By now you have all read (or ignored) Alain De Botton’s (ADB’s- if I can call him that) NYTimes opinion piece…”Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person.”
If you chose to ignore it you should read it.
This is not my first blog post. I know that very few of you clicked that link, so I will boil down De Botton’s beautifully reasoned piece with less lyricism and more lyrics.
- Fields of Gold. People used to marry to get more fields (or gold, or titles or whatever.) That was the marriage of reason.
- More than a Feeling. Now people marry because of feeling. The more reckless (you are 18 year old) or dangerous (you are going to be the one to heal someone bitter and broken) it feels the more it stands in contrast to reason. We think this is good. Reason was old school, like in olden days before there was even school to be old. So feeling is new school.
- Looking for Love in all the Wrong Places. We tell ourselves that the magical feeling we seek is happiness. We believe that happiness comes from love. De Botton calls bullshit on that. Our first experience of love comes from our childhood. Each of us, in our own special way, had a fucked up childhood. So for us, love is familiar, and familiarly fucked up. We seek people who recreate old patterns of abandonment, or who need fixing, like many of our family members did. According to ADB “We marry the wrong people because we don’t associate being loved with feeling happy.” Double bummer.
- Crazy for Feeling so Lonely. For those of us that don’t seek or can’t find partners with whom to lug around the heavy baggage of our youth there are other ways to choose poorly. Far less elusive than happiness is lust and excitement. Particularly on the heels of the loneliness of single life we can feel meaningfully drawn to someone who we just meet. Someone who in a moment makes us forget pain and experience pleasure. Sadly, as anyone who has been in a long term relationship knows, that feeling of pleasure is fleeting. Marriage doesn’t play itself out in a single moment of passion. It deals with shit, literal and figurative, and even worse than that it deals with the monotony of every day life. We were drawn towards a dramatic solution to a problem we never articulated. And now we drive screaming kids in mini vans.
- Got to take it on the Otherside. ADB says none of this matters. He says we all have this problem…and because of this we would have this problem with any other partner as well. We should be content with our discontent. He tells us to stay married to the wrong person. Except he tells us in a more lyrical way.
We mustn’t abandon him or her, only the founding Romantic idea upon which the Western understanding of marriage has been based the last 250 years: that a perfect being exists who can meet all our needs and satisfy our every yearning. We need to swap the Romantic view for a tragic (and at points comedic) awareness that every human will frustrate, anger, annoy, madden and disappoint us — and we will (without any malice) do the same to them. There can be no end to our sense of emptiness and incompleteness. But none of this is unusual or grounds for divorce. Choosing whom to commit ourselves to is merely a case of identifying which particular variety of suffering we would most like to sacrifice ourselves for.
Lets grieve together. If you are single you can grieve the loss of any sort of romantic idealism. There is no one out there to make whole, or to make you whole. There will not be musical montages of trying on funny hats and dabbing each other’s noses with ice cream.
Or (and this is where the partnered up people and the single people can join in their grief together), maybe there will be musical montages but they will be much longer and be scored by Phillip Glass rather than Wilson Phillips. The melody will be lost as you sit at the table feeling bored by both your partner and your dinner. Its like you married the goddamned chicken breast and broccoli for all of the inspiration your partner offers you. Or maybe it is Meatloaf (here let’s continue both the music and the food analogies) where this both inscrutable mix of meat and his crazy excited sing-screaming is confusing. Meatloaf is supremely unhelpful as you just try to get yourself, your kids, and your dog through another damn day.
This is how the grieving sounded in my head:
This article is not about me. I had a happy childhood and sought someone stable and loving. (Not that first guy…obviously I married the wrong person first, but THIS time…this time.) Who is ADB to say that WE ALL picked the wrong partner. That ONLY someone who is comfortable being single and waiting half a lifetime can find true love. What an arrogant ass. What is the work around if he is right… I have an idea… I could ditch Steve and be super choosy about the next one. When I picked Steve I was looking for someone who was left handed, had curly hair, could make an explosion noise, and had a job. I settled for two of those characteristics. I could hold out for all four. Or even a different four, perhaps one of them could be about generosity, or like civic mindedness. I don’t have half a lifetime left to wait…but I could give it a few years. I’m happy with Steve. I mean no one is happy, but I have a high approximation of happiness with Steve. So what if I keep him. What if I keep him but totally change our lifestyle (after the kids are grown of course) we could, like, live a life of migrant volunteerism. Steve’d be good at that…he rarely complains I could find the places that need us and he could do the water hauling. I know that wouldn’t work. I am way too lazy. And I never leave bed. It is terrible that I lead so much of my life from bed. I am writing this, the first thing I have written in four days, FROM BED. You know why? Because I always thought someone would come along and get my ass out of bed (after, of course, we enjoyed some bed together.) That person would want the best for me, and beyond wanting, would actually teach me how to want the best for myself. I feel it now. There is only one person who can get me out of bed…and that is me…and I married the wrong man. So now I have to worry about my weight, my work, and my waning romanticism.
Fine. So we have accepted the death of romanticism. We have married the wrong person. I ask again.
If you are single you are a step ahead. You can figure out what particular kind of crazy brings out less of your own crazy. Then pick that person. If you are prepared for less perfection, and less poetry you can probably come out OK. Simple.
For those of us married (to the wrong person) lets huddle up. I am thinking that we try a few things.
- Spend a week and noticing some things about your behavior and your expectations. Take note of times that you feel you are being charming and quirky. Quirky is a codeword for crazy. Pay attention when your voice rises above normal speaking level. Anger is a big clue for the proximity of crazy. Now you might think it is your partner’s crazy that made you yell. Give it a moment. Write it down. Come back to it. Could it have been YOUR crazy? Possibly? I thought so. Do you have a scorecard? The one where you wrote thank you notes +1 (like you ALWAYS do +1,000) ,you made the doctor’s appointment +1 and frankly were the only one to WORRY about the MD at all +25, and…and… Take a look at that card. How does it make you feel? Bitter? Self- righteous? Does it energize you or deflate you? Just go ahead and notice. Are you muttering under your breathe? What are you muttering? Say it slowly out loud. Let your laments be spoken in a full voice. Listen to yourself. Don’t change anything.
- Have your partner do all that stuff too. Don’t change anything.
- After a week come together. Look at all of the evidence you have collected “against” your partner, the stories you can tell about yourself. You are both crazy. You are both hard to live with. Neither of you is pulling your weight in the areas of expertise of the other. Don’t change anything.
- Don’t change anything. Don’t change yourself, your partner, your marital status. We are all fucking crazy. If you left for a do-over you will bring your crazy with you, and meet up with fresh new crazy. Doesn’t that sound tiring?
Only Steven Stills (of Nash & Young) wrote the chorus that should be the refrain of our relationships. Yet they still got it wrong. In their song they tell us that “if you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with.” But we know the truth about “the one you love” He is most certainly a disappointment. She is most certainly out of her mind. So maybe we should propose a re-write. Something about having to settle to be able to settle down. It may not be lyrical but it could be lyrics. ADB tells us “Compatibility is an achievement of love; it must not be its precondition.”
Love the One You’re With.