Another fine letter from enthusiastic reader Tom S:
Does the most sage dating Guru of gurus have advice for how my friend might propose marriage? What should he say and do? How will he know when it’s time to propose? What should he wear? It’s only the 10th century BCE here in Arabia and religion hasn’t been invented yet, and there are no scrolls from Gilgamesh addressing this topic. We will be most grateful, even willing to sacrifice a camel or two in your honor.
Y’know, it’s been a while since I last had a proper camel sacrifice. It’s a lost art, really. A little messy, granted, but there’s really nothing quite like broiled Bactrian hump. And it makes the orphans at the caravansarai so happy.
What’s this now? Proposing marriage, eh. Sounds mighty serious.
And you know what? It is serious. The biggest decision you’ve ever made in your life. Even bigger than deciding between steak and seafood, corduroys and jeans, Coachella and Bonaroo, Audi and BMW.
Basically, you’re pledging to tie yourself to another person forever. And forever is a pretty freakin’ long time.
Generally speaking, I do my best not to dispense advice too far beyond the courtship phase. I’m just here to help give you the problem — err, I mean relationship. Once you have it, you’re better off listening to scientists like John Gottman who really know what happens on that planet. The Tao of Dating books are 12 chapters about courtship and one about relationship. Moreover, I’ve never proposed to anyone, so far be it from me to instruct in that domain.
That said, my job here is to help you make better decisions. So when it comes to big-ticket decisions like this, you had better make sure you have all the safeguards in place so you don’t do something stupid — like marrying the girl who’s going to make you miserable.
So here are some guidelines:
1) Do not propose if you’re deeply in love.
Is it a good idea to buy a car if you’re drunk? Then it’s also not a good idea to propose if you’re in love with someone.
What?!? Isn’t that the reason to get married?
No, no, no and hell no, brother. That’s some weird bill of sale that the romance books have sold you. Up to very recent times in human history, that’s not why people got married. And, judging from the 50%+ divorce rates in this country, it’s not a very good reason to do so.
Why? Because the most reliable aspect of falling in love is that you will fall out of it. Guaranteed. After 18 months, on average.
Generally, you should not make big-ticket decisions in a state of acute intoxication. And being in love is very much a state of acute intoxication.
Brain imaging studies of people in love show that their mind functions as if they’re kinda nuts. Whole parts of executive judgment just plain fall out of your cranium. Heck, you’ve seen parts of the brains of your googly-eyed buddies splatted on the sidewalk as they mumble ‘yes dear’ while carrying Macy’s shopping bags, and it ain’t pretty.
What should you do instead?
Being in love is drunkenness and impaired judgment. It tends to peak early, then decline — regression to the mean. Real love tends to build over time, not decline. If the crazy love has worn off but you just really like having her around, and imagine a life with her is a hell of a lot better than a life without her, and you can tell she’s going to make a fine mother for your children, then go for it.
Marriage is a vast edifice deserving of a strong foundation. Don’t build it on the flimsy leaves of infatuation.
2) Get a prenuptial agreement — especially if you’re rich.
Yeah, I know you’re different. And I know you really, really love each other.
But you know what? Nobody goes to the altar not really, really loving each other at that moment. Hate to break it to ya, but it ain’t all that special.
So take a deep breath, recognize your humanity (read: fallibility) and concede that, in this country, you’ve got a 50-50 shot that this is going to work.
Dude — you have no idea who you’re marrying until you marry her. It’s like trying to practice swimming on dry land: no amount of preparation does you any good until you take the plunge.
So be smart about it, and if you truly love her and love yourself, line things up beforehand to avoid a rancorous split should things go sour. Divorce is a terrible, awful, miserable thing — especially if there are worldly goods and children involved.
And if you have been industrious and lucky enough to have accumulated some assets, protect your life’s work. Some may say this is not very romantic. If you truly loved her, then what’s yours is hers and vice versa, right?
Well, the flip side of that argument is that if she truly loved you, it wouldn’t matter if you were a prince or pauper, right? If she’s not marrying you for your money, then you keeping most of your toys shouldn’t be an issue, right? So draw something up that divides things up fairly before trouble arises.
3) Consult your buddies before making the final decision.
Even though I said that you shouldn’t get married when you’re in love, you’re still going to do that. Hey, it’s fine; you’ve been hit by the stupid stick and there’s not a whole lot I can do.
