What is the story behind the title?
The title is the result of two spontaneous comments. A few years ago on the day after Thanksgiving, my husband and I were sitting around my brother and sister-in-law's kitchen, talking about our plans for the next day. My brother was joking about how he couldn't do anything fun until he finished the Saturday morning chores that my sister-in-law would "make" him get up bright and early to do. "Oh, Mike," I said, "everybody marries the wrong person." The three of them burst out laughing. The thought had never before occurred to any of us, but it sounded so right. "That," my sister-in-law, Juli, said, "would be a great book title."
Did you marry the wrong person, Dr. Meinecke?
Of course. Everybody does. I've been married twenty-eight years to my wrong person. The fact that almost everyone asks this question shows how deeply convinced we are by the conventional wisdom about finding the right person. When I told my mother and mother-in-law that I was writing a book called Everybody Marries the Wrong Person, they said exactly the same thing: "Well, you didn't, did you?"
Don't a few lucky people marry the right person?
No, there are no right people. The fairy-tale notion of finding that one right person is chief among the many myths about romantic relationships. This conventional wisdom dies hard because we all dearly wish for life to be easy, as we think it could be if we find our one right person. Like so many common beliefs, this is a wolf in sheep's clothing - seems safe on the surface but is dangerous underneath. The danger shows itself when we experience incompatibility and, instead of questioning the right-person myth, we question our partner's suitability. Chapter 2 discusses twenty myths that are mainstays of conventional wisdom about romantic relationships.
Aren't soul mates right people?
Another myth of conventional wisdom. The concept of soul mates grew out of ancient mythologies, like Castor and Pollux, and is more accurately applied to so-called brothers of different mothers and sisters of different misters. The term, co-opted and applied to romantic relationships, is just another way of claiming to have found our one right person.
Can wrong people be compatible?
Yes. Three areas of compatibility draw individuals to each other - mutual attraction, mutual admiration, and shared interests and values. Most couples start out marveling at how alike they seem. Research shows, however, that infatuation causes us to overfocus on what we like about someone and to overestimate compatibility. Eventually, we start marveling at how incompatible we are. The harsh reality of significant differences produces disenchantment, negative reactions, and devaluation of our partners. See Chapter 8 (Bait and Switch) and Chapter 9 (Soap Operas).
What have you got against conventional wisdom or old thinking?
Old thinking misleads us. There's a good example in Chapter 1, advice from a nationally-syndicated columnist that I break down line-by-line, pointing out bits of conventional wisdom that are guaranteed to mislead. If you've read Freakonomics, you know how Levitt and Dubner describe conventional wisdom - a "web of fabrication, self-interest, and convenience" and "not necessarily true." Paradoxically, romantic couples expect to gain an unconventional result (marital success) by following conventional guideposts. We go where everyone else is going without asking ourselves, Where exactly is this leading?
Isn't great sex the real key to marital success?
More dangerous conventional wisdom. Of course, mutual attraction brings couples together; and when sex is great for both, marriages benefit. That is, until sex is not so great anymore. Old thinking about sex undermines marital success because it is fraught with misinformation, lack of respect for female sexuality, and male-centric wishful thinking. Chapter 4 (Nature's Cruel Joke) and Chapter 5 (Hot Sex Here) cover, in detail, the "tragi-comedy" of sex in long-term relationships. One fascinating compilation of legitimate data, Sex in America (Robert T. Michael, et. al., 1994) tells us that "America has a message about sex, and that message is none too subtle. It says that almost everyone but you is having endless, fascinating, varied sex."
Don't marriages fail because someone isn't trying hard enough?
Hard work is required, of course, but this conventional wisdom is another wolf in sheep's clothing. Things get scary when both partners believe that they are trying as hard as anyone possibly can and decide that the other one is the matrimonial slacker. Inevitably, the hard work myth and the right person myth merge and destructive conclusions follow: My partner is not trying hard enough, so he or she must not be my right person. Or I need to work harder at convincing my partner to behave more like a right person should.
Aren't day-to-day problems the real home wreckers?
Conventional wisdom weighs in on this subject, too, identifying infidelity and chronic disagreements about sex, money, in-laws, and children as the biggest home wreckers. Everybody Marries the Wrong Person argues that these factors are not what make marital success elusive. It is not the touchiness of the subject but the touchiness of the partners that matters. Marital success eludes couples who lack emotional maturity, cling to unrealistic expectations, and fail to behave self-responsibly. The biggest home wrecker of all time is, in fact, the belief that we cannot or should not be expected to manage our own negative emotions!