Past relationship experiences are linked to future marital happiness. That’s according to an analysis of data from the Relationship Development Study at the University of Denver.
Funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, its purpose is ‘to investigate romantic relationships over several years to learn how they develop and change over time.’ The data analysis, conducted by psychologists for the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, focused on a sample group of 418 American individuals who married during the study.
Most news outlets ran with one finding in particular from the data analysis: ‘Bigger weddings lead to happier marriages’.
Less widely reported was another finding: women who had fewer partners before tying the knot reported greater satisfaction with their marriages. Women with ten or more premarital partners did not feel so satisfied in their marriages. However, this wasn’t the case amongst the male sample. Men, it seems, can accumulate notches on the bedpost without hurting their subsequent marriage.
The data analysis set out to answer interesting questions: ‘Do our premarital experiences, both with others and our future spouse, affect our marital happiness and stability down the line? Do our prior romantic entanglements harm our chances of marital bliss?’ It found that for women, yes, but for men, not so much.
Ranting about double standards between men and women comes naturally to Generation X-ers (born in the 1960s and 1970s) and Y-ers (1980s and 1990s). Raised with a kind of Cosmo-girl ‘Sex and the City’ feminism, Gen X and Y feminists tend to think that if you act like the double standard doesn’t exist – if you simply take the same sexual liberties as men and hang the consequences – the double standard will soon enough cease to exist. In practice, it hasn’t worked out like that and Gen X and Y feminists are raging about it, really hating that women have to be aware of the consequences of decisions in a way that men don’t.
The last thing they want to hear is a report affirming the old double standard. The predictable response will be to blame societal attitudes, and suggest that women have internalised judgmental attitudes, leading them to be unhappy in a way that men who haven’t internalised these attitudes just aren’t.
What they won’t consider is that if women report being happier with fewer partners, maybe that’s simply the way it is for women. Maybe the double standard isn’t a double standard but manifest gender difference. Maybe female happiness isn’t advanced by copying male behaviour, and having as many sexual partners as possible ‘because men can so why can’t we.’
I thought about this after reading an extract from a new book aimed at Gen X and Y women.
Called ‘How To Be Parisian Wherever You Are’, it’s co-authored by four beautiful and successful Parisiennes and it aims to tell women how to be chic and stylish, just like them. Their advice covers watching porn and infidelity: “Don’t feel guilty. What’s good for you is good for your relationship.” It advocates being selfish, lying, and cheating, as if this is the way to happiness and freedom for women.
But the real lie is that any of this makes women happy. Young women are being sold a lie if they think being unfaithful and sleeping around is going to bring satisfaction in a relationship. All the evidence suggests that happiness comes through intimacy, trust, stability, and intentional decision-making as a couple. Isn’t it time to look at the evidence and accept that the more conservative model of marriage and relationships is ultimately what fosters female happiness?