An Open Letter to Anyone Who Thinks They Can Solve the Riddles of Marriage and Parenthood by Reading an Open Letter

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An Open Letter to Anyone Who Thinks They Can Solve the Riddles of Marriage and Parenthood by Reading an Open Letter

By Courtney Enlow | Think Pieces | November 8, 2013 | Comments ()


Earlier this week, an article called “Marriage Isn’t for You” was posted by several friends and acquaintances on my Facebook newsfeed. It was sweet and syrupy and I immediately had a problem with it, which is not atypical for me because I have a very low threshold for syrup. But, my greatest issue with the piece was not the high-fructose tone, nor was it even the potentially harmful implication that one should be in or stay in any relationship for reasons other than wanting to. It was the idea that this guy had it all figured out. And that’s the problem with the influx of pieces like this, or that awful woman’s letter to the tween harlots on her sons’ Facebooks. It’s a problem rampant on Pinterest pages everywhere. It’s the idea that in 500 social media-friendly words or less, someone has cracked the code, someone has unlocked the mysteries. Someone has solved life.

I’ve been married for nearly three years to someone with whom I’ve been in a relationship for 11 years. And the one thing I’ve figured out is that no one has anything “figured out.”

The idea that life is a riddle just waiting to be solved is a nonsensical joke, requiring a logic so distant from the truth that it has a different zip code. Marriage is between two people, two people whose experiences and moods and lives are in constant flux, affected by external forces and hard days at work and kids and dairy and politics and bad episodes of favorite television shows. A pithy inspirational jpeg can’t give you the answers. A blog from a man claiming to have the answers can’t give you the answers. There are no answers.

The whole point of marriage or any committed lifelong relationship is a pledge to spend the rest of your life (or until such a point where you or that other person fucks things up past the point of forgiveness—I mean, some things should not be made to work, so take that, stupid Facebook pictures with 20,000 likes or more) as a team effort against the forces of life. My husband and I got married, not to make babies, not to make our parents happy, not to have a wedding, not just to be married, but to grasp each other’s hands, stand together and face whatever the world’s got for us. And, so far, not addiction, not teething, not flat tires, not the stomach flu, not post-partum depression, not running out of Diet Coke, not work stress, not tears, not shrinking my favorite sweater in the dryer, not eating his last brownie, not bills, not not having money for a while, not anything has beaten us. And anything we’ve learned along the way couldn’t have been gleamed from some condescending man’s blog, nor could we share them via our own blogs educating others with these helpful tips of how to better live your lives.

Everything you “figure out” in a relationship or as a parent is so specific to you, to your partner, to each specific child, to your dog (my dog demands more attention than my child does), that my “answers” probably could not serve as your personal life guide. Nor should they. No one’s should. Don’t forget, even that Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus guy got a divorce. No one knows the answers. There are no answers. Just live your life. Find out what works for you, for your relationship, for your kids, and do it.

There. There’s my advice. Stitch that shit on a pillow.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Jiffylush

    Maybe it's just my FB friends but it seems like the ones who are always posting advice or inspirational quotes are the last people you would take advice from, hell they don't even take it themselves.

  • BobbFrapples

    I just want to have a big party and have someone to kiss at the end of it. I'm not getting married to have that happen.

  • eringoblog

    Courtney, I so <3 you...

  • e jerry powell

    "Don’t forget, even that Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus guy got a divorce."

    More to the point, he divorced his co-author. So neither of them had all the answers. Or even half of them.

  • e jerry powell

    Some other grossness I didn't want to think about:

    Barbara De Angelis, John Gray's ex-wife and fellow "relationship specialist," has been married and divorced four times.

  • Tecuya

    "Not running out of Diet Coke…" If you can beat this, you can beat anything.

  • Uriah_Creep

    This article is awesome, Courtney. Your first paragraph should be required reading for all those assholes who e-mail "inspirational" messages and imply you're a fucking dick if you don't forward it to 10 friends (like I have that many!). I want to show this to my sister, who does tend to do this, but I just called her an asshole.*

    * She is far from it and we get along fabulously, but I may totes print out Courtney's article for her.

  • Tinkerville

    That guy has been married a year and a half and he thinks he has it all figured out? Yikes. Let's circle back to him in a decade and hear all about how much he thinks he knows then.

