How to Choose a Husband by Suzanne Venker – book review by Evan Marc Katz


What I’m about to say may not be very popular with my readership. That’s okay. I’m not here to win any popularity contests.

I’m here to give solid reality-based relationship advice. Such advice is not based on what I want personally; rather, it’s based on what is most effective in relating to the opposite sex.

So it’s with considerable ambivalence that I decided to review Suzanne Venker’s “How to Choose a Husband” today. It’s an easy read – I finished the book in one night – and Venker’s got a decidedly colloquial writing style. The reason I’m ambivalent about it is that while Venker’s actual relationship advice is really good, her judgmental opinions may blind you to her wisdom. Which is a shame. Like Lori Gottlieb, who got raked over the coals for writing a book for smart women who want to get married and have kids, Venker has taken a ton of heat herself – some of it deserved, some undeserved.

She holds special contempt for feminists, Hollywood, liberals, atheists, and casual sex, and since I believe in all five of those things, I could feel the heat rising when I learned how folks like me are unable to have successful and meaningful relationships. This is, on the surface, not true, and it’s a shame that Venker couldn’t have found a little more subtlety and nuance in making her case. Because her case is actually quite a compelling one. And it’s one I’ve been making on the pages of this blog for six years.

Like Lori Gottlieb, who got raked over the coals for writing a book for smart women who want to get married and have kids, Venker has taken a ton of heat herself – some of it deserved, some undeserved.

-Marriage isn’t always a passionfest.

-Men aren’t bad, or even worse than women.

-Being too busy, too difficult, too opinionated, and too arrogant are big problems for women (and men) looking for love.

-There are many women who have spent so much time working that they’ve lost touch with what makes them appealing to men. It’s not that we don’t love your fertile minds; it’s that if you’re working 60 hours a week, training for a marathon, and telling us how we need to change for you, we might just choose women who are a little more available, warm and supportive.

Any arguments so far? No? Then you should have no trouble with Venker’s relationship advice either (except for the fact that it comes from a very judgmental conservative):

From p. 9 “Marriage isn’t a power struggle; it’s a partnership. Unless your husband’s a Neanderthal — in which case, why’d you marry him in the first place? — he’s not the least bit interested in seizing your identity. Most men don’t want a doormat for a wife. One of the greatest ironies of feminism is that it never even occurs to the average husband to do the thing his wife is steeling herself against. In most cases, all that energy spent putting up a shield is for naught”.

From p. 32 “People’s priorities change when they get married. When you’re single, life outside of work is largely without obligations or sacrifice. When you’re married with children, you learn the art of compromise and unconditional love…. Growth hand in hand with a like minded person is the point — not growth in order to meet a like minded person. Unless the goal is to marry a mirror image of yourself (with a penis), there’s no need to become the person you want to attract.”

From p. 36 “No other role in your life will require more selflessness than being a wife an mother. If you want to be successful at it, you need to start thinking about other people’s needs. You need to ignore all that coddling you’ve been given and stop thinking in terms of what you think you deserve or are entitled to. To have a fulfilling, beautiful life — the best life you can have — you don’t need to find yourself. You need to get over yourself.”

There is much to disagree with in “How to Choose a Husband”, particularly the author’s distaste for anyone who is not like her, but the one thing I don’t disagree with is her advice.

This is so true. And if this sounds offensive being told to women, if you saw this exact same advice for men, you’d say HELL YEAH. Wouldn’t you?

“Guys, get over yourself. Be self-aware. Don’t be so selfish. Communicate more. Give us women what we need!”

From p. 45 “Women have no idea how to use their femininity to their advantage, so they end up rearing their heads, trying to be something they’re not. Instead of becoming wives, they become competitors. This is the number one mistake women make… Men like to chase women and women like to be chased — that’s just the way it is. Don’t become the hunter. Don’t call a guy or make the first move. Don’t try to take charge or be in control. That’s what men are supposed to do. Let them.

