I recently attended a wedding reception here in Paris. A friend had tied the knot with his new love at the 4th arrondissement’s mayor’s office in a simple, charming civil ceremony. The reception was held at a local art gallery, owned by another friend. It was a joyful, fun afternoon filled with laughter, tears, joy, and optimism.
Simultaneously, I heard about the divorce of another friend in the states, after a number of years of marriage. That event was attended by tears as well, I’m sure, no laughter, perhaps a sliver of relief (I don’t know), and very little optimism.
The two events converged in my mind, an moving image of identical trains, passing each other on two separate tracks, going in opposite directions, toward two very different destinations, with passengers on both.
I then thought of all the advice I have given, on this blog and privately to friends and strangers alike, that I have rarely been approached for advice by anyone about to get married. I’m sure they feel like they know all they need to know about the road ahead. I have spoken with people who are somewhere in the process of divorce. They don’t solicit advice, either. They have learned much of what they needed to know, I guess, through experience. They are, however, much more aware of all the things they don’t know, and therein lies a lot of wisdom.
Still, it breaks my heart when a marriage doesn’t work. I search for social structures, traditions, and rituals that contribute to couples having a good shot at a good marriage. One rule I start with is to date someone for 3 years before you marry them. Time, to paraphrase Mick Jagger, is on your side. Another is to get engaged and marry later in life. Get some education, some life and work experience, some independent adulthood, some perspective, some money, then get married and start a life together if you want. A third is to never go on a single date with someone whom you would not marry. Why? Because things happen.
Those are steps an individual can take regarding their dating and marriage practices. What can parents and other concerned parties do? What should they do? Well, that’s a tricky question, but fear not: I’m just reckless enough to wade into those shark-infested waters and splash an opinion or two around.
My first suggestion is to start talking to your teenager about relationships and marriage early on. Casually point out the pitfalls of marrying someone based on simple ‘chemistry’ as opposed to having a lot in common with that person. Site examples in your own marriage–compromises, common interests, or shared values–that can give life to the discussion.
My second suggestion is to require that your daughter invite any boy she’s considering dating over to your home for family dinner first. This is, in reality, the ‘first date.’ This ritual will give the young man the distinct impression that he’s not just dating a girl; he’s entering into the circle of a family. This experience is a telescopic lensing moment: here’s what it’s like, a year or two down the relationship road, with this guy, sitting at the dinner table with the family.
Your daughter will get a glimpse into that possibility. The young man she’s dating will get a glimpse into that possibility. The entire family will get a glimpse into that possibility. Does he fit in? What are his plans for the future? What’s his family background? In the words of a Texas friend of mine who makes this ritual a rule for each of his three daughters, “It’s not just about trying to first base with my little girl. It’s standing out there on the pitcher’s mound all alone and getting a long, hard look at the whole damn ballpark. It thins the herd quickly.”
The biggest, most effective social mechanism I see at work in Old Money families that contribute to lasting marriages is the Steering Committee. This group is composed of the parents, extended family, friends, schools, churches, and country clubs or private clubs. One of the coordinated functions of this network is to steer the young lady or young man into a good marriage.
Start ’em early. (Photo Elliott Erwitt)
It starts early. Many of these children get the same education. They go to the same prep school dances and ball games. They go off to college, where sororities, fraternities, and social clubs form a dating pool whose members share the same backgrounds, interests, and aspirations. Those who don’t fit in, don’t get in, harsh as it sounds. Still, if someone is ‘in’, but the family and close friends don’t like the person, odds are the romance will be short-lived. The Steering Committee trumps all.
After graduation, these same young people enter the working world. They attend business events and social events with other educated friends and colleagues. Their weekends are filled with sporting or cultural activities. Alumni associations and vocational organizations further reinforce and ‘steer’ them into interactions with people like them.
In the minds of their parents and others involved in this steering process, all of these limit the young person’s chances of making a serious mistake in choosing a marriage partner. Most of the potential candidates for marriage will have an education, will be from a similar background, and will likely share many interests, aspirations, expectations, and values. This, the Steering Committee believes, will offer the best chances for a young person to meet a partner who is best fitted for the joint adventure of matrimony. “You can fall in love with a lot of people,” says an OMG I know. “But you can’t make a life with that many people.”
I know this social process sounds incredibly calculated and not a little snobby. It may be. It may be unfair to the young people involved, whittling away at their personal choices and freedoms through manipulation. It may also be that their parents know the dangers of allowing their children to be unduly exposed to fortune hunters (the term may be antiquated; the profession is, sadly, alive and well), or simply swept away with their emotions to the point where they make a huge, bad decision.
The costs of a bad decision are substantial. Divorce, alimony, financial settlement, custody, support, visitation, suffering, pain, loss. Not a pretty laundry list for missing the mark. Is ‘steering’ worth it, in order to try to avoid these? Or do we let love take its sometimes wonderful, often unpredictable course, independent of subtle or obvious outside influence?
Full disclosure: my wife and I did not meet due to the efforts of a Steering Committee. That said, the best matchmaker in the world could hardly have put two more compatible people together. We got lucky. How?
We ‘steered’ ourselves. We dated selectively before we met. And, when we met, we soon began dating exclusively. We went slowly. We dated for, yes, three years before getting married. It was not an ‘arranged marriage’, but through our protocols, we arranged it ourselves.
So, my question to you is this: is a lasting, healthy, happy marriage just a matter of destiny and luck? (sometimes I think it is). What factors contribute to finding the right mate? Can a young person in their 20s know or recognize these factors? And finally, is the concept of a ‘steering committee’ composed of family, friends, religious, social, and educational institutions a good thing?
Looking forward to a lively discussion. Come on in! The water’s fine!