  • goddammitmrnoodle

    FUCK YES! Oh my jesus, how I hated that bullshit article, or blog, or whatever the fuck it was. It was so condescending and self-congratulatory.

  • Though I haven't read this idiot's letter (owing to my FB aversion), it smacks of the old Secret of Success joke:

    1. Pretend to figure out secret.
    2. Charge other people money to tell them.

    Great piece, Courtney. Proving once again that sheer willingness to keep climbing uphill is a deeper expression of love than boasting shortcuts to the top.

  • Antique (webelos8)

    Courtney: I'm glad I'm not the only one who took a lonnnng time to get married -- we also dated for about 8 years before we got married, we've been together now 21 years. It pains me to say that, because I'm really not that old. :)

  • We did the opposite and got married after knowing each other 10 months and never having lived in the same state. We have also been married 21 years. Just goes to show that there is no one path to a successful marriage.

  • Antique (webelos8)

    Agreed! I will say, though, it was getting annoying hearing all the time, "So, are you two ever gonna get married?" Um, yeah, let me just finish this college degree here, ok?

  • SelenaMac

    I had Photoshop open already, and I couldn't resist.

  • bastich

    Thank you for going with text instead of a picture.

  • Maguita NYC

    And what DO YOU have against pictures Willynilly!

  • bastich

    Didn't I tell you not to use my stripper name on this website?!?

    Oh crap...DJ's playing "Rock You Like A Hurricane"...I'm on!

    /throws on thong, pasties, "naughty cop" outfit

  • Maguita NYC


  • bastich


  • PrintersDevil

    Courtly Elbow hits it out of the park again.

    "There are no answers. Just live your life. Find out what works for you, for your relationship, for your kids, and do it."

    I am in my 7th decade, still married to my first spouse, and I guarantee all of you that Ms Elbow *has* figured "it" out...exactly. Ms Devil and I have accommodated, adapted, changed, supported, all that and more for 43 years...we have given up on the idea that we will or can figure "it" out. We just make the attempt as best we and enjoy the occasional happy surprises along the way...

  • Maguita NYC

    43 YEARS... Fourty. Three. Years?

    Hats off to you and congratulations!

  • PrintersDevil

    I am laughing has been the blink of an eye...and everyone who knows me calls her the s when they say it too

  • Bert_McGurt

    I love the "Courtly Elbow". It makes her sound like a regal but foul-prone basketball player.

    And congrats to you and your wife!

  • PrintersDevil

    No disrespect intended. I am an admirer of her writing and her general intelligence.

  • pissants_doppelganger

    From the blog post: "I met my wife in high school when we were 15 years old. We were friends for ten years until…until we decided no longer wanted to be just friends. :) I strongly recommend that best friends fall in love. Good times will be had by all."

    Well, that was as equally passionate as the rest of the post! Sooooooooo...I'm taking bets on the divorce. Not when it will happen (that's less than 10 years), but the reason for it.

    We have:
    1. She realizes that 25 was a little too soon to get so panicked about dying alone that you start dating your torch-bearing "bestie" who was just sticking around long enough for you to give in. Odds: 2 to 1

    2. Despite those 3 "I'm so super not gay, y'all" kids...turns out he is. After a few weeks of feeling hurt, she realizes that his insistence that he handle the floral arrangements at the wedding was a huge red flag, and she invites him and Toby over for dinner with the whole family. Odds: 3 to 1

    3. She's the one who is gay. The comfort of the ruse which pleases her parents begins to be heavily outweighed by the creeping suffocation that has been closing in on her ever since that gold band was placed on her finger like the chains on a slave. Odds: 10 to 1

    Place your bets!

  • And to counter-balance the treacle:

  • DarthCorleone

    Excellent job, Courtney. May this column fly across the Internet with all the frequency and more of its inspiration. You might not have solved life, but your sentiments cover it as well as anything could.

  • emmalita

    The advantage of being a cynical spinster, (that's right! I said "spinster!") is that people don't send me this crap because they either think I will collapse in tears, or they know I will lob a Molotov cocktail in their direction.

