Hank feels composed and somewhat on a roll as he unfolds his letter to Jenny. They sip at spritzers. He intends to do most of the talking. He doesn’t fear her not accepting him. He’s not proposing yet; it will come after he buys the ring.
He fears that if she feels compelled to respond before he gets through, she will divert the discussion to points that come later or not at all and take him off his game. He knows she favors marriage, but he is unsure she will accept it his way. He begins reading anyway.
“Jenny, my darling, I am hopeful” and he begins to ad lib to turn it more conversational. “Someday I hope to set you down on a honey-coated golden ship of marital bliss awash in a sea of tender affection, all of which will remind you of paradise. Corny, huh?” Then he stares into her eyes with the friendliest of smiles until she smiles back.
“I have to confess. Oh, not to anything either of us has done wrong. But to express the pleasure of trying to earn you for my wife. For so long, I didn’t know what you had to see in me in order to accept me as your husband. Now I see and offer the plea you are about to hear.
“I could take it no longer, so I worked up a good plan to get us in bed very soon. However, you beat me to the draw. Over champagne you anticipated my intent and neutralized my plan with your titty remark. Your dedication to yourself and virtual virginity both impressed and enlightened me. I thought you the most wonderful woman. Almost proposed right there and then. But, thankfully, my heart was not quite right at the time.
“I say thankfully, because what I say today can convert the makings of a temporary into a permanent marriage. I expect to deliver it too, if we marry. I don’t want you surprised by my leadership. You need to know what to expect before we wed, and I now reveal it.
“Ross Perot coined this motto. Up front, blunt, and candid when you deal with people. I remind myself to use it, because when I propose and you accept, we have to make a permanent deal, an arrangement based on more than love, romance, and mutual compatibility. I believe in love, a woman’s love, and mother love. Being a man, however, and planning to live sixty years together, I know that love is not enough to handle the strains.
“Here’s my plan of dedication to consider. You can have the wedding as yours and your mother’s to arrange. I’m out of the planning; just tell me where, when, and what to wear.
“After the wedding, however, I will be responsible for our marriage, honeymoon and all. You no doubt have many wishes, not all of which will fit into whatever plans we make and mutually accept for our lives beyond the altar. So how will all of that play out?
“First, I love you, I adore you, I cherish you and plan to continue for life. You are the pinnacle of my ideal as a wife, and I want and intend to keep it that way. Me, you, and our marital agreement have only to come alongside and merge our lives with my jobs and ambitions.
“What I talk about today is how to keep it that way by putting you on the road to wifely and motherly happiness and me on the road to satisfaction as man, husband, provider, protector, friend, problem solver, and lover in some order to be determined by reality.
“Marriage is generally called an institution. Actually, it’s a set of absolutely necessary functions. The promises, the obligations, and the vows that couples make and take. Those functions guide individuals subconsciously and usually in background mode. If adhered to properly, they can hold a couple together as ‘us’. If not, couples too easily separate in spirit and then emotionally and perhaps physically.
“However, over time, some promises come up empty. Some obligations fail from love that has weakened. Some vows are broken by outside inducements, pressures, and promises.
“Good intentions—made earlier in the throes of exciting and romance-loaded moments—don’t remain all that stable after months or years of living together. Two individuals with very different personalities, emotional makeup, and personal agendas have to labor hard to remain permanently attached and keep two self-interests bonded into one—the ‘us’ that women like to call togetherness.
“Antagonist pressures arise far too easily, and love can’t overcome all of it. Actually, love is never enough, and that is why I accept responsibility. If I’m responsible, I can match the determination that guided you through your life until now. I say determination, because I don’t accept responsibility with any expectation that I will fail.
“More of what I mean is this. Only you, me, or ‘us’ can work against our marital interests, can wreck our relationship. We need an informed leader who works on the outside—kind of works above us—to prevent it. I accept full responsibility to guard, hold together, and ensure that the mass of marriage values, standards, and expectations works to help us find and live in mutually bonded togetherness.
“Fulfilling my responsibility, however, may not be to your liking simply because of the impression it gives in the big picture. You and I function as subordinates of our marriage, I supervise both of us as a couple. What does that mean? Well, not that I intend to be a dictator but more of a benevolent supervisor of nothing but our marriage. If the marriage is threatened, I will be obligated to act. Otherwise, our relationship is one of a well-balanced couple.
“We won’t drive our marriage, it drives us. It’s the principle up to which we live rather than threaten or trash it in response to emotional upheavals. Yes, principle reigns whenever emotion, taste, or preference challenges the comfort of our marriage. Comfort being defined as what we both think is best to keep us compatible and well-bonded.
“Actually, either you or I can tear us apart. It only takes one to destroy the mutual likeability and loyalty that upholds a man’s love. My intention before we marry is to apply preventive pressures that tend to neutralize the desire for one to escape the other. Neutralize desire for the outside world and marital glue holds much better.
“Putting principle over emotions adds pressure for us to deal with our mate as respectable; to make our mate deserving of best attentions and considerations; to toe the line of fidelity; and otherwise hold each other up as the epitome of a person, a friend, a lover, and a spouse, and also interdependent as mates.
“Whether in disagreement, disarray, or dispute, I plan that we fall back on the purpose and blessing of marital obligations to calm our emotional conditions. More important than either of us, in god-like fashion, commitment to marriage commands us to do much better than we ever thought we could. We can learn to exceed ourselves and immediately do our best to recover from emotional disturbances such as disputes, ailments, financial shortages, or child raising issues. Recovery is everything, but prevention is better.