But please, please consult your best friends before you make the final decision. If a unanimous chorus of your buddies says we don’t really like her, you should listen. Really, really, listen. One guy? Okay, maybe he’s jealous. Two — perhaps a statistical anomaly. But all of them — including your female friends, and your parents and your sister?
The wise men of the east say that the knife can’t cut itself, and the tongue can’t taste itself. And you are too close to yourself to be able to see clearly what you’re getting yourself into. Consult reliable outside opinion before taking the plunge.
4) Make only promises you can keep regarding monogamy.
Do you believe in Santa Claus? No? Oh, you’re no fun. But he’s in the mall! With kids sitting on his lap! Is that not proof enough?
No, because you know better. Santa Claus is a figment of the imagination, a fanciful mental construct with no basis in reality. You don’t believe in that stuff nor rely on it.
You know what else is a fanciful mental construct that has no basis in reality? Monogamy. As far as anyone can tell, it does not exist anywhere in nature. Anywhere. No, not even in ‘swans that mate for life’ — geneticists have definitive evidence that even they do their fair share of flitting about.
Okay, so there is this one species of slug. And when the male and the female mate, they actually fuse and become one slug. If that’s your idea of a healthy relationship, be my guest. But other than that, every other species has excursions, technically called extra-pair couplings.
Some have ’em more often than others. Chimpanzees and bonobos, for example, tend to go bananas with their voracious sexual appetites. Gorillas, not so much (although each alpha male keeps a nice harem, which isn’t strictly monogamy in my book). Prairie voles are primarily monogamous, and montane voles are primarily horndogs.
Keep in mind that only 3% of all mammalian species form any kind of monogamous relationship at all. We are part of that 3%, and fall somewhere between the chimp and gorilla in our appetites. As the scientists would call it, we are primarily monogamous with excursions.
Long story short: there will be excursions. Count on it. For both you and her, with the man slightly more likely to do it than the woman.
Forever is a really, really long time to be doing the sacred bone dance with one and only one woman, buddy. Think about that before saying yeah, I can do this.
So make sure you cover this before you get married. It is possible to have sex outside of your primary relationship and still love one another and still have a great family life. And it need not be guilty, surreptitious or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, going whole hog swinger mode. Just make sure you only make promises you can keep. Cheating is more about betrayal of trust and breaking of a promise than some bodily act. Keep your promises — it’s what makes you a man.
Other cultures don’t get so bent out of shape when it comes to extra-pair couplings. Russian, Japanese, French, Swedish, Brazilian people — heck, most of the rest of the world — have such matters already baked into their mores. Go figure out what works for them, and then figure out what works for you. The Tao is all about seeing the world as it is, not how you wish it would be. Know what you’re capable of.
5) Buy her something other than a diamond.
This is more of a personal peeve, so I’m going to make this optional rather than mandatory. But please consider that the whole ‘tradition’ of buying her a rock that costs twice your monthly salary is one of the biggest scams ever foisted upon mankind. And you, my good man, are too smart to fall for it.
Before the 1930s, the diamond engagement ring tradition simply did not exist. And it wasn’t until DeBeers ran its infamous ‘A Diamond is Forever’ ad campaign in 1948 that diamond engagement rings became common.
Boys — this is a complete and total marketing scam. There is nothing enshrined in scripture or etched in tablet that says you need to buy a her transparent pebble to prove your love. Screw that.
Especially when you consider that Cecil B. Rhodes, the founder of DeBeers, was one of the nastiest, most ruthless, racist jerks who ever walked the face of the earth. And that the DeBeers monopoly engages in unbelievably predatory practices, artificially inflating the price of diamonds to 10-100x of what they should be. And that the diamond you buy her may come at the cost of the blood of innocent folks in, say, Sierra Leone.
If you must, get her a sapphire — they’re prettier anyway. Or better, spend the money on an awesome trip to the Galapagos Islands.
All the best
Hi Dr. Ali,
Your advise for pre-proposal checklist for men is actually perfect for both genders. For those who would like to consider having an evolved relationship Todd Creager, as well as, Gay and Kathryn Hendricks are successful couples who have created enduring intimate relationships and teach others how to create and sustain them.
Why do you have such a negative outlook on marriage? I understand that your trying to caution folks but seriously you sound like you went through a bad relationship. Did your wife leave you for another man? Get over it!
Thanks for the comment. I’ve never been married. I do have many friends in their mid-thirties who are already divorced, however, and I would not wish that fate upon anyone. Marriage is a pretty big-ticket decision — maybe the biggest of a lifetime — so it’s probably smart to do your research beforehand.