  • carrie thompson

    Ha! Reminds me of when my parents pulled me aside to tell me they felt badly that I had to always celebrate my siblings' big events (weddings and babies, specifically) and nobody every celebrated me.
    I had absolutely no response to this, because it never occurred to me to feel that way about attending the weddings of my brothers or flying out to meet my baby niece.
    Yes, I AM a woman in her mid-thirties who is single and without children. And no, this does not preclude me from being able to celebrate those life events for my siblings, because I DO NOT VIEW MY LIFE AS TRAGIC. I chose my life in the exact same way that my siblings chose theirs, and the fact that my choices don't have the ritual of expensive parties and ceremonies is, in my opinion, a very welcome perk.

  • I wish my aunts would figure this out. Constantly with the questions about if I'm dating anyone. My grandma, their mother, does not care one bit. She never asks me when I'm getting married, only if I'm thinking about going to grad school. She was briefly considered to be a spinster herself before she married my grandpa at the ripe old age of 24.

  • Yes! This! I'm so happy to see a reaction piece to this stuff. It drives me insane to see those posts or even books that claim that not only is there only one good way to do something subjective and personal, but that their way IS that way.

    My parents raised me believing that relationships have individual needs and that different things are going to work with different people. My ma especially liked to say that if someone else tells you they know what's best for your relationship, "screw them!"

  • hoppergrass

    Not only that, but posts like this one reinforce the idea that good marriages happen solely because of the superior merits of the people in them, and I have to disagree. Yes, marriage takes work - but it also takes heaping helpings of luck to find the person with whom that work will best bear fruit.

    My sister once accused me of thinking my life was "so much better" than hers because I was single and childless and able to go and do and travel as I pleased. I laughed and pointed out all of the things in her life that I envied: kind husband, beautiful baby, a deep sense of place and purpose. Her response? "Well, then, get those things." Now, why hadn't that occurred to me before? "Guess I'll hop in my car and head down to the Soulmate Store!"

    The hardest I have ever worked in a relationship was the relationship that failed the most dramatically. Now that I'm with Future-Husband-In-Law, I don't have any inclination to lecture people on how we make it work - I'm too busy being grateful for having found the person it works with, and knowing that the finding had nothing to do with me.

  • Yeah, it's weirdly glib when people talk about finding a spouse as if you just ask someone for one and get one in the mail in 5-7 business days. Not to be too sappy, but everyone has their own journey and time for these things. It happens when it happens and there's really only so much to be done about that.

  • BlackRabbit

    Sorry, but that's sentimental fluff, Some folks never find someone. There isn't someone for everyone and a person may never find someone. Sorry.

  • I wasn't pushing the idea of a singular soulmate or anything. Just that in many ways, this sort of thing is out of our hands. Like hoppergrass said up there, a lot of it is luck.

    I don't think there's necessarily The One out there for each person, but I do think there are probably multiple/many people with whom a loving relationship is possible/probable for a person. Even if thinking that way is sentimental or fluffy, I don't think that makes it less possible or true.

  • BlackRabbit

    That's true and I thought I'd deleted it-I was feeling crabby when I wrote that-I agree a large part of it is luck.

  • Maguita NYC

    You asked for it!

  • GODDAMNIT, Lionel! I already told you: I'm too young to be a good parent to Nicole! LEAVE ME ALONE ALREADY!

  • Your mom and mine would get along fine. She always told me that folks who give out unsolicited advice are often trying to cover up their own issues.

  • Obviously the secret to a happy marriage is getting drunk and raging about Game of Thrones together.

  • Dumily

    Damnit, why don't I have more up-votes?!

  • My problem with that article, besides the abundance of sickly sweetness, was definitely the smug "aren't I so great for figuring out that marriage is about my wife. This entire piece about how awesome I am shows that I am truly selfless."

  • chanohack

    That, on top of how click-whorey it was. "MARRIAGE ISN'T FOR ME. Now before you start making assumptions" like he didn't specifically intend for our assumptions to bring us to the article in the first place. Fucking smug amateur.

  • I want to see his attitude toward that advice after a few years of marriage.

  • Maguita NYC

    I eyerolled half way through; Glad to know I wasn't alone, and have become some skeptic infidel...

  • sanity fair

    Thank Godtopus I was not the only one who felt this way! I couldn't even get through the whole blog piece. I'm so sick of people trying to tell me how my relationship should be handled when what my fiance and I do works so well for us. Even though what works so well for us would probably make so many other couples cringe, cry, or break up at least every other day.

