How Do You View Marriage?

How Do You View Marriage

My favorite New York Times philosopher, David Brooks, was at it again, breaking down people’s views of marriage into three separate categories.

First, is the psychological view of marriage.

The psychologists want you to think analytically as well as romantically about whom to marry. Pay attention to traits. As Ty Tashiro wrote in “The Science of Happily Ever After,” you want to marry someone who scores high in “agreeableness,” someone who has a high concern for social harmony, who is good at empathy, who is nice. You want to avoid people who score high in neuroticism — who are emotionally unstable or prone to anger.

Don’t think negative traits will change over time, Tashiro wrote, because they are constant across a lifetime. Don’t focus on irrelevant factors, like looks. Don’t filter out or rationalize away negative information about a partner or relationship.

Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and fortunate accident.

Second is the romantic view.

Their logic is that you need a few years of passionate love to fuse you together so you’ll stay together when times get hard. It’s a process beautifully described by a character in Louis de Bernières’s novel “Corelli’s Mandolin”:

“Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and fortunate accident. Your mother and I had it. We had roots that grew toward each other underground, and when all the pretty blossoms had fallen from our branches we found that we were one tree and not two.”

Finally, Brooks brings up a moral view of marriage – an institution that is designed to make us better people:

The everyday tasks of marriage are opportunities to cultivate a more selfless love. Everyday there’s a chance to inspire and encourage your partner to become his or her best self. In this lens, marriage isn’t about two individuals trying to satisfy their own needs; it’s a partnership of mutual self-giving for the purpose of moral growth and to make their corner of the world a little better.

I think this is pretty astute and that these categories are not mutually exclusive but, in fact, highly overlapping.

Passion won’t save you if your partner is selfish or a bad communicator or untrustworthy, so better to seek out high character partners than to be driven by lust and hope that your lustful decision also happens to be a good person, too.

For most people, the romantic love comes first. If you felt that passion in the first few years, you’re willing to fight hard for the relationship when it inevitably fades away. I think this has a basis in truth, but I often caution people against making this romantic passion a prerequisite. The point being that you eventually end up in the same place in 10 years or 40 years, so why do the first two years have to be filled with butterflies to be successful?

Predictably, I take the psychologist’s view when it comes to giving relationship advice. Passion won’t save you if your partner is selfish or a bad communicator or untrustworthy, so better to seek out high character partners than to be driven by lust and hope that your lustful decision also happens to be a good person, too.

As for Brooks’ final view of marriage – the moral one – I think he’s absolutely right: marriage DOES make you a better person. It does present you with your own flaws every day. It does force you to be kinder, more selfless, more self-aware, more compromising. However, I think that’s only the byproduct of being a spouse; I don’t think people go into marriage to learn how to be the best version of themselves.

Check out Brooks’ piece and let me know which view of marriage hews closest to your own.

Your thoughts, as always, are appreciated.

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Comments:

  1. 1
    Tom10

    I thought this post looked a bit lonely so I thought it’d be nice to leave a few of my thoughts.

    How Do You View Marriage?
     
    “First, is the psychological view of marriage”
    you want to marry someone who scores high in “agreeableness,” someone who has a high concern for social harmony, who is good at empathy, who is nice. You want to avoid people who score high in neuroticism — who are emotionally unstable or prone to anger.”
     
    This is sound advice. I think simply being a nice person is very under-rated in our driven culture yet it can make such a difference in life. Kindness goes such a long way.
     
    Were I ever to find myself in the process of a divorce, God forbid, I’ll be determined to make it as amicable as possible. Indeed, whenever I get dumped I always make a huge effort to keep the situation as friendly as possible; it just smooths over the whole process. And, in future, I can look back on the time spent with that woman in fondness.
     
    “Don’t think negative traits will change over time, Tashiro wrote, because they are constant across a lifetime.”
     
    Good advice. When I meet acquaintances from years ago I’m often/usually struck by how little they’ve changed in the meantime. I guess after a certain age, probably mid 20s, our traits – both positive and negative – are more or less set.
     
    That said, I’ve seen some decent people get worn down by life and turn bitter and negative; so sometimes, even with due diligence we can’t plan for everything.
     
    “Don’t focus on irrelevant factors, like looks.”
     
    Hmm. I have to admit this is my biggest flaw; I really really struggle to get past looks, yet when/if contemplating marriage one simply must. As they just won’t matter when it gets down to big stuff in life. Like cancer.
     
    Which makes me question why we, both as individuals and as a society, place such importance on looks, when intellectually most of us know we shouldn’t. I can only presume it’s from a combination of our evolutionary drive to seek the fittest genes when procreating along with social pressure to succeed. To be the best. Because we deserve the best! Haha. And because of television. And the internet. And advertising.
     
    “Second is the romantic view”
    “Their logic is that you need a few years of passionate love to fuse you together so you’ll stay together when times get hard”
     
    Luckily (or perhaps unluckily) I’m pretty sure this was/will never be my problem: I’m just not the romantic type at all. Never have been. Therefore I know I’ll never be swept up in the initial few years of passion that fades away once the chemicals wear off. So I can already foresee myself carefully analyzing any future prospective partner’s character and rationalizing myself into a relationship rather than simply going with the flow to see what happens. On balance I view this as a strength.
     
