Why Do Men Have Such Unrealistic Ideas About Marriage?

Happy young family of four enjoying time at their home

I came across your blog a while ago researching a man’s point of view in dating and relationships. I read your blog religiously, plan on buying your books soon, and am trying to figure out a way to hire you as my dating coach. I appreciate your candor and approach when “giving it straight” and talk about you all the time and even refer to you as the “big brother” I wish I had.

That being said I am a 37 year old woman, who has never been married…and I think I may have stumbled across why.

It’s been my experience in dating that in having conversations with the men I date, a lot of times hypothetical scenarios come up (which I find fascinating by the way)…that I rely on to help me determine their level of maturity and readiness for a serious LTR. Most times I am left feeling cold beads of sweat run down my back with their depictions of ideal situations, glossy perfect home life that reflect none of the messy burdens of real life that marriage often comes with. I feel confident that I have a truer sense of what marriage really calls for, based on candid conversations and experiences I have had and dealt with from friends and family members who are married.

I keep thinking that I will eventually find a man who is mature enough and wise enough who knows marriage is more than having a wife who prances around in her underwear, gives bj’s on demand and cooks gourmet meals after working her 9-5. So far I am batting zero. If I sound a little cynical, I apologize but this is something I keep running into time and time again. Am I just fishing in the wrong “ice holes” or is there something I need to adjust in terms of expectations?

Thank you for reading,


Dear Michelle,

If you change the gender and the stereotypes in your last paragraph, this email could easily be written by a man, describing women and their unrealistic expectations.

Alas, you date men. Therefore, men seem to be the ones with unrealistic expectations. If you dated women, you’d realize that this is not a gender-based observation. One of the primary reasons that there are 100 million single Americans is because everyone’s expectations are a bit out-of-whack.

Men seem to be the ones with unrealistic expectations. If you dated women, you’d realize that this is not a gender-based observation.

At the same time, I think your email is much ado about nothing. Semantics, if you will. I mean, just think about it:

If you ask a woman to describe her ideal marriage, do you think it would involve watching a man get heavy, suffer from a mid-life crisis, manage stress associated with money and children, and muddle through decades of poor marital communication built on emulating bad parental relationships? Of course not.

Why SHOULD anyone talk about this stuff, even if it’s inevitable? If you’re on a date, if you’re in a relationship, you probably want to lay out the best case scenario.

For women it probably sounds like, “We wake up in each others’ arms. We have time to work out in the morning. The nanny has the kids ready and we join them for breakfast. I go to my fulfilling job in my home office. My husband goes to his. I pick up the kids from school at 3pm. My husband is home at 5pm. We play with the kids together, cook dinner together, put them to sleep together, and then make love each night, before starting all over the next day.”

Here’s the not-so-shocking part: men have largely the same marital vision, even if you’re a little thinner and orally fixated in our fantasies.

My philosophy is that good relationships are easy. If they’re not easy, they’re not that good.

Here’s the more shocking part: this fantasy is somewhat achievable.

This is why I do this job. I’m living that fantasy life. My wife is living that fantasy life. And I’m going to continue to do my part to get people to strive for that fantasy life, instead of selling them on the virtues of suffering.

Will all men be able to make it out of work at 5? Of course not. Will all households have support in raising their children? No way. But the fantasy I described should be the backbone of what we’re all trying to achieve — a north star for people to aim for when reality gets a little bit messy.

My philosophy is that good relationships are easy. If they’re not easy, they’re not that good. With the right partner, all of this is nearly achievable. And if it means he has to make some sacrifices to get home at a reasonable hour and you have to give an extra blowjob per week, I’d say it’s all worth it.