  • Now that I've read the open letter, I'm going to lay odds that guy's marriage ends in under five years. If marriage isn't about you AND your partner, it's still only half an equation. Duh.

  • I figured out a long time ago that no one can understand anyone else's marriage. Or friendship. Or relationship, etc. There is no alchemical formula for making things just right. There's give and take and push and pull and giving in and giving and sometimes even giving up, but the shape that takes is based on the people involved.

    This is also the reason that I find absurd the notion that any other couple/type of couple/trio/harem would have any impact on my marriage. Let folks do what they'll do (with consenting adults, obviously). You take care of you and yours. How hard a philosophy is that?

  • hoppergrass

    I find the tone in these pieces is what simultaneously amuses and offends me most - so smug! It's like: you know how every dog owner thinks they have THE BEST dog in the world? Relationships are a lot like that. I'm really happy this guy likes his "chihuahua." That's nice. But it won't make me a "small dog" person. We all have different needs, and no one breed of marriage will satisfy all of them for all of the people.

  • oilybohunk7

    I guess someone really liked chihuahuas.

  • Ah "bohunk" - the ethnic epithet for my people. Don't see that very often.

  • oilybohunk7

    On oily variety bohunk nonetheless!

  • kirbyjay

    I knew a pony named it's making me wonder....

  • That downvote was me. It was entirely accidental. I switched it to the upvote I meant to give in the first place. Suck it, chihuahuas.

  • oilybohunk7

    Ha! Okay!

  • Aaron Schulz

    Im glad someone else thought that article was just sappy goo by a condescending wad. People trying to convince me of any life philosophy so hard just makes me tune out.

    Its also nice to have my cynicism validated in some way.
    Cynical me - 9
    Real life - 3241

  • Maguita NYC

    It boggles the mind whenever people get married for any other reason than wanting to share their life with a partner. Anything else is just courting misery.

    Beautifully written Courtney!

  • chanohack

    I didn't like the original article at all, so I clicked on a lot of "A Response"s looking for this exact sentiment, and I found at least four that were like, "No, marriage is not for you. Marriage is for THE GLORY OF GOD." Glad we cleared that up. #PraiseFOX.

    Thank you Courtney, is what I'm saying.

  • Maguita NYC

    *snort. #PraiseFox. Love this still!

  • BWeaves

    I like the Jewish way. Marriage is a contract, just like any business contract. Hell, you even have to sign the damn thing and have it witnessed. You want to get a divorce? You get a get. I still find that funny that Jewish divorces are called gets. Anyway, all I know is what works for me. Other people have other things that work for them.

    My only complaint is that so much is focused on the stupid proposal and the wedding ceremony and the reception. Those are nothing. They're over in the blink of an eye. Couples should be focused on their future, not "the perfect wedding."

  • Bert_McGurt

    We're planning ours right now minus all the typical hullabaloo and when people ask why, we tell them that we're more concerned with the marriage than the wedding. Some folks seem positively AMAZED that we "only" gave ourselves eight and a half months to plan it.

    A buddy of mine is also in the midst of planning his (just about two YEARS from proposal to wedding day). Their PHOTOGRAPHER budget is equal to that of our ENTIRE wedding. And we're expecting 225-250 people. It absolutely boggles my mind.

  • Berry

    I remember an acquaintance of ours getting married around the same time we did -- her dress cost more than our entire wedding. I try not to be too judgmental over how other people choose to prioritize their spending, but it still boggles the mind just a tiny little bit. Okay, more than just a tiny little bit. A lot, actually. But still. Not judging!

  • Bert_McGurt

    Yep, they're free to so what they want. It just isn't for me.

  • ZbornakSyndrome

    First: Congratulations!
    Second: I got really annoyed when I was engaged because all anyone (outside of my family) wanted to talk about was the wedding. I'm more interesting than flower choices damn it (usually)! These were all people that usually talked politics, current events, literature, but once I started planning a wedding my only topics with them were color choices, dresses, rings, it was just bizarre.

  • Bert_McGurt

    Thanks! I'm pretty lucky that I've managed to dodge those type of conversations. Except with my mom, but I'm the oldest and the first to get married so mom gets a pass.

  • Maguita NYC

    It boggles the mind how many still concentrate on the wedding DAY rather than the married LIFE!

