Dear 100 Hour Board,
I've heard men in the church say time and time again what a blessing their wives are to them, how lucky they are, how they married up, etc. I'm sure they say these things because they believe them and they want to publicly acknowledge the positive attributes of the woman they love. But as a single sister I find these statements very discouraging. I feel like I have been implicitly taught that I shouldn't expect to marry someone who's my equal, but that I should settle for someone. As I've gotten older some people imply that I could be married if I wasn't so picky, or that only exceptionally beautiful or kind or spiritual women deserve to marry the best men. Which I know isn't true, but it doesn't stop me from getting extremely disheartened about dating and marriage. I question whether marriage is worth it if I can't find someone who I look up to. Do you think it's true that most women marry men who aren't their equals?
In a lot of my relationships I feel like I get way more out it than the other person does and then I wonder secretly why they are friends with me. I was talking with someone about this recently because I was feeling discouraged about how I could ever give back as I feel I receive. He said, "That's how I feel in my marriage. And in a lot of my relationships. I think it's a good sign when both parties feel that way."
I don't know when it became a thing for LDS husbands to say that about their wives and not vice versa. I think it's annoying, personally. But I wouldn't put too much stock in that meaning that the wives don't also feel lucky, though. For whatever reason it's more socially acceptable for husbands to gush about their wives than the other way around. Maybe it's a way of compensating for the male-centeredness of our culture to eliminate guilt? I don't know. Read what Zedability says below.
Anyways, don't marry a man that you feel like you'll have to drag around with you. No one expects that of you. And if they do, they're stupid and you shouldn't listen to them.
Dear No, I Don't Think So,
My stake presidency was reorganized last Sunday. During stake conference, my (former) stake president once again made comments about how his wife was still working on making him better, as if he was some project she had taken on, and there was no indication of how his influence had improved her life. So I see what you mean about these comments and how they can be a problem.
As a few other writers say below, both spouses can feel that they are marrying up, because each has attributes that complement and improve the other. You deserve to be with someone who makes you happy and with whom you can have a successful marriage. However, another part of church culture that I've seen, which I think also contributes greatly to the idea that women have to settle for whatever husband they can get, is the idea that men should take the majority of the initiative in dating.
I read an article once that related mate selection (AKA dating) to game theory in a way that illustrates my point, but I can't find it, so I'll summarize it for you. Basically, some researchers set up a simulation a small, isolated dating pool. They had something like four men and four women, and randomly assigned an attractiveness ranking of the four simulated people of the opposite sex to each simulated person. They established the assumption that each person would eventually end up with one other person, that the men would approach the women (starting with whichever they found most attractive, and moving down the list if rejected), and that any woman with more than one option would pick whichever man was more attractive, according to the ranking assigned to them. They repeated the simulation several times with different random attractiveness rankings, and found that the men were more likely to end up with their first or second choice than the women. By a lot. What does that mean for real world dating? It means that whoever just waits for a partner to just show up without any effort will have to settle for whatever makes itself available to them.
I guess my point is that if you find a guy you like, you should go for it.
-The Entomophagist should really take his own dating advice
I think that the cultural implications you've been feeling are due in part to the fact that we excessively idealize women and place them on a pedestal. I think this is just as damaging and sexist as demeaning women, for a number of reasons that I don't want to get into here. Your question is just one example of the problems that can result from this cultural attitude.
You don't have to settle. Marriages are more successful when both partners are on a reasonably equal level in the important aspects of their lives, and as the writers above me said, ideally both the husband and wife will feel like they "married up" and are made better people as a result of their marriage.
We have many wonderful, imperfect men in the Church and many wonderful, imperfect women in the Church. Wives are a blessing to husbands and husbands are a blessing to wives. Wives are also sometimes a trial to husbands and husbands are also sometimes a trial to wives.
It's not anybody's place to tell you you're being too "picky" or decide that it's somehow your fault that you're not married yet. We will be judged by the righteous desires of our hearts. Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother want both you and your future husband to be "meet" for, or evenly suited to, each other. If you have been motivated by a desire to someday marry someone who is equally suited to you, and you've made your decisions in consultation with the Spirit, that's all your Heavenly Parents ask of you. You're not going to lose out on any blessings in the eternities by trying to marry an equal. That's not how the Gospel works.
I don't know whether women tend to marry men who are not their equals, but if women are pressured into "settling" more than men, I believe that's the result of cultural influences that need to be eradicated. Single women are of just as much worth as single men, and I think everyone should be able to marry because they're truly happy with their partner, and not because they feel pressured into it or are afraid that this is "the best they're going to get."
Currently I'm casually dating a guy I look up to in every way. He's financially and emotionally put together in ways that totally intimidate me, plus his future looks smooth and stable. In contrast, I'm a recent graduate who earns extremely little and has no guarantee of employment past August, let alone an idea of specifically what I want to do with my life.
Even here in the initial stages of getting to know him, I can look at the situation and see that we're unequal. The age difference affords some explanation, but I have a hard time seeing what I can offer to someone with such greater relative maturity. Even if our personalities are compatible, personally I feel some tension in our differences.
However, what he and I think might be completely different. We keep going out together, so evidently I'm not as charmless as I might feel. If we can look up to each other in different but complementary ways, there's no reason that either party has to feel as though they're settling.
So from personal experience, dating and marrying someone who is drastically different from you on a conventional scale of attractive attributes, whether good or bad, sounds like a frustrating idea. No one in a marriage should be settling. If someone's accomplishments make you feel bad about your weaknesses instead of encouraging you to grow and improve, then being in a relationship might not be the best idea.
Obviously I'm far from marrying this guy, and I'm on the opposite end of the settling spectrum. But let me just say, you shouldn't give up on finding someone you look up to. My dating experience has been limited up to this point, and some of the few men I have dated were unqualified losers. Yet somehow I find myself seeing someone who is kind and mature and respectful (basically way out of my league).
You deserve to marry someone who in turn deserves you, so don't let anyone tell you any differently.
The writers above me make some wonderful points. I just want to add that perhaps one of the reasons we hear this kind of thing so much is that the majority of our general authorities are men, thus we hear from men more often than women. I have heard many women in sacrament meeting voice the feeling of marrying up, but not as many say that on a general level simply because the concentration of women speakers is less.
Additionally, I think that when people say "I married up," they don't mean, "I am a lesser person than my spouse." Rather, I think it's merely an expression of "my spouse has many wonderful qualities that I look up to."