A woman’s femininity is unique and powerful. It does not lower a woman’s status, nor does it preclude her from being an independent woman. In fact, many men prefer their wives are independent. So, go. Do what you want with your life — no one’s stopping you. Just don’t try to compete with your husband. He doesn’t want a competitor; he has plenty of those. At the end of the day, what a man wants is a partner and companion who’s concerned with his needs as much as her own, maybe even more.”

From p. 55 “Please read this carefully: you can never, ever, change your man. Ever. Did I say ever? Ever. You can’t love a man so hard and so well that your problems will magically disappear. You can’t convince him to see life your way if he doesn’t… Bottom line: if you don’t love a man exactly as he is, even if he never changes a stinkin’ thing, get out.

From p. 70 “We must stop instilling in women this idea that their lives have in store for them something profound, something magical, something so great it belies description. Unrealistic expectations set up a false reality, and real life can only be disappointing.”

I said nearly the exact same thing in “Marry Him”: “If you didn’t have the fantasy, reality would be just fine”. It’s the “Eat, Pray, Love” model of relationships: holding out for some fantasy man who is perfect and transcendent and feeling that anything less is settling. It’s simply not true.

Venker continues about the principles of having a happy marriage.

From p. 119 “Unless you marry a cad, what you bring to the marriage table may very likely determine the fate of your marriage. Put another way: it’s not what your guy can do for you, but what you can do for your guy? That’s the attitude you need going forward…. (I would give this exact same advice to men, by the way – EMK) Being married isn’t nearly as difficult as you’ve been led to believe — most men are supremely easy to get along with. If you treat your husband well, he will be your greatest support and defender. If you treat him poorly, he’ll either bark or hang his head and walk away. Wives have much more power than they realize.”

From p. 122 “I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “you’ll attract more bees with honey than you will with vinegar.” This is the very aspect of human nature against which feminists have rebelled. To them, being sweet means being a doormat. They are wrong. Being feminine — kind, soft, nurturing, or whatever adjective you prefer — is only suffocating if you’re in love with a Neanderthal…. Most men are much nicer than feminists would have you believe. And if you treat them with honey as opposed to vinegar, you’d be surprised what you’ll get in return.”

From p. 132 “Bottom line: there are more important things in life than work. Like love. I have the most loving husband in the world. He’s as committed to the message of this book as I am (and to my writing career in general) but like me, gets frustrated with the lack of time to get it all done. Time —not men, employers, or the way the system is rigged — is the real culprit when it comes to having it all.”

There is much to disagree with in “How to Choose a Husband”, particularly the author’s distaste for anyone who is not like her, but the one thing I don’t disagree with is her advice.

You may want to shoot the messenger, but don’t ignore the message.

To read the book, click here.

Your respectful comments are appreciated below.

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  1. 181

    At this point, I’m baffled by this discussion. When Anita referred to some women kowtowing to men and dissing each other, I assumed she was talking about Venker, not about any particular commenter on this blog. I’ve encountered women like this in the workplace, on occasion, so I know they exist. Fortunately, they are a small minority of the women I’ve met. If you’re male, you probably wouldn’t be aware of this phenomenon, because it wouldn’t affect you.
    Mr. Friedan
    “How do you know exactly what Mrs. Venker’s views are?”
    Her affiliation with the anti-gay group is listed on her own website. I was curious about it, so I Googled it. It’s not like I’m some sort of super-sleuth, but a Google search easily brought up the group’s views, which are, to me, beyond crazy. This is something I’d probably do if I was reading anyone’s blog and was curious. Not that it should matter, but I do have gay relatives and friends.
    What is the big deal? If you want to read the book, read it, if you don’t, don’t.