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  1. 1

    Good answer Evan. To the OP, I would also add, at what point in the dating timeline are you having these conversations? If a woman started asking me these types of things, I would probably only talk about the good (the fairytale stuff you mention).
    I have a feeling that if a guy said that married life consisted of lots of petty arguments, the stress of splitting holidays between 2 families, not minding that you wear boring sweatpants to bed and him falling asleep on the couch with the remote in his hand- you would find fault with that too.
    Married life is a combination of the things I mentioned plus the fantasy stuff those other guys mentioned. It is both. Perhaps a good answer you are seeking would be a guy that recognizes that both scenarios play out.
    But seriously, you are 37 and never been married. Stop making it seem like the reason you aren’t is because guys paint a fantasyland picture of married life and because of it you determine they aren’t LTR material. You are not married at 37 because you don’t want to be . Own that fact and stop suggesting it is because guys have an unrealistic view of marriage.

    1. 1.1

      Wow, what a judgmental thing to say! There may be any number of reasons why someone might not be married at 37. Is someone supposed to marry just any warm body so that they don’t wind up single at the “wrong” age? Whatever happened to having standards? Sheesh!

  2. 3

    I’m wondering how all these fantasy -married -life conversations come about. I never had one with a partner, much less with a guy I just started dating. Are you “leading the witness” perchance Michelle? Setting  the stage for  hypothetical scenarios so you can evaluate the guy on his answers and shoot him down as a potential partner? I’m not trying to be harsh here,  merely curious.  
    If I met a man who told me his idea of marriage was “having a wife who prances around in her underwear, gives bj’s on demand and cooks gourmet meals after working her 9-5″     – I’d be amused. In fact I might start laughing out loud. Perhaps to the point he’d rule me out as marriage material?   🙂

  3. 4

    To follow up John’s comment, maybe guys have an unrealistic view of marriage, and maybe you have an unrealistic view of guys!

  4. 5

    Do you remember that old joke email that was flying around the internet about a decade ago?   It was called The Perfect Day; the woman’s version included “3 dozen roses delivered by florist from a secret admirer” and “Notice that ex-boyfriend’s wife has gained 30lbs.”   The men’s version contained such gems as “Blow job” and “En route in private jet, receive back massage and hand job from Kathy Ireland.”   While it was clearly meant to make the reader chortle, the truth behind the joke was that both men and women have vastly different but equally unrealistic fantasies of the ideal life.
    I do believe that men have slightly more romanticized version of marriage than women, simply bc women do tend to talk amongst themselves and confide in their girlfriends more than guys, so (unless we’re amongst the first “in our group” to wed) girls tend have heard lots of “the straight scoop” before we march down the aisle.   

  5. 6

    I guess I learned something new.   I thought, since it was a bad idea to bring up “the talk”, that even casual conversation about marriage is to be avoided at all costs.

  6. 7

    Realistic expectations? I have been married for more than 10  years, and  I am still not sure whether it was the right thing to do. There are days when it’s wonderful and my heart is filled with gratitude, there are neutral days, and there are days when I wish I had not married him. I got some of the things I hoped for (loyalty, friendship, reliability) and some I did not get (undivided attention, romance, a partner in following my dreams).
    But really, you have to have very high expectations for one particular person before the marriage  in order to stay motivated to put in the work … No one gets excited by mediocre prospects. And, in this day and age, when sex (and having kids)  is socially acceptable without marriage, it seems even more important to nourish the fantasies in the dating phase.
    So Michelle, don’t kill the party! You could always cancell the “bjs   on demand” after after you tie the knot. Happens to most married men eventually, hehe.

  7. 8

    You sound lovely, but why are you setting your expectations of life so low?
    If some people can achieve married bliss, why not you? If you’ve never been married, don’t you think you should at least try it before deciding that it’s filled with hardship and struggle?

  8. 9

    Michelle, have men proposed to you?
    If you haven’t been proposed to yet, then most likely you hung out with the wrong type of men. In other words, those men were not that into you or, as others would say, you chose to be with men who are out of your league.
    If you have been proposed to before and you declined – that’s a whole other story.
    Look, if you paint marriage as dreadful – I honestly doubt anyone will want to marry you. Why would a man want share, the rest of his life, with someone who doesn’t seem to enjoy the future? The reason behind wanting to grab that girl for life is because she makes life worth it, she makes life a happier place to be in. When he comes back home from a day of hard work, he returns home to someone who is happy to see him. Rather than someone who is nagging because XYZ hasn’t been done yet.
    And if you are not going to be willing to give him the occasional BJ on demand, then why should he be emotionally available to you when he doesn’t feel like it? And if you don’t give him BJ’s, then he is going to get them elsewhere.
    Reality is that a good long standing marriage does involve work (anyone in a 30+ marriage will confirm this), but if the future seems only bleak – well, would you want to be in it?

