Today marks a special day for the Ironwoods. Twenty-three years ago today, the future Mrs. Ironwood and I were introduced to each other by a mutual friend. It wasn’t a carefully-designed attempt to get two like-minded people together. We were both on the rebound from less-than-stellar long term relationships, and our mutual friend was a bartender. She thought it was an exercise in simple rebound expediency.
The result was the present Ironwood family. The result of a one-night-stand gone horribly awry.
The reason why our twenty-third anniversary is so important (to me) is because it also marks the point in my life in which Mrs. Ironwood has been in it more than she has been out of it. As of this point, we have both spent the numerical majority of our lives enjoying each others’ company. That’s a massive accomplishment in this day and age, one that we are both appreciative of.
I rarely counsel a man to marry, in our present circumstances. The odds are not in his favor, and barring exceptional circumstances he risks far more than he gains out of the transaction. The differences between divorce, marital misery, and domestic contentment represent the difference between failure and success, and most men marrying most women are throwing all their chips on black and hoping for the best. In most cases, the payout is a mediocre marriage to an ambivalent woman undermined by the knowledge that she has clearly settled for her husband.
Every relationship is different. But the success or failure of a good one is dependent not just on the level of commitment each party demonstrates, but on whether or not they possess the skills needed to negotiate the minefield that is marriage. “Husband” and “wife” are not just commodities on the MMP, they’re learnable skills and cultivated abilities. One fault of feminism is its antipathy toward marriage as an institution and its disparaging of the cultivation of those skills that inform a woman’s contribution to the functioning of the marriage.
In pursuit of corporate achievement or “changing the world”, the women of the last two generations have been woefully unprepared, practically, for the realities of participating in a long-term, committed heterosexual union. Indeed, any such suggestion – that a woman spend her time and energy preparing for domestic life – has been met with scorn and derision by the feminist community at large. “Wife” is a title of shame and capitulation to feminism, regardless of what individual feminists may declare. Cultivating a skillset contributing to a successful marriage is therefore ridiculed by the feminist establishment.
Meanwhile, husbands have gotten a hell of a lot better in developing their skillsets. The man entering marriage in 2014 (if you can find such a rare and special creature) does so with a much greater depth of experience than his grandfather had. More than likely he’s mastered (or at least been exposed to) the
domestic chores and childcare responsibilities that the Second Wave feminists complained so bitterly about.
Modern husbands are more hands-on fathers than their sires, more involved in the housekeeping duties and household purchasing decisions, and more socially aware and better-informed than their ancestors. Men who feel inclined toward marriage and family early have little trouble learning the things they need to, in order to be an effective husband and father. While that desire is limited to a few, compared to generations past, the men who wish to be good husbands go out of their way to ensure that they can handle whatever might get thrown at their families. That dedication comes across early on, if you know where to spot it. There’s a reason that the “good ones” get snatched up early.
My continuing series on discerning the potential of a high-quality wife, Wife Tests, wouldn’t be complete without exploring one of the fundamental factors in the success or failure of a marriage: loyalty.
I do not mean mere fidelity. Simply not cheating on you is not the best metric for determining a woman’s loyalty to you. Loyalty, in the marital sense, means unwavering support for your spouse. That can be difficult, in the face of tough times, and the weak-willed, poor-quality women will quickly start looking around for a more-immediate better deal. Thanks to feminism, marriage is no longer sufficient insulation from the SMP, which makes it easy for a woman to entertain such ideas at the first hint of trouble.
But you’re going to have trouble in a marriage. It’s inevitable. In the process of knitting together two families and two family cultures, establishing proper boundaries and protocols, there will be problems that will challenge the fortitude of any couple. Until you do, there’s no real way to assess the strength of your union, sadly, and for some whose emotional constitutions are brittle, it doesn’t take much to hit the “this isn’t working
” button. More than one man has been shocked and surprised to hear these words after even a moderate challenge to the marriage. Another failure of feminism to modern women: the inflated and often unreasonable expectation of marriage. Marriage is hard work. If you care about it, you don’t take it pass/fail.
So how does one determine a woman’s loyalty to you before you encounter that Big Event that’s going to give you problems? It’s difficult. I’d say a telling factor, however, is just how loyal a woman appears to be to you in a casual circumstance. It’s hard to construct a situation that tests that, you must rely on observation and pay attention to subtleties. With Mrs. Ironwood, I can pinpoint the exact moment when she passed the Loyalty Test.
We had been going out for a little over a year when we had the opportunity to go out with another couple, friends of mine from college. Nothing fancy, just a sit-down dinner in a chain restaurant with a bar. Bob and Karen had been friends and neighbors of mine for a couple of years during my undergraduate career. He was a Religious Studies major at Duke, and she was studying Medieval and Renaissance studies. At that point they were engaged, with Bob having aspirations of a career in law. At that point, I saw them as the Perfect Couple.
But when the subject of parenting and fatherhood came up, Karen – who I’d been crushing heavily on since I’d known her, and who knew me as a fairly hapless Beta – was surprised at the future Mrs. Ironwood’s
willingness to “let” me take charge of our future children, if any. At the time it appeared that she would be the primary breadwinner – my writing career had taken off, but paying gigs were still few and far between. Therefore our plan was that I would be primary childcare, should we have kids. That early in our relationship we had already begun seriously evaluating each other for suitability, and had discussed the possibilities even if we hadn’t committed to them.
“What? You’re actually going to trust Ian with your babies?” Karen asked, aghast at the suggestion. That was more than a little insulting, on a personal level, but my attraction for her and my respect for Bob had kept me firmly in Beta position. I was about to joke my way out of it when the future Mrs. I leapt to my defense.
“Are you kidding? Ian will make an outstanding father! I’ve never met a man better-prepared emotionally or practically for taking care of his children. He’s responsible, intelligent, and caring. Whether or not we’ll stay together or have kids together remains to be seen, but I know for a fact that I would not have any reservations about Ian raising our children!”
Bob quickly changed the subject away from the awkward subject, and dinner continued. Afterwards, as we were walking back to the car the future Mrs. I reiterated just how upset she was at the suggestion that I was unfit to raise babies with. It wasn’t just Karen challenging her choice of boyfriend, a catty standard of the Female Social Network, that she was responding to, I realized. She was genuinely offended that anyone who claimed to be a close friend of mine would make such a horrible (and to her mind unearned)
It wasn’t a big deal to either Karen or Mrs. Ironwood, but it was to me. It was at that point that I checked the “loyalty” box on the Wife Test. When your wife defends your character to your closest friends, that’s a pretty profound statement of her belief in you. I watched more carefully after that, and I was gratified to see her stick up for me in similar situations. She knew enough not to get entangled with the rough teasing between my brothers and I, but when she told my mother that she was wrong about my inability to handle household finances, for instance, I knew I had a potential keeper.
While loyalty gets tested in the strangest of ways, but they all revolve around a woman’s unprompted reaction to a perceived attack or injustice on you. Ideally her response should be independent of her interests, perhaps even against them, in some circumstances.
If you had to engineer a situation artificially to test her loyalty, consider having one of your (good) friends speak poorly about you behind your back but in her presence, and report what she says. If she plays along with his downgraded assessment of you, you might have a problem. If she sticks up for you, you’ve got a loyal one.
But even that isn’t the ideal test of her loyalty. Even better if you can hear one of HER good friends launch a catty attack on you. If she can tell her BFF to shut the hell up because she doesn’t know what she’s talking about, you’ve got a winner. The woman who will endure someone speaking badly about her mate is one whose loyalty is questionable from the beginning.
The true test, of course, will be when the world is falling down around your ears; your very self-identity is challenged as your life is wracked with the inevitability of misfortune. A loyal wife will remember that she bet on the horse, not the race
, and support you. If she’s skilled enough she might even know how to do that. During a true loyalty test, she has a clear choice of a life in support of you and a life not in support of you, and she freely chooses the former not out of obligation or a sense of duty but because she has genuine respect for you in sufficient quantities to invoke her loyalty.
Twenty three years after she saw me reading a book in a bar one night (The Two Towers – I’m a hobbit-head) Mrs. Ironwood is still fiercely loyal of me, and I have taken great pains to vindicate her on the subject of fatherhood and husbandry. But understand that such loyalty is not monolithic. It’s a laminate of countless small acts and quiet statements made in support and appreciation over the years, an aggregate of pride and love stronger than the petty forces of fate that conspire to tear it down. The end-result is a cultivated Oneitis, wherein your mutual loyalty and support give you the personal security and belief in your marriage you need to go out and slay dragons on a daily basis.
Twenty-three years. It’s not impossible to marry a Western woman and still have a fulfilling life as a husband and father. But you have to start with the right woman, carefully nurture the relationship, and avoid the sinkholes that Marriae 2.0 inevitably throws at you, and disloyalty is certainly a big one. But . . . twenty three years.
And from now on, she’ll be in my life more than she’s been out of it. That, gentlemen, is what happens when you’ve properly constructed Happily Ever After.