To be a lover is easier than to be a husband, for
it is more difficult to show intelligence every day
than it is to make pretty speeches from time to time.
—Honorè de Balzac
In our culture, we have constantly been told that love and marriage go together “like a horse and carriage” and that you cannot have one without the other. Nonsense.
Love and marriage are, in fact, two quite different phenomena, although sometimes being in love leads to marriage and, conversely, sometimes being married leads to love. Love involves a relationship between two lovers who share an affectionate and/or erotic attraction for each other. Marriage involves a relationship between a husband and a wife. Sometimes, they also love each other, but their interaction always involves much more than that; the decisions
about getting married, staying married, or getting unmarried always involve many more factors than mere attraction or lack of it.
Everyone has strong opinions about the familiar, traditional roles of husband and wife. When you ask what a good husband should be like, there is a predictable response and quite a lot of agreement. He should be stable, reliable, kind, a good provider, and a good father. He cuts the grass. He clears the table without being asked. He suffers through your mother’s conversation and your brother’s silence and is a model of manhood for your sons. The role of husband ideally complements the role of wife to make an effective partnership. The roles are diverse, and they evolve as the marriage
Husbands and wives engage in a whole series of joint enterprises. They raise children together, buy real estate together, paper the bathroom together, and worry about growing old together. A good husband is realistic about life insurance and makes sure the mortgage is paid. When you have to bury your dead, he helps you plan the funeral. When you break your leg, he teaches you to walk on crutches and brings you chicken soup.
Husbands and wives may love each other and may be lovers, but they are much more than lovers. The husband is judged not only by who he is but also by what he does. A husband can fulfill his part of the marital bargain in an exemplary way even if he does not love his wife, as long as he likes and respects her. Similarly, a wife may behave in an exemplary way although she is not in love with her husband. They have undertaken many duties to each other, and they trust each other to perform these duties.
Judging by our high divorce rate, which involves about one in two of all couples, these roles do not always work out as planned. Then again, one might as readily note that in one out of two marriages, the commitment is a lifelong one, the roles of husband and wife are defined and fulfilled, with at least minimum satisfaction, for both the man and woman. The role of lover is a much simpler and more straightforward one. A lover is valuable to you if you find him lovable. You like to look at him; his company pleases you, his body appeals to you. He is valued for his own unique charisma, and all that is required of him is that he loves you back. The quality of your interaction with him is what draws you to him. There is no reason to be with a lover other than for the pleasure he brings you. When he ceases to bring you pleasure or when you cease to please him, then the interaction stops. The first duty of a lover—perhaps the only duty—is to give you pleasure in love. A lover who is not lovable, or who does not give you emotional and sexual pleasure, is redundant.