  9. 10
    Little Wing

    It’s not them, it’s you.  You sound terrified of getting stuck in a thankless marriage. And you should be! It’s reasonable to be aware and to not jump in, just for the sake of being married.  You want a good man and a good marriage.
    But at 37, you cannot claim you’ve never  encountered a good man along the way who would have made a good husband. Your age doesn’t even matter, if you really wanted to be married or in a LTR at 27 or 17, you would have been!  
    Maybe you really didn’t want it then? Maybe you just weren’t ready for that level of giving and receiving? Maybe you  dismissed viable opportunities because they didn’t meet the idea you had in your head of what it should be like.  I’d take a step back and look at what men you passed up for reasons you probably wouldn’t today, knowing what you now know.  
    Or maybe you just keep seeking out completely unsuitable men?
    It’s worth looking at what you’re bringing to the table, and whether it matches the kind of man you’re holding out for, and whether it matches what you’d like a man to bring into your life. Because it’s not just about what he can do for you, it’s about what you can add to his life.  
    In this case, I’d say you’re hearing what you want to hear, in order to avoid stepping up to the plate.  So while you say you are confident in knowing what marriage actually calls for, I’d back track a little, and focus on learning what it means being the best girlfriend you can be.
    Be thankful for any man who fantasises about marriage, because if they only thought about the “messy burdens of real life that marriage often comes with”, they would never want to go through with it!

  10. 11
    David T

    Kiki7 Michelle, don’t kill the party! You could always cancell the “bjs   on demand” after after you tie the knot. Happens to most married men eventually, hehe.

    Kiki, your tone pushes my buttons. BJs are trivial but the attitude of misrepresenting your intentions to entice someone into a lifetime commitment is not.

    I married a woman who had recently come out of a high powered job and said she planned to have a career in a different direction. I viewed a two career family as necessary if I was to pursue my dreams of teaching and research and still provide for a family. We talked about this before we married.

    After we were married, she just never seemed to get a career type job and “couldn’t” hang on to any of the others. She was able to cast it as bad luck and judgement mistakes on her part and I believed her because I trusted the partnership.

    As she was older than me, we had a child when she was 42 before time ran out. 4 Years later I learned that while she had told me she would have a career, her plan all along had been to never work again once her child   was born (not just the first few years which I would have been OK with, but never work again), and that she was deliberately making it look like she would work just to “get me off her back about getting a job” (at one point she bought an child’s art teaching franchise with no intention of following through, she also went into a masters program with no intention of completing).  

    My ex-wife chose not to kill her party by cancelling the “sure I will have a career” once she “tied the knot” and had a child.   There were other problems in our marriage. As Bluewoman 9 pointed out, with a bleak future I chose not to stay in it and go into damage control, though it did take me a couple of more years before I finally ended it.

    The end result is my son has a split home and I am in a high-paying but less than satisfying job.   I have scrounged to save for his college and have given my ex $300k of my salary, mostly post-tax, over the past 8 years. She has been through bankruptcy and continues to struggle to make ends meet and neither of us have any savings to speak of.   (I have built some in the last year that I only pay her child support.) My dreams of sharing my life with a partner and shared family have pretty much slipped out of reach and I now focus on making my life full in other ways. I am happy, but I also struggle.

    Couples should be up front to each other about what they want and at the same time be   realistic about what they will get and if they can live with that, otherwise a train wreck is inevitable.

    Kiki, your glib attitude regarding duplicity within what is supposed to be a lifetime PARTNERship indicates that unhappiness in your marriage may not all be about what he fails to bring to the table. Either get couples counseling and a new attitude or bite the bullet and divorce him before you two are in even deeper.