“As matter of habit, we expect to always yield to the principle of marriage first, us second, and you and me third. It’s a rung on the ladder, an interim step of living up to God. Moreover and more importantly, that is the ladder rung that releases mutual respect, empowers trust, and enables me to enjoy your likeability and you to enjoy mine.
“For example, you get angry at me and want to tell me off, that I’m guilty of something. Such as, I failed to get your car’s tail-light repaired and you got a traffic ticket. You start to upbraid me with: I told you three times and, oh yea, you were flirting last night at the party. I first respond with three questions: How does this affect our marriage? Big or little, serious or funny? How do we recover that before you correct me?
“After we know the impact on our marriage, you can finish your chastisement of me. It works both ways. When I try to describe some failing of yours, you respond with the same or similar questions. Once we know how the marriage will be impacted, expressing negative opinions becomes less offensive and more tolerable.
“We defend ourselves first by putting our marriage between us. We need to keep track of how our problems are about to impact our marriage and prevent damage before we get too deeply involved criticizing each other.
“I am responsible to see it happen that way, so I may from time to time have to remind you that your expectations may be contradictory to marital comfort. The same applies to you. I may be responsible, but I can cause marital discomfort even better than you.
“When I am responsible for anything, I refuse to fail. As of now, I dedicate that habit to our marriage. It presumes and I prioritize our lives this way. You and I are subordinate to marriage; personal expectations are subordinate to domestic tranquility; child raising is subordinate to our marriage.
“Wives often presume to carry the burden of sustaining marriage; they have most to lose. But in today’s marital marketplace they don’t seem to be doing well. It happens because the wrong spouse is in charge. So, from the get-go let me unburden you from being responsible to see that we stay together. No intent to do without your help and superb assistance. In fact it’s expected, but you don’t have to answer for marital failures, whatever is produced in the long run.
Hank signals with fingers, “You need only face up to four tasks to the best of your ability. Remain my already realized ideal of a good woman to whom I’m greatly attracted. Develop yourself into the ideal wife that we both deserve. Prepare and become the ideal mother for our children. Keep me informed when I add strain to our marriage. Also, I owe you my definition of the term ideal. It means the same woman I married and expect to cherish for sixty years. Small improvements no doubt, but no big changes to who and what she is when we marry.
“I will do my best to be the ideal husband for you and father for our kids. If and when I say nothing contrary, you remain my ideal and cherished one. Believe it. You start there and sixty years hence you will remain just that. The practice of cherishing someone makes it last.
“All of the above brings me to the most important part. We can’t avoid disputes or hold unbecoming opinions of each other. Minor in the overall passage of time, they still should not be verbalized. We can avoid fault finding, criticism, and blaming each other, and we should do it by converting complaint and blame into offenses to the marriage covenant first and then to each other.
“The softer the name calling, the harder the covenant shell that surrounds us.
“You work primarily through relationship management, and I will work primarily to hold our lives together as a one-unit family. Our life together is three processes, yours, mine, and ours. We don’t need perfection living together. We primarily need to flatten out the steeper parts of our emotional conditions without blame, guilt, and criticism. Even in that, perfection is not essential. A little bit might even help sometimes.
“My respect makes you likeable to me. Your love makes me likeable to you. My trust makes you loyal to me, and your trust makes me loyal to you. Mutual likeability and loyalty are the necessary ingredients for my love to endure. Consequently, my love of you arises out of respect and trust of you that is confirmed and endorsed by your love and trust of me.
“I will be fulfilling my responsibility when we both identify our differences as neither personal nor in immediate need of correction, but rather as undesired actions and attitudes contrary to marital harmony. Primarily, I foresee that you will be responsible for harmony in the home and I for harmony outside the home and overall.
“Now I only describe the mutual bonding to start out, how we are to perform under those conditions as guidance. How we operate under those conditions determines our future together, your happiness as a woman, and my satisfaction as a man.
“I expect to formally propose that we marry and hereby suggest that success comes more from what I describe than blind luck, mutual love, and even the greatest of intentions. So, I offer myself for you to consider whether my plan and role as just described fits your needs and desires. In other words, I offer me and my plan in addition to just me and my ability to love you forever.
“Does all that sound doable to you? Anything offend you? Can you subordinate yourself and emotional stability to the supreme role of our marriage? I pledge it as my intent for life, and God-willing, you accept me when I propose.
“You now have the floor. I look forward to showing how my love can overcome your objections.”
Pondering for a moment, Jenny smiles beyond her best ever. “It’s magnificent. I could not ask for more, darling. I accept your plan as more than I deserve. In return, I add my promise of endlessly dispensing your favorite wishes that I alone can provide.”
Still on the couch, they hug and kiss and she allows him to elevate their passion levels above that previously permitted. Then, abruptly, she terminates it.
“Honey, I have no doubt you’re a great lover. However, I’m a happy lovee only under certain conditions of which only I am aware. If we marry, I want you informed of what it takes for you to make me a happy lovee. We only have this one opportunity, because it can’t be done inside a marriage.
“We will shortly talk. Me as the revelator, you as listener, and we will never mention it again.” His curiosity soars, and she quickly departs. Left standing at the door, Hank’s uncertainties yell at him. What was that? What is she doing? Then he remembers, “We will shortly talk.” He wonders, when will she….