What makes someone ‘wife material’?

Recently, Angelina Jolie said marriage to Brad Pitt has changed her for the better, inspiring her to “be a better wife. I’m going to learn to cook.”

It was a curious thing to say — is being a cook what “good wives” do? Maybe, for Angelina anyway. But I’m not sure it answers the question for the rest of us — what exactly makes a “good wife”?  Good_wife

Thought Catalog recently listed 25 Things Girls Do That Make Guys Realize They’re Wife Material. Sure enough, along with bringing others happiness, being likeable, going with the flow, being the guy’s biggest fan and being low-maintenance, “they can cook.”

Obviously wives need a few more skills than that, and when it comes to divorce, those desirable wifely attributes often have no monetary worth in court of public sentiment — just ask newly divorced multimillionaire Jamie Cooper-Hohn).

The Telegraph’s Daisy Buchanan, about to become a wife herself, has some thoughts on society’s expectations of wives:

The problem that persists (and my problem with the Thought Catalog piece) is that we place an enormous weight of expectation on women and their behaviour within a marriage — but culturally, that pressure is not forced on men in the same way. We’re still suffering from a hangover of hundreds of years of seeing ourselves as desperate, wannabe wives, hoping to be picked out from the crowd by a choosy potential husband.

Although marriage is a contract between two people, we still cling to the convention in which we wait for someone to ask us to be their wife and then take their name. … Of course, being a good wife shouldn’t be any different from being a good husband. But men aren’t targeted with the same stream of ‘make her marry you!’ articles.

She is wrong in believing that “being a good wife shouldn’t be any different than being a good husband,” however; an overwhelming number of never-married women want a husband who has a steady job (while men say they favor someone who shares their ideas about raising children) and that male-as-provider model most likely perpetuates gendered expectations when it comes to marriage.

When George Clooney proposed to now-wife Amal Alamuddin, some people — and I’m sure some of his former girlfriends — wondered, why her? What does Amal have that the others didn’t? It’s clear the typecast “perpetual bachelor” and purported commitaphobe was neither; he just was waiting for the right woman to commit to. A woman who is wife material.

Again, we are stuck trying to define what that means.

Mrs. Clooney (yes, Amal took Clooney’s last name) is a top-flight human rights attorney — she may or may not cook and she may or may not know her way around a Swiffer, but somehow I don’t think Clooney married her because of her great domestic tasks. He most likely asked her to marry him because she’s smart, she’s beautiful, she has a kind heart and she has confidence (she’s also 17 years younger than he is, a huge age difference that is often typical for older men). And, perhaps most important to Clooney, a noted jokester, a sense of humor.

But there are other expectations of being a “good wife” that go beyond our own. Just ask Oprah — despite being smart, beautiful, kind-hearted and confident, she is clear that society’s expectations of being a good wife is not her thing; she’d rather stay a good girlfriend. Which means that perhaps she isn’t good wife material after all. Which means there is no one-size-fits-all definition of what a “good wife” is or does. Or is there?