I agree with you John, this person has such a negative outlook on marriage. My parents are high-school sweethearts, and have had fights, but they couldn’t imagine living without each other. They are completely in love, they don’t have a prenup, and in all honesty if people get divorced then that was because their love wasn’t strong enough, or they just couldn’t be grown-up enough to deal with it. Abusive relationships are terrible, and I don’t believe that a spouse should verbally or physically abuse them, to which I hope for the best of your life. But if you need a prenup, you never trusted your relationship at all, you have a doubt that it might not work out, so why get married at all..? All my aunts and uncles are all still married, and they have kids who are married and all of them are happy with their spouses. I have over 10 immediate aunts and uncles, you don’t think that that means something. You need to figure your life out and take this awful article down before you freak people out, into believing that marriage is a terrible awful thing, because when I read it, it sounded like the worst thing that could happen to somebody. They are just acting like marriage is something that is just there for fun, it’s not that big of a commitment, but it really is, your vowing your life to the person you marry. To be faithful, committed to the relationship, sickness and in health. Does this person not believe in these morals?
Very well written article, very good advice especially about being in love being a form of intoxication!
I think your observation on monogamy is just your personal opinion.. I was married for 14 years and not once did I cheat on my husband or even consider it. Our marriage ended because he his he was an alcoholic.. Although you may feel that.. not everyone strays.. I know a couple of people around me that have not.
Basically people have started to make monogamy seem impossible for two reasons:
1- The lifestyles which endorse free sex
2- To stop feeling guilty about, well, what they call cheating in traditional culture.
Monogamy does and can exist, I have known thousands of people who lived completely loyal monogamous relationships, well for their entire lives. Having said that, I completely understand and empathize with the fact that human beings can be polygamous promiscuous so on so forth and having multiple partners can be a personal choice but giving an excuse by saying since monogamy is impossible therefore..well I’m sorry such arguments are sham.
Maybe he drank because he couldn’t sleep around and monogamy is terrible.
Thank you, John, for that reply to this article. Some of the points, such as waiting to come down out of the “intoxication” mode before making a gigantic, life changing decision is definitely well-founded and is a bit of excellent and logical advice. However, there are some sarcastic,non-factual (he sites no concrete sources other than saying “Studies show…”), and overall completely based in his own subjective opinion. It does sound like he is a bit jaded and almost flabbergasted at the idea that anyone would WANT to get married.
I am an anthropology major and as his observation point out, humans are among the rare species that practices monogamy (however, monogamy is not found in all cultures and has changed in various cultures over time). However, has he stopped to think…humans are the only known species that has or maybe will ever live that has…you know…built planes, put a man on the moon, etc. To simply put us next to a chimp and strip away all of our genetic, sociological, and cultural unpinnings makes no sense, because although we share immense genetic similarities, it is like comparing apples and bananas. Bottom line, monogamy IS possible, and the fact that it seems like such a damn hardship to go to bed with only one woman for the rest of your life…he should remember that maybe it isn’t such a treat for her either! Marriage takes a lot of hard work, dedication, and there will be rough patches….lots of them. This article reads as a sarcastic diary entry, not actual good, logical, or backed up statements regarding proposal and marriage.
I liked your article aswell but damn it hurts to hear you state that extra-marital affairs ( if undisclosed, but as much as it is a noble thing to face it head on, i hate to admit that wouldnt not bode well for him with me.) is inevitable! I may be a woman, but my libido has me inclined towards intercourse around three to five times a week with my partner contented with one or two sessions a fortnight. even with this large divergance I feel no desire to roam. is it really such an innevitable thing? Is there something im missing here?
ive dated a man for 9 years, he has propose and bought a ring, but continues to cheat whats up, in love but not crazy he is 54 lam 53
Although I liked the first part of the article, it lost me half-way through. At that point, it completely describes my former partner’s perspective on relationships. He’s 45 and never married. Probably never will be married which is why he is, and will continue to be, single for the rest of his life. It’s impossible for him to be monogamous. The result is he is suffering from a mid-life crises while all his friends settled down, married, and had children. He is looking back on his decisions now thinking “Maybe my noncommittal attitude and desire to stick my **** into as many women would allow me wasn’t the best idea for long term life planning.” That story only ends one way: a 60 year old man sitting in a bar trying to pick up young girls who tell them he reminds them of their daddy.
The reality is that there are very very few well adjusted, self-respecting woman who want the man with the perceptive you describe in this article.