  2. 182

    Mr. Friedan, I’m not making great assumptions. I stated, and apparently need to repeat for you, try to read carefully this time:
    ”  I can understand however, why someone would be uninterested in an authors’ opinions on dating and marriage if they researched said author and found they didn’t respect that person’s positions on other issues. That’s their right.”
    There have been commenters on this thread who have researched Ms. Venker. Who don’t respect her positions on certain issues. And therefore don’t feel the need to read and/or agree with whatever she has to say about choosing a husband. Some of these commenters have provided internet links to the research they did. Did you follow any of the links Mr. F?
    As for knowing her personally? You don’t know me personally, but it didn’t stop you from critizing me on “silly comment pages”.

  3. 183

    OMG, how do I unsubscribe from this post. Please!

  4. 184

    KE@192: Since you addressed me, I’ll respond.
    1) No, I am not basing women not being sweet to other women on anything on this board. Here’s the background of the thread: Venker admonished women to be sweet. Helen (whose posts I read, which is how I came upon this) said that that was some kind of advice coming from someone who didn’t seem to be sweet herself. I added that some women are selectively sweet; they’ll be sweet to men, but not to women. Helen responded that this type of behavior has a name; it’s called being a “male-identified woman.”
    2) I think it’s funny that  your handle is “Karmic Equation” but that you would find being sweet to strangers a wasted effort. Because under the laws of karma no one is really a stranger and no effort is wasted. That’s funny!!! 🙂
    3) I wasn’t referring to you and I’ve never identified myself as following any one particular political POV on this board at all. But I’ll take the label of being a feminist as a compliment.
    4) “Male-identified woman” doesn’t mean being a feminist,  but kind of the opposite. And I don’t think that feminism is about women trying to act like men. I think it’s about rectifying a  human rights issue.  I’m for human rights, and women are humans, which is why the label “feminist” doesn’t bother me if people want to apply it to me.

  5. 185
    Karmic Equation

    Selena 193

    You’re going to make me say it out loud. Ok. I can’t let it go because I hate hypocrisy and am particularly sensitive to it as I grew up with parents who were very much so. They had a do-as-i-say-and-not-as-I-do policy of behaving. That pushes my buttons. And, maybe it’s me and having studied 6 years of Latin, but “feminism” as a word to me means “a belief in being a woman” – so when I see that word and women being against another woman because a woman doesn’t share their political beliefs, that’s hypocrisy to me.

    Anita 198

    1) I’m pretty sure she was referring to me.

    2) You have it wrong. Karma, in colloquial terms, is “whatever goes around comes around”. The relevant dictionary definitions are (take your pick):
    1. Hinduism, Buddhism. action, seen as bringing upon oneself inevitable results, good or bad, either in this life or in a reincarnation: in Hinduism one of the means of reaching Brahman. Compare bhakti (   def 1 ) , jnana.

    2. Theosophy. the cosmic principle according to which each person is rewarded or punished in one incarnation according to that person’s deeds in the previous incarnation.

    I didn’t character assasinate anyone, but I do call people out on what I perceive to be B.S. or hypocrisy. As I would expect people to do for me.

    I didn’t know that sarcasm was considered sweet. What’s funny it’s you unsweetly chastising someone about being sweet. Wait no. That’s not funny. That’s hypocritical.

    3) Ok.

    4) According to this explanation ( the term is moot as feminists can’t decide if it’s a good thing or a bad thing. Surprise.

    “I’m for human rights, and women are humans, which is why the label “feminist” doesn’t bother me if people want to apply it to me.”

    What kind of logic is that? Your definition would also apply to a man who ISN’T a feminist. “As a man, I’m for human rights, and men are humans, and therefore, being called a feminist is ok by me” ???

    Come on. That makes no sense.

  6. 186

    @Karmic #199

    And, maybe it’s me and having studied 6 years of Latin, but “feminism” as a word to me means “a belief in being a woman” — so when I see that word and women being against another woman because a woman doesn’t share their political beliefs, that’s hypocrisy to me.