    If you would invest as much time and energy into having the perfect marriage than you would a wedding, there would be much less failure in conjugality.

    And congratulations!

  • kirbyjay

    Looking back over the couples that made their wedding "the event of the century" with gazillions of bridesmaids and ushers, gigantic rings and loads of time keeping their guests waiting while they got the "perfect picture" ( one couple would not allow the bar to be opened until they made their grand entrance after 45 minutes) all and I mean ALL of them are now divorced.
    Mr. Kirbyjay and I have been together for 41 years, 27 married, 14 dating. Neither of us was in a rush because we were enjoying our 20's doing what 20 year olds do, having fun. My only advice for non-marrieds is look at that person across from you and ask yourself, " Do I like them"?. Love is great and should of course be a gigantic part of the equation, along with physical attraction, but if you don't "like" that person, you don't care about their happiness, you don't respect them, you will be a divorced or a bickering, miserable old couple.

  • Bert_McGurt

    Thanks Maguita!

  • emmalita

    I have a rant about people who focus on the ring instead of the relationship. I haven't had a chance to use it for a while. People don't gripe to me about not being proposed to anymore.

  • hoppergrass

    Aw, can't I obsess over both?!? I've fallen in love with this eighteenth century mourning ring and it's so incredibly endearing how disgusted the fellow is by the fact that it contains the hair of a dead girl... who died as the result of a lover's quarrel... and which I've promised (threatened?) to press tenderly against his cheek every night as he sleeps while crooning, "[Dead Girl's name] loooooves yooooou....."

    I really want it.

  • PuraPuma

    I'd say buy the ring then...all on your own. :)

  • emmalita

    If you are going to obsess over a ring, that's the ring to obsess over. I can support this.

  • Bert_McGurt

    Thanks for reminding me that I still haven't finished the one I'm making for her. Hopefully I can get the engagement ring finished BEFORE the wedding.

  • emmalita

    That's sweet. My dad made my parents' wedding rings (no engagement ring). When my mom died, he gave me both of their wedding bands and I wear them on a chain sometimes.

  • Bert_McGurt

    Thanks! I'm a woodcarver, so I thought it would be most authentic if I made it for her.

  • Rob

    "My husband and I got married, not to make babies, not to make our parents happy, not to have a wedding, not just to be married, but to grasp each other’s hands, stand together and face whatever the world’s got for us."

  • Dumily

    My husband and I got married for one very real, very simple reason: free ice cream maker, bitches.

  • chanohack

    One of the reasons I'm NOT married yet is that I can only think of like three things I'd put on a gift registry and it seems like a waste.

  • emmalita

    I can help you with that. I've done it before. :)

  • chanohack

    Meaning, you can help me find things I need? Or I can add things YOU need? :)

  • emmalita

    I need nothing. I am excellent at looking through catalogs and websites and finding things YOU need.

  • chanohack

    I'll keep you posted.

  • ZbornakSyndrome

    For us, it was the Margarittaville frozen drink maker, but I feel you.

  • TherecanbeonlyoneAdmin

    Clager! Stitch me that shit on a pillow.

    Also, bravo.

  • goraudykq688

    My Uncle Lincoln got a superb Hyundai Elantra Touring Hatchback just by some part-time working online with a pc. he has a good point


  • bastich

    That's great, but what are your thoughts on the article? Are you married? Is Uncle Lincoln married? Could you have Uncle Lincoln read this post and give his two cents? He only works part-time, after all.

    Actually, let's get to the heart of the matter. Does Uncle Lincoln's part-time work give him more time to spend with his significant other, or is he too busy tooling around in his superb Hyundai Elantra Touring Hatchback picking up hotties for a bit of infidelity? Maybe if he spent time with you and his beloved AS A FAMILY instead of blowing his part-time pc work paycheck on fancy wheels, you wouldn't feel the need to pimp out his website for him in a desperate bid for his attention.

    I value our friendship, goraudykq688, and I hope that I'm not stepping over the line when I suggest that you communicate your feelings to Uncle Lincoln. I think, if nothing else, it would give you the closure that you seem to so desperately need.

  • emmalita

    Getting right to the heart of the matter I see. You are truly magnificent.

  • bastich

    Thank you kindly, ma'am. :)

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