every last quirk.
Either you marry someone now and start creating a home and a life, or continue to pointlessly date and end up “homeless and loveless” (Chen’s words, not mine!).
Strange as it may seem, here are three reasons why getting married first and “dating” each other after might make sense.
1. All marriages require serious compromise.
Anyone who wants a specific thing must make some compromises to get it, whether it’s something material like a fancy apartment, or something more spiritual like a spouse. And this isn’t even just about marriage.
If you want marriage more than anything else, you can make that happen, provided you’re willing to do away with the impossible standards and endless dealbreakers you’ve clung to in your search for Mr. Perfect (who doesn’t exist, by the way). In other words, you must have the willpower to commit first and then love second.
After all, it’s only (fairly) recently that we began demanding the whole package — true love with our intellectual match, perfect partner, and best friend forever.
As Stephanie Coontz taught us in “Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage,” for most of recorded history, love was a pretty fickle reason to get married. Marriage was more about creating a family unit and a stable life, which is why today, with so many couples marrying for love alone, so many of us are leaving in droves.
2. Arranged marriages may last longer.
You know where I’m going here, right? Because what Chen is essentially telling you to do is perform your own arranged marriage. And you can decide to do it now. If what you want is a committed, long-term bond, then maybe this is the way to go.
It’s been estimated that more than half of the world’s marriages were arranged.
While the divorce rate, as you probably know, is roughly 42-45% percent in the U.S., guess how many divorces result from arranged marriages? Four percent.
In India, approximately 90% of all marriages are arranged, with only 1% ending in divorce.
That’s not necessarily because people are happier outside of the U.S. or that they don’t suffer the same emotions or experiences that all couples do, but it may mean those who enter into arranged marriages do so with expectations that this is it, no matter what.
They kind of say, “He’ll do,” and let the bond form over time. Then, love hopefully grows. Certainly, that doesn’t happen in all cases, but perhaps it does in more than you realize.
But what about the concern that many countries where arranged marriages occur have a history of oppressing women?
Have women historically been treated as chattel, a bartering chip for securing land, power, and influence? You bet.
Do I like the idea of women not being able to choose? Of course not.
As an unwed woman currently in a relationship and living in a first-world country where I have the privilege of indulging my lack of interest in getting married, I realize that advocating this position comes from a place of privilege others are not as fortunate to have.
While we all want to feel loved and connected, we don’t all need or want to get married, nor should we ever be forced or pressured to.
But if getting married is a huge priority for you, well, Chen’s way may make sense.
3. Any successful relationship is something you must work hard at.
Here’s where our cultural expectations get the best of us.
We fall under this spell from a fairly young age, believing we should just have something magical — true, everlasting love. We think it’s our God-given right and fairy tale romance should happen. Then, we’re so beside ourselves when it doesn’t happen the way Disney said it would.
In what other area of your life would you expect something like that to just materialize because you’re entitled to it?
You don’t assume you “deserve” a CEO position if you’ve never held an office job, right? You don’t just walk into a company with no relevant experience and say, “I’ll take that job up there in the corner office.” When they deny you, you stomp out in a huff and complain there are no jobs out there.
Of course, you wouldn’t do that, but that’s exactly what many men and women do when it comes to relationships. I realize corporate hierarchy is a limping analogy, but you do want the job, so to speak. And if you want to live a married life, you have to start with what’s available and commit to making the most of your life.
So I’ll admit, the idea of “dating” the person you married is appealing.
It’s enough to make me wonder if we waste all the good stuff while we’re courting and then bore ourselves to tears after we exchange vows.
Chen may have found the secret to marriage. Imagine if the good stuff wasn’t the appetizer, but the main meal.
Think of how differently your romantic life would be if you could enjoy all the fun of dating without wondering where things are going — because you’re already there.
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