    So this all comes down to a semantics argument? You’ve studied latin and a word as you understand it doesn’t mean what it does in 2013 American English lexicon? I understand the frustration, I do. Whenever I hear “liberal economic policy” and it doesn’t mean laissez faire economics it makes me squint but English is a funny language because words are constantly evolving. I guess this kind of describes a lot of what you say, which I can respect. You seem to be the kind of woman who has benefited greatly from feminism, if I met you in person I would probably like you a lot. It just seems to me there is a true misunderstanding of what feminism is on this particular blog. I am a feminist because I am still scared to walk down the street after its dark because men yell at me and follow meand because I’ve been called “the pretty face” at work despite being quite good at my job. I am also a feminist because I want both men and women to choose what makes them happiest, in their relationships, the kinds of partners they choose and how and if they choose to have a family. I know you say you don’t pay attention to me, which is fine I really don’t care. I just find a lot of what you say as stereotyping women whom you’ve never met. I think there is more common ground than you might expect.

  7. 187

    As for the transwoman and lesbian argument. Its interesting, as I know tranwomen who are attacked by lesbians and lesbians or women of color who feel left out of the feminist movement. I also know this to be the case in every sort of activist community. People get left out, have different goals. All this shows to me is that multiculturalism  is a tough thing but its to face our differences and try to work through them to find common ground. I don’t see the bad negating the good. I also believe that millennials will change a lot of what we’ve thought of the modern feminist movements, or liberalism period. We are a much more accepting group because we were already normalized to cultural shifts in the Western world.

  8. 188

    1) in your post 192 you said to me specifically, “If you were referring to me, it doesn’t have anything to do with my being a “male-identified female…” I repeat–I was not referring to you. If Helen was referring to you somewhere else I have no idea. I do not care whether you are or aren’t and so I wasn’t talking about that.
    2) Under all of the definitions of karma that you give, it is still the same as I say–no one is really a stranger, since karma implies some debt from a past meeting, and no effort is wasted since all effort is part of the ongoing, eternal flow of energy. In the West the notion of karma takes on the Judeo-Christian taint of punishment, but that is not what it means in the religions that believe in it. The Christian principle that most expresses karma is “do unto others as you would have done unto you”–because, in fact, under the laws of karma what we do unto others we are doing unto ourselves.
    3) Yes, I believe in the rights of men who are not feminists, and yes this falls under the banner of human rights. What doesn’t make sense about that? What doesn’t make sense is that some people have certain rights, privileges, entitlements  and others don’t. But I’m not going to get into a big women’s-rights-as-human-rights discussion with you until you’ve read some Eve Ensler. So consider this conversation over.

  9. 189
    Karmic Equation

    At Anita 202,
    I searched the internet for corroboration of your argument in #2. Can’t find any. So it appears to me you’re making a strawman argument to be “right” instead of conceding that this is YOUR interpretation of karma. I already wrote I was agnostic, so Judeo-Christian yada yada had nothing to do with why I picked my handle.
    And you are again twisting my words at #3 to be “right”.
    So I’m going to stop my end of the conversation with you because whatever I say, you will twist so that you can appear to be right instead of conceding either poor sentence structure or poor logic in your previous arguments.

  10. 190

    I don’t see how any of the advice quoted here deals with the title “How to choose a husband.” There ain’t nuthin’ in there about how to choose a husband, except not to choose a Neanderthal- gee thanks for the useful advice (not). The rest reads as how to please him.  If this selection Evan put together represents the  content, then  the title of the book should be “How to please a husband.” I think she also leaps to a lot of incorrect conclusions about feminists. The best successful marriages I’ve seen are those where the wives are feminists. Just sayin’.

  11. 191

    Isn’t she a relative of Phyllis Schlafly?   Enough said.

  12. 192

    Can I just ask, who are these feminists who think that having a sour personality and being aggressive (or like vinegar rather than honey) is a good way to catch a mate. Being butch isn’t the same as being an ass hole. Seems like common sense advice to me dressed up with a flare of misogyny just to up sales. But at the core, it’s pretty clear. Get your head out of your rear and you’ll do just fine.

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