    “Finally, Brooks brings up a moral view of marriage – an institution that is designed to make us better people:
    The everyday tasks of marriage are opportunities to cultivate a more selfless love. Everyday there’s a chance to inspire and encourage your partner to become his or her best self. In this lens, marriage isn’t about two individuals trying to satisfy their own needs; it’s a partnership of mutual self-giving for the purpose of moral growth and to make their corner of the world a little better.”

    Rather grudgingly I can see this as a valid point. As a single childless guy I tend to just do what I want, when I want, answerable to no-one. But I’m not sure if a life lived like that is any sort of achievement. Instinctively, on some human level it has to be a good thing to have something or someone who motivates you enough to push yourself to be the best person you can be. And a large part of this must involve putting the needs of another above your own. Getting to that point though, is easier said than done.

    ————–
     
    In conclusion I think this is a sound piece. With the way dating is today I think it’s useful to thoroughly analyze and revise our understanding of marriage as an institution in our society, as the way it was done before just doesn’t have much relevance anymore.
     Which is why I’m grateful for Evan, his blog and his advice – these lessons are best learned before walking down that aisle, from people who have been there, done that.
     

    1. 1.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      You’re a thoughtful guy, Tom. Thanks for your regular contributions to this blog.

      1. 1.1.1
        Tom10

        Cheers Evan, keep up the good work 😉

  2. 2
    AllHeart81

    That part about how marriage is an opportunity to cultivate more selfless love…that right there is the reason why I want to be married. Not just to have my needs met but to see what I’m able to give, to see what I’m made of in that kind of relationship. Because I know it will be intrinsic to becoming a better person and discovering new parts of myself I simply won’t discover just exclusively living for my own needs.

  3. 3
    ScottH

    I stubbed my toe on this line:

    “In this lens, marriage isn’t about two individuals trying to satisfy their own needs; it’s a partnership of mutual self-giving for the purpose of moral growth and to make their corner of the world a little better.”

    Marriage certainly is about individuals trying to satisfy their own needs but they do this by helping their partner satisfy their needs (mutual self-giving, I suppose but Brooks seems to be fluffing things a bit here).  Read Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix if you want an acclaimed in-depth professional take on it.

  4. 4
    Adenine

    My current partner is adamantly opposed to marriage. Neither of us wants children. I consider partnering to be a negotiation of needs. When I broke it down to it’s most basic level, I didn’t need a contracted commitment enforced by the court. Honestly, if my partner doesn’t want to be my partner, I want to be free to leave. I feel like all these terms set by the article apply to partnering even without the marriage. I’m still working out what it is I do want long term. We haven’t talked beyond the next couple years. Exclusivity was what kept me from exiting in the first place. That and his consistent efforts to maintain the relationship, his loving demeanor, and fun. He’s really fun! I also am committed to contributing to his sense of fulfillment in the relationship. But he’s so easy! He mentioned that pralines are his favorite, easy peasy… I made him pralines. 😉 I want him to feel as loved as he makes me feel and that is what I think defines a partnership, not the contractual obligation.

  5. 5
    Adrian

    I’m wondering if any studies have been done on college graduates marrying non-graduates?

     

    I know most studies say that two university graduates marrying have longer and more successful marriages than two people who just graduated from high school, but what about a person who meets a non-college having person?

     

    I am often down town for lunch and I see so many attractive women, but there is no way to tell if someone has graduated from college or not, plus that seems limiting to me. I have no problem dating a woman who works as a waiter or at a factory; even the book Dateonomics that Evan featured, only focused on people with degrees seeking other people with degrees.

     

    I’m guessing that money is the main factor that is responsible for the non-degree holding couples divorcing, so if one partner makes really good money and has no problem sharing, does that affect the outcome? People can have the same goals, values, devotion, kindness, and be intelligent without a degree from a university.

     

    Perhaps I’m being too naive and missing something (O_o).

    1. 5.2
      lee

      it’s also social circles. college educated folks naturally spend more time with other college educated folks, who are colleagues, friends, neighbors, not all the time but what it really comes down to is class. we are largely segregated in society by class which education is part of.  in my humble opinion.

      1. 5.2.1
        Adrian

        Thanks Evan, I look forward to it (^_^).

        Lee,

        I completely agree with you about class and self-segregation. Unfortunately, for someone like me, who moved to a new city to accept a higher position job; I am literally starting from scratch with my social life.

         

        Most of my colleagues are older married women. The few single women that are around my age all work under me, the company has nothing -that I know of- against management dating junior associates, but I just personally don’t want to venture down that path. Office romances can blow up quickly; and they are the perfect breeding ground for rumors and jealousy.

         

        My new high rise condo with a view, is gorgeous! But it is also leaves me with mostly old and young married neighbors. I know that I am sabotaging myself in a sense, because I am invited to hang out with many of the couples all the time, but I just hate being a fifth wheel -two married couples and me-  (-_-).

        1. Lee

          “Office romances can blow up quickly.”

          been down that road, lets say i will never do it again.

          I have changed cities 3 times in my adult life. what worked for me was finding group activities around my hobbies and volunteer work, things like kickball and coed flag football don’t require you to have any real athletic ability and most people are joining for the social aspect. Volunteer programs will skew heