The conquering fool: why men change after marriage

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There isn’t a great deal I remember from my wedding. The ceremony was held at a quaint hotel in Central Jersey and included an open bar, gourmet menu, adequate DJ, and a hundred or so family and close friends. The clergy was a gay Greenwich Village therapist who moonlighted as a Rabbi. We had hoped for an outdoor ceremony but Mother Nature felt otherwise. They say rain on a wedding day is good luck – whatever.

One memory that’s stayed with me is soaking in the presidential suite hot tub hours before show time, deep into my third screwdriver, enjoying the soothing water and resting in the assurance that my hard fought journey was nearing its end.

•♦•

Dating, by design, comes with an easy off switch; no lawyers, no agreements, just ‘it’s not you, it’s me’. Like test-driving a car, if we don’t like the handling, color, or interior toss the keys and walk away.  Until congress enacts a Lemon Law for love, dating is the best option available.

Besides the uncertainty of sex, it’s this relationship escape hatch that often makes men better boyfriends than husbands. Lazy, thoughtless, narcissistic, jerks don’t find many women yearning to bed them or wed them. This requires the single man to bring his A-game and then continue bringing it unless he wishes to remain perpetually horny or have his sexuality debated. If he hopes to get her in the sheets and down the isle, he must always charm, always seduce, always pursue. And if she accepts either offer you can bet those qualities had much to do with his success. But pursuit takes effort, intention, forethought, and over time the energy and asset it demands begin to wear on a man.

For two years I pursued her, finally won her over, then convinced her to say ‘yes’; all of which led to that Saturday afternoon. The waters not only helped the cocktail go down easier, they rejuvenated my weariness from the long chase. That day may have been the celebration of a new life together, but for me it also symbolized a victory. It was a coronation of sorts; my crowing as the triumphant hero. I was about to receive the just reward for all my efforts – now that she had been conquered, by becoming my wife, the pursuit that won her over could finally come to an end.

•♦•

Men love to win. Our egos are inextricably tied to conquest, whether the enemy is a tribal village, hostile nation, evil super villain, or video game level.  From boys on the playground to executives in a boardroom, we are hardwired to achieve, to beat the other guy. The glory is in the winning never the doing. But there are also dangers if unable to turn that drive off. One of the fundamental flaws in the male ego is assuming that romantic love also consists of the conquering  - instead of the pursuing.

How often is the complaint of wives that their husband, ‘isn’t the man I married?’  I’ve frequently wondered what this meant; did he grow a beard, gain a few pounds, or stop wearing deodorant? As I thought more, physical change wasn’t the source of their criticism, their husbands hadn’t changed materially; instead he had stopped being the man who won her heart – he had stopped pursuing her.

Dating is like an interview. Both people are demonstrating why they should be given a permanent position.  But like an interview, what’s said is only important when it can be backed up with proof. Any hiring manager will admit, past performance is the best predictor of future behavior.

Many husbands fail to understand that the big houses, exotic vacations, and diamond rings didn’t win her over. Expensive gifts can never make a woman feel valuable. What initially captured her heart, and what she rightly expects to continue after ‘I do’’, are those behaviors that made her feel precious; the acts of love that proved she was wanted and needed – his undivided attention, text messages just to say ‘hi’, surprising her at lunch – the qualities that made her feel she was the only woman in the world, when he thought she really was.

•♦•

Like most men, I had this mistaken belief that once I conquered her I could stop pursuing her. After marriage, those behaviors that led her to ‘yes’ became unnecessary. We were married, she was mine, what was there to pursue?  The heavy lifting was over.

But that’s where this false assumption lies. Marriage isn’t the end of a romantic journey. It isn’t a destination where men can finally rest from the chase. Marriage is merely a new direction along the same path. Marriage may change the dynamics of a relationship, but it doesn’t alter the fundamental reason for it.  As men, if we accept the notion that marriage is our green light to stop the behaviors that made her feel like the only one, she will find someone who thinks she is.

It’s one reason marriage is so hard, how do you pursue someone you already have? Many men will ask, why go through the motions if we already know the outcome? It’s at this point that a man’s complaint about sex creates the perfect analogy.

Any husband’s criticism about his wife’s sexual inattention is always measured against a time in their relationship when it was enough. That’s why men speak of their wives as not wanting sex ‘anymore’.  So is it fair to distinguish a man’s expectations of sex, based on her past behavior, and a wife’s expectation the he will still make her feel like the only woman in the world, before he became the conquering fool?

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4 responses to The conquering fool: why men change after marriage

  1. Jeremy

    Do you think there might be certain behavior by the woman that makes your post marriage pursuit seem fruitless.

  2. Kyle Bradford – Author

    Jeremy, I think there comes a point where you have to ask yourself some serious questions about whether she is willing to meet you half way. I’m not sure that men are that cognizant to know when that is. Often, men will recognize their mistakes, then go about trying to fix them the wrong way, which only makes matters worse. Please elaborate if you’d like to discuss more.

  3. FightingChef

    Chopper,

    You indirectly bring up another point: what happens when the woman stops being the person you wanted to pursue? Should the man continue to try to woo that which he didn’t want but already has just because he’s married?

  4. Ana

    A very perceptive post. I’m just trying to think over all the years we’ve been together whether my husband ever really stopped pursuing me or I stopped caring about him doing the pursuing (or pursuing him for that matter). No, I don’t think that ever happened. Maybe that’s why we’re still together. I think relationships that work take a bit of effort but there are two sides to everything. It’s up to each of us to be clear about what we want – so if you stop making the effort and your wife doesn’t seem to bother about it, a pattern is set. If she does complain, you never get a chance to become complacent. And it works in the same way, if she stops being so sexually receptive and you accept that’s the way things are. Never accept less than you want.

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