20 thoughts on “The Steering Committee”
Oh my, Byron. I could write/talk about this for days. Thank you for the post. It should be required reading for all persons looking for love no matter their age.
Thank you, Melissa. Glad you enjoyed. – BGT
Good morning Byron,
This is a topic without any ‘one’ answer.
Nevertheless, referring to the comments about inviting the ‘young man’ to dinner with the young lady’s family. Well, two things. The young lady should also be invited to ‘his’ family’s dinner(s). It is equally important that his family get a view as well.
It is not just the father eyeing the guy chasing his daughter. It is the mother eyeing the girl trying to first-base her son ! This knife cuts both ways.
Secondly, and more importantly in my opinion, the visits to the respective families should be used to observe how the prospective partners interact with, and especially how much they respect, their parents. If there are cracks they will show after a few visits. If they’re bad enough, clear out or you will end being treated the same way.
If a person, any person, cannot respect their parents, and most especially their mother, they will not respect you and they will never really respect anyone else, or for that matter, anything. In the Moslem faith they say that the love and respect of one’s parents, and especially one’s mother, is second only to the love and respect of God.
It is where it all begins.
Thanks as always for the opportunity to contribute.
Thank you, David. Well said. – BGT
Ideally, yes. But what if you come from a family you do not respect? Not everyone has a good example, and instead has to forge their own way. People may stay married for 50 years, but not be thoughtful or loving toward one another.
Even the surrounding culture one grows up in- schools, churches, etc, that seemed “perfect” are seen through a different eye when you grow up a little, and realize they are actually close-minded, petty, and judgmental.
I would be careful about saying a marriage is successful and fulfilling just because the external circumstances seem ideal.
Very true, Elle. Circumstances are unique for each person, and you’re correct to say that sometimes people must forge their own way. Many times, those that have set the best example and offer the most inspiration. – BGT
After a hasty marriage at the age of 21 that lasted only 2 years, I received the following advice from a friend of my father. You can’t live with someone else until you can live with yourself. I heeded his advice and waited about 10 years before I re-married. I have now been happily married 20 years.
Good comment, Bradley. Words of wisdom. Thanks. – BGT
I agree with everything you said except “never go on a date with someone whom you would not marry”. In my case dating people I knew I probably wouldn’t marry was enjoyable and enlightening. I learned that although I can get along with all kinds of people, ultimately I am most compatible with someone whose background is similar to my own. If you need to learn that lesson, it’s better to learn it while you’re dating than after you’re married.
Hi Amy, I agree with your viewpoint and Byron’s as well. Maybe a compromise would be to not “seriously” date or “long-term” date someone you wouldn’t marry. A couple of dates with an interesting person you enjoy spending time with can be life-enhancing. However, giving a false impression in the long-term that something significant might develop, would be a mistake. Just my thoughts. 🙂
I agree. I think that’s a very reasonable approach.
Good point, Amy. Thanks. – BGT
Great post Byron. Advice my Steering Committee provided me as well as some key insights I picked up along the way.
1) If she is willing to sleep with you on the first date then she is not a keeper.
2) You must have similar values and interests, especially with regard to religion, politics, money and how to raise a family.
3) Must be educated, Masters or advanced degree preferred. (This applies even if she stays home to raise kids).
4) “Without making love there is no love” Keep this in mind when the middle aged guy starts forming.
5) must subscribe to the motto “Death before divorce”
6) Must not spend money like a fool.
7) Must not not “frugal to a fault” or “penny wise, dollar foolish”
Great list, Dario. Thank you. I’m curious: was there a ‘steering committee’ involved with you and your wife’s introduction and courtship? Thanks. – BGT
I didn’t have a formal committee in place but my immediate and extended family has elders (read manipulative dictators) who act as advisors on how to not mess up life. Although no one was ever good enough for me, the tidbits I picked up inspired me to marry a good person who is conscious of spending and shares the same values. As my aunt used to say, “ More important than your career, is who you marry.” And all we talk about in that household is career. That says something.
“We won quite a bit by marrying nice girls with a bit of property attached.”
— Prince Alois-Konstantin on his family’s rise to prominence.
Ha! Candid and classic! Thank you, JL. – BGT
I’ll also add the following advice to young people looking arounf for ‘the one’:
1) Don’t be quite so quick to jump into the sack (quaint in 2019, I know) with anyone, even if he or she seems special and different. Sex clouds the issue in all sorts of ways before you really, really know the other person (and family) well. It might, just might turn out — and very probably will — that you become a very different person by the time you are 30, following maturation, education, and life experience, than you were at 18. Why hobble yourself for the rest of your days with the results of a shortsighted late teenage/early 20-something romance/ unintended offspring/ bad relationship or marriage? I’d be so bold as to suggest that two people delay the physical side of things until they are damn sure where the relationship is going and it each side of the couple feels the other is someone they really want to know for longer than a few dates. Physical gratification alone is not worth tying yourself to someone else (and associated family. . . especially if children enter the picture) for decades.
2) It is not said enough, but in the end it is really better to date people who are not all that different from you where upbringing, social background, and level of education are concerned. Shock! Horror! Gasp! Sure, there are rare exceptions, but for most ignoring these very real differences can, and probably will, lead to serious problems down the road. It’s the stuff of romcoms and TV sitcoms, but real life is altogether different. Long-term relationships and marriage are difficult prospects already without vast differences in world view and expectations brought on by the three related points in the first sentence of this item. We really need to set aside the fairy tale vision that has been sold to us lock, stock, and barrel and instead look at courtship and the possibility of eventual marriage with more realistic eyes. It would save a lot of heartache and frustration.
Wise advice, HUvB. Thank you, sir. – BGT