I’ve just spent a few hours reading through another website; isn’t it funny how so many of us feel qualified to give relationship advice?! My relationship blog is probably unique in that I have so little practical experience of this myself to speak of; however I obviously have plenty of experience with people generally. I was thinking once again on this question of whether it is best for a relationship blogger to be single or married, and perhaps my answer is a little self-affirming, in that I happily concluded that it is probably best to be single! And yet no, I think that the answer is actually a little more complicated than that!
Here’s the thing: surely the most obvious, “common-sense” answer to that question is that it is clearly better for a relationship blogger to be in a relationship, so that they actually have some experience to talk from. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I am not in a relationship. And yet here is why I believe that my position is best. Ultimately it is not really about whether I am single or not, it is more about the approach to relationships. So here it is:
I’ve been thinking about how to plan towards a successful relationship from long before I’ve actually entered into a relationship. It is precisely because I have used some of the strategies applied on this blog, most notably the two year thing, that I have avoided getting into relationships which would likely have been difficult, at best. So it is not just that I am single, but I am successfully single in that I since I have been thinking through these issues, I have successfully managed to avoid negative romantic relationships (even though I have not been so fortunate in avoiding bad churches). But then I guess that anyone could claim to have a 100% success rate at “avoiding bad relationships” if they simply refused all relationships altogether. The big test then comes in actually embarking on a relationship. The reason that I have not been able to test my theories from the other direction, that is actually within a relationship, is simply because I am yet to find that man who is truly outstanding and wants to be in a relationship with me! (Well I guess that there is an argument there that if you insist on “perfection” in character from your future spouse then of course you are more likely to have an outstanding marriage!) Hopefully when he does turn up though, then I will still be in a strong position to talk about relationships, and hopefully the (anticipated) success of our union will be able to supply anecdotal evidence to support some of these ideas
Ultimately the contrast is not so much between a single relationship blogger or a relationship blogger who actually happens to be in a relationship. Ultimately the contrast is between someone who started thinking about issues and implementing principles before they embarked on their relationship, and someone who started thinking about these issues only after they were married.
I guess here is the question that I’m really asking here: imagine there is a relationships blogger who happens to have a very successful marriage, and is giving advice from that vantage point. Why would anyone choose to listen to me as a relationships blogger who happens to be single, over that person. I don’t have the relationships success to back up my theories, but this person might have whole decades of wedded bliss behind them. In this post, I am making the argument that actually, as implausible as it may seem, there might be reasons to listen to a relationships blogger who happens to be single, over a successfully married person, especially before you actually get married.
The big question is when the successfully married person started thinking seriously about what it might take to make their marriage outstanding. If they started thinking about it after they got married, then they might just happen to have been phenomenally blessed with an outstanding spouse or an extremely cooperative spouse – which essentially boil down to the same thing! In that case the success of their marriage might be due more to the laws of probability, in that a small percentage of marriages will be gloriously outstanding, almost without any effort, and they just accidentally manage to fall into that tiny bracket by miraculously making a fantastic choice of spouse. That is not to negate all their hard work. However, if other people were to try to replicate their hard work but to similarly start within marriage, then if these other people were less fortunate in their choice of spouse to start with, then they might not experience the same level of marital success, even if they applied the same level of hard work.
If that does not make any sense, what I am trying to say is this: it is like these people are advising you about how to run and win the race of marriage, when they started off that race only 100 metres from the finish line, when other people would more typically start off two miles from the finish line. Their experience is not necessarily representative and even if someone faithfully followed all the advice that they can give, that would not necessarily give the same results if that someone was starting from a much longer distance back.
Also, if people are advising solely on the strength and success of their own marriage, then they only have one marriage that they can draw reference from: their own! It is like they are advising you on what you need to do to be successful if you were married to their husband – how can that work for the rest of us?!
For relationships blogging to offer truly helpful advice, it needs to span out from the perspective of the blogger’s own relationship successes and failures, and it needs to observe and take note of wider trends and statistics. It needs to take account of where an “ordinary person” might find themselves in light of these statistics and then give some advice as to what someone might be able to do to move forward depending on where they were.
Even if the blogger was unsuccessfully married, and writing perhaps from the bitterness of this position, it would still only offer true advice if it were able to look beyond the perspective of that one relationship.
I believe that what bloggers can do to help other people truly maximise their chances of success, so that no-one needs to quietly rely on “luck”, is, crucially, to address the period before marriage. Perhaps in this case the successfully married blogger can look back and identify the steps that they took – if any – which somehow led to them “accidentally” landing an amazing spouse: “I prayed so hard!!!” Similarly the less successfully married blogger can perhaps identify things that they wish that they had done differently. However, I still believe that the greatest value will come when either way, they are talking from a broader perspective than their own general experience, and can relate their advice to wider trends in society.
Coming back to myself, what I’d like to think about my advice is that it is getting you as close as possible to that finish line of “marital success” before you actually say “I do”. It is about eliminating the role of chance as far as is possible and trying to identify the best steps to most reliably ensure marital success for all of this. As I am writing this, I am struck by a very sobering thought. I have very unflattering opinions about most people’s character, for the simple reason that most people do not truly work on their character to the extent where they will be outstanding spouses. If 99% of men have “unfantastic character”, shall we say, (sorry to pick on men – it does work both ways!) assuming that there is an equal number of men and women in the world, then 99% of the women will potentially end up with those spouses with poor character. To these 99% of women I would say it is better to be single than to be married to someone with poor character. In which case I am potentially advising 99% of the world’s women to remain single! And yet this is the reality of life. I am sure that most marriages are extremely difficult, and that lack of fantastic character is the primary thing that contributes to this. Man, I so hope I am wrong about the percentage of people with outstanding character in the world. I really hope that it is higher than one percent. Man, it would be so amazing to believe that the vast majority of people on earth – perhaps 80% or 90% actually have acceptable or even beautiful character, where they are determined to grow and keep growing to be their best. In which case possibly 80-90% of people on earth could get married with a fair expectation of success. However, I’m sure we all know that that cannot be true. You know what? Not to be the queen of cynicism, but I actually suspect that the true number of people with outstanding character is even lower than one percent. Seriously. That is, the number of people who are totally invested in being the best that they can be to other people, and always dealing in truth and integrity. Even the most sincere of individuals will sometimes fail in these lofty aspirations, however I’m sure we would all prefer someone who is sincerely trying in this, to someone who is not trying at all.
How can you improve the odds? By being the best person that you can be, and similarly encouraging other people around you. I don’t know about you but I really want to get married, and I am totally the kind of person who would confidently expect to get that one guy in a hundred, or even one guy in a thousand who could light up a whole city with the beauty of his character. But I also want to see my sisters, both literal and figurative, happily settled and blissful with their spouses, which means that brothers, you seriously need to step up your game (and we ladies will also work on being our best for you too!)