  11. 12

    David T,
    I can see from your post that you did not think the joke was funny. I take seriously the  pain, disappointment and material damage you have suffered, and, I would readily apologize for the provocation, if that has any value to you.  
    I overcame  my initial temptation  to reply with something acid in return because I don’t know you, your ex, or your life story any more than what you choose to tell here, and all I know for sure so far is that you have been severely hurt.        
    At the same time,  I will happily disregard your suggestion to get a new attitude,   seek marital counseling or divorce, at  my own peril.   
    You may also wish to consider easing up a littte.   I wish you the best of luck in luck and love.

  12. 13
    Karl T

    Kiki #12,
    In defense to David T, I didn’t find any humor at all in your post.   It had no clue you were joking.   Even, prior to David T’s comment I had contempt for you after making such a smug comment.   I’m inclined to believe your original post did not imply humor and that you are just saying that it did, now to make a rude remark not look bad.   If it really truly was humor, you have a horrible way of displaying it.

  13. 14
    David T

    @Kiki 7
    That was a very gracious and kind reply to my response. You made a joke and then I wallopped you. You see, I did not know you meant that as a joke. That was why I reacted the way I did. The misunderstanding comes in part because text leaves out a whole dimension of communication and for me more because having been pulled into a life course changing partnership via deception I am overly sensitive.   I did not perceive the joke so I wanted to be very clear that kind of behavior is a recipe for disaster. I did so inappropriately loudly and frankly I want to apologize to the whole board, though I do stand by the underlying message: don’t promise up front what you never intend to deliver, and examine the character of your dating partners to be sure they truly are worthy of trust.

    I am sorry for coming down so hard on you.   You must have been bewildered. I honor your wisdom in taking a deep breath before posting in return. I do hope that you and your partner manage to work on the shortcomings.   While nothing is ever perfect sometimes small changes can make a big difference. Good luck to you in finding a way to more days of gratitude.

    Thank you for your wishes.
    (*) And it isn’t all bad.   Knowing my son has been a beautiful experience. Also, remember the other problems I mentioned?   Those warning flags were up before we married and upon reflection spoke to her character.   I was 26 and failed to stick to my guns after I initially broke up with her.   So I foolishly but willingly went into a partnership with someone I ought not to have.

  14. 15
    David T

    @Karl T

    I do appreciate your confirmation that sometimes a text only joke is hard to perceive as such.   Given the serious tone regarding the disappointments in marriage in the rest of the message it is even more ambiguous. When I read Kiki’s reply, she was both gracious and deliberately chose not to be defensive, so I think she is in earnest. I can’t imagine what her motivation would be to so fake “making nice” (with the added subtlety of not rolling over and maintaining her boundaries regarding her thinking on counseling, self examination). Anyway this is rapidly becoming a meta-discussion (talking about how we are talking about the topic.)

    I gather you do agree with the underlying premise that pretending to be something we aren’t to land a marriage proposal is a Bad Idea.

  15. 16

    Kiki wrote, “So Michelle, don’t kill the party! You could always cancell the “bjs   on demand” after after you tie the knot. Happens to most married men eventually, hehe.”
    I usually think that a “hehe” at the end of a comment means that the writer is kidding.

  16. 17
    Karl T

    I interpreted the ‘hehe’ as a totally snide remark, so no it was certainly not obvious.   It also sounded to me like she was glad it happened to most men.   Like she was laughing at them.

  17. 18
    Karl S

    Perhaps it is because men get very nervous about the idea of losing their blowjobs, even in jest. 😛

    1. 18.1

      Comes down to loving your partner and letting them like what they like and supporting them in that —
      my current man, said he despises Valentines, I like Valentines, good opportunity to stop, think, try something new and love with passion – something we don’t do on a regular basis so it is the speed bump to make us stop and do. He doesn’t understand my likes and actually made fun of me.

      Well, I don’t understand his desire for me to wear teddies …. so equal trade he doesn’t do Valentines and I no longer do teddies. I’d been happy to do that for him as long as he happy to do for me.

      Don’t forget to scratch your partner’s back. Stubbornness leads to stubbornnes.

      And, if you aren’t going down on your women as often as you want a BJ — then you are being selffish and self centered. In my book, you do first then I will do 🙂 Amazing how the expectations change.

  18. 19

    @David T,
    thank you very much for the kind words. I really was bewildered how my lame attempt to be funny angered you so much.
    I realize now  that what  I said is politically incorrect to  men here.   I see Karl S cleverly put a smiley at the end of his post, to prevent stoning.
    On a personal note, David,   I am curious why do you think your ex wife deliberately fooled you that she intended to work, and consistenly lied to you on this.   It sounds like a stupid and cruel thing to do. But  isn’t it possible that  in a cruel economy, she may simply have been unable to maintain the high-powered type of job she once had, especially if she had to be out of the workforce   for a while due to maternity.   I say this not to defend her, but because I see how important intentions are to you.
    Pretending to be something we aren’t in order to extract a benefit is a bad idea in principle; it is first of all unfair but also unsustainable. At the same time, sometimes we set out to do things which are beyond our current capabilities, hoping that we somehow will manage, with effort, and a little bit of luck. I am trying to bring the topic back to the original question about realistic/unrealistic.
    My original point, in my original post, save for the unfortunate last paragraph which drew the attention, is that, more than a decade  down the road I still don’t know was I /am I  unrealistic in my expectations, and would I have married,  had I known exactly what is in front of me. I am not unhappy, and I am not contemplating divorce,  but I am  certainly uninspired, and, to go back to Michelle’s original question, I understand pretty well when she says that, based on her observations on friends and relatives, the realities of marriage are far from glossy.  
    From Evan’s advice I take that your marriage is what you make of it, and if both parties try hard, it could be fantastic.   Sadly, watching the people around me, and in my own experience, it is several degrees short of fantastic, but I choose to  keep trying.

  19. 20

    First I have to get over being tickled pink that EMK responded to my email. Yay!
    Second, I completely understand where your coming from and everything everyone is saying.
    These conversations generally come up during the 3 month mark of relationships. I don’t generally talk about marriage when dating as I believe dating is the time to decide if I even like the person and want to spend time with them. When we are headed towards a relationship is when I tend to “test the temperature” of what they are expecting and if I would be able to make them happy.
    I get that   I don’t paint the prettiest of pics, but I wasn’t aware that I came across so gloomy. It is my intention of being as honest as possible. I wouldn’t want any SO of mine feeling like he was baited/switched on.
    Like if he is expecting porn star sex 3x a week, hmmmm, 5 years down the road  I would hazard a guess  that  he might feel tricked if he were getting it only on vacations and anniversaries.
    For me personally, I believe marriage to be a union that requires a certain amount of substance and stamina. So it’s more important to me to try and determine a  man’s   ability and willingness to be there and hold my hand during really dark times that will eventually visit everyone’s life more so than if he brings me flowers because it’s Tuesday and mows the lawn without me asking.
    I’m  aware that not very many people think like this.
    @John,   yes,  if I could find a man who  got that there a 2 sides to that coin I would be  happier.   And the BJ’s  wouldn’t be on demand. 😉  

    1. 20.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      @Michelle “Like if he is expecting porn star sex 3x a week, hmmmm, 5 years down the road I would hazard a guess that he might feel tricked if he were getting it only on vacations and anniversaries.”

      Right. So maybe you shouldn’t reserve those kinds of activities for vacations and anniversaries. Problem solved.

      “For me personally, I believe marriage to be a union that requires a certain amount of substance and stamina. So it’s more important to me to try and determine a man’s ability and willingness to be there and hold my hand during really dark times that will eventually visit everyone’s life more so than if he brings me flowers because it’s Tuesday and mows the lawn without me asking.”

      You don’t try to determine a man’s ability to do this through a rigorous series of questions. You observe his behavior for two years before agreeing to get married. You might want to pick up a copy of Why He Disappeared. I’ll bet you learn something very valuable that you can use in the future. Or your money back. 🙂

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