A big part of my book To Love, Honor and Vacuum is letting women in on something that’s so obvious we all should know–and yet we often forget. Life is very different today than it was one hundred years ago. Parenting has changed. Marriage has changed. And so if you’re wondering what’s wrong with you that you can’t keep up with the job of mothering the way your mom or grandmother could, maybe it’s because we’re doing a whole different job today!
We sometimes forget that about marriage, too. We assume that marriage has always been about the same things it is today: falling in love, keeping the romance going, feeling positively towards each other. And because of that, we can get this idealized notion of marriage that can actually hurt us.
Back in August I went to a conference with my agent, Chip MacGregor, and met a ton of other writers he represents. I got talking to Danica Favorite, who writes historical romance, and I said to her: I think that we as a society have forgotten what marriage used to be. She volunteered to write a post about that for me, and she joins us today.
As a historical romance writer, I get to look back on marriage and relationship history. While I focus on getting to the happily ever after in my books, it’s important to note that historically, being happy wasn’t the priority. In fact, much of what we take for granted in modern marriage wasn’t an important consideration back then. Even though much of what I write in historical romance is fiction, I’ve learned a lot from historical marriage to help my own marriage.
One of the most important differences between historical marriage and marriages of today is the idea of choice.
Being able to marry the person you choose is a fairly modern idea. Many women were simply told who they would marry. If your parents said to marry Joe Smith, you married Joe Smith, regardless of whether or not you liked the man. Sure, most parents would take into consideration what their children wanted, but not always. Historically, women had very few rights, especially in terms of marriage and finances. Because a woman was dependent on her family or husband for protection and financial support, she had to marry to survive.
When I was in college, my mother had picked out the perfect husband for me. I’d gone to school with him, and had never really gotten to know him. But my mother seemed to think he was The One for me. For a while, she even called him “her son-in-law.” As in, “I was at the store today and I ran into my son-in-law. Next time you’re home, you should get together.” Or, “I just saw my son-in-law and I was thinking that you guys would have the cutest babies.”
How many of you are saying, “EW!” right about now?
But if we’d been living a hundred and fifty years ago, I probably would be married to the guy who, for better or for worse, is best known for getting pantsed in gym class in middle school. He may be a perfectly nice person. But we never hung out in the same circles, and judging by his Facebook page, I can’t imagine we’d have all that much to talk about.
Sometimes having a choice makes us look at the other options and wonder if we made the right choice.
I love it when Sheila talks about the idea of whether or not you married the wrong person. Maybe you feel like you married the wrong person. But consider the fact that you chose him. There was something about that person that made you think, “Yes! This is the one.” Focus on that good point. Generations of women before us didn’t even have that to focus on, and yet they were able to find enough good in that person to build a life together.
I’ll admit, I never looked at the man my mother chose for me as a serious option. But when we make the mistake of looking at what we could have done, who we could have married, we fall into the trap of thinking that something else would have been better. The problem is, we’ve already made our choice. You got to marry the man you chose. Be grateful, and remember to appreciate the reasons you married the man you did.
Even on our worst day of marriage, I would definitely want to have my husband over the guy my mother was certain would be the perfect man for me.
The idea of choice highlights a second lesson we can learn from women in history- that of necessity.
The Bible talks a lot about the need for man and woman to have each other. But we don’t need to go as far back as the Bible to underscore this lesson. Before we had the luxury of modern kitchen appliances and grocery stores, making a simple meal for the family took hours. Running a household took teamwork. It was too much of a job for a person to do alone.
Believe it or not, that’s still true today. Last week, as I struggled in the family room to help our daughter with her report, my husband was in the kitchen helping our other daughter with her geometry. I am terrible at geometry. My husband is terrible at spelling, which is what I was helping our little one with.
When I look at how completely opposite my husband and I are, I could complain about how awful it is that we have so little in common. (And sometimes I do. ☺ )But then I look at how having differences benefits our kids. My weaknesses are often his strengths. My strengths are often his weaknesses.
The couples in the past knew this truth, and while some of the roles they created seem antiquated now, they had a point. We can’t do it alone. Our society tells us that we can have it all- we can be everything, everyone, and still have a wonderful life. The focus is so much on independence, and not wanting to be dependent on anyone else, that we forget the benefits of interdependence.
Marriage is a recognition that we both bring something valuable to the table.
Just as men of the past needed their wives, our husbands need us too. The great thing about modern marriage is that we can work together with our spouses to define those roles. In my house, that means my husband deals with all bodily fluids and I deal with all the logistics and organizational issues. My friend’s husband does all the cooking, and she does all the home repair. When we chaperoned a school field trip, he packed her a lunch in a little brown bag, complete with a love note. Maybe that wouldn’t have been so cool a hundred years ago, but today, it’s a great reminder of the special gifts we bring to our spouses.
The final lesson from historical marriage is this- there was no way out.
Now, I want to be clear here, because I do think that one of the great advances in our society is that women can get out of abusive marriages. So I want to take that off the table in terms of this discussion. I believe that if you are in an abusive situation, you need to find a way to get safe.
In the past, if a couple was unhappy, they had no choice but to stay together. To separate meant to have your reputations ruined, and in many cases, you were left with no way to survive. There weren’t many respectable jobs available to divorced women. Because there was no way out, they found a way to make their marriage work. A fight with your husband meant you had to figure out how to deal with your differences. Love was less about the emotion of how you felt about the person and more about how you chose to act.
We can learn from the idea of not having an out. Because getting a divorce is so easy in this day, it’s tempting to go back to the idea of choice, of making a better choice. Rather, we can take a look at our marriages and find ways of making it work. Again, I point back to Sheila’s posts about how we need to love one another as an action, instead of getting wrapped up in the heady rush of attraction. The difference between then and now is that now we have so many more resources to give us advice on how to make it through. There are amazing counselors, books, and even blogs like Sheila’s to give you a knot to hang on to when you’re at the end of the rope.
What’s wonderful about being married in today’s day and age is that we have a great deal of wisdom we can draw from. Back when women didn’t have any rights, they did what they could to make the best out of what wasn’t always the situation they wanted for themselves.
For those of you who are history buffs, are there any pieces of historical marriage advice you’d offer? How can we use the wisdom of the women of the past to make our marriages better?
A self-professed crazy chicken lady, Danica Favorite loves the adventure of living a creative life. She loves to explore the depths of human nature and follow people on the journey to happily ever after. Though the journey is often bumpy, those bumps are what refine imperfect characters as they live the life God created them for. Oops, that just spoiled the ending of all of Danica’s stories. Then again, getting there is all the fun. You can find her at Danica Favorite or follow along with her on Facebook or Twitter. Her first book, Rocky Mountain Dreams, is available now.