Consider: Marrying your sweet parent may mean that you end up playing the bully's role (someone's got to handle the rough stuff). Alternatively, marrying your dear and gentle dad may mean that you get someone with not just Dad's gentleness but his passivity, avoidance of conflict, and fear of public disapproval as well. The man who comforts you quietly after a battle with your mother is a good father—do you have any idea what he was like as a husband? And another thing you ought to wonder about—why didn't your nice parent get what they wanted from the marriage? I was always saddened by the lack of intimacy in my parents' marriage, which was a burden for my mother and none at all for my father, until I suddenly thought: Why did she marry him? My mother was good enough, and honest enough, to tell me: I married him because he was tough and ambitious, so I wouldn't have to be. I married him because he was more interesting than the dentists and accountants who asked me. And although I love getting flowers and hearing sweet nothings, and there have been damn few of those, I'm not like you, honey, I don't want intimacy—I just want companionship and romantic gestures. As my mother said to me on another occasion: I like the roses, but not if I have to put up with the thorns. Everyone should be so honest with themselves, and her honesty made me aware that I would accept an awful lot of thorns to be with someone who craves intimacy the way I do. (And I got that someone, which is why I now have a very close and often tumultuous marriage, with a degree of attachment that people find either very sweet or very peculiar.)
So know yourself and know your family. For me that means knowing that, as much as I appreciated my mother's sweetness and practical ways, I need a slightly reckless lion more than I need a sensible lamb in my life. (In the dictionary, right next to a number of hard-charging mammals—including the weasel, famous for attacking animals larger than itself for no reason—you will see my husband's picture.) So, finally, I married a lion, and although I never pictured myself being the person hanging on to the "oh shit" bar on the passenger side, saying, "For God's sake, honey, slow down!" I do prefer that to being the person who says, regularly, "It's okay, honey, if you're scared, we can turn around."
What "Knowing the Other Person" Means
When you look at another person's behavior (and please, do look at what he does, not just how he explains what he does. A man with a good and different explanation for each of the five times he's stood you up is a really good...explainer. Did you want to marry a world-class explainer?), the question will arise: Is it character or circumstance? Did he do what he did because of who he is, at his core, or was he pushed to that behavior by circumstance? Guess what? Pretty much, after 18, it's character, every time. It's true that under extraordinary circumstances—baby trapped under car, grandmother stuck in burning building—you might see some hitherto unsuspected heroism emerge in someone you thought had not a drop, and even so, what you learn from that is: He had a drop of heroism in him, after all. But it is also true that even a man pushed to robbing a bakery for bread for his starving child will show who he is by how he conducts himself during the robbery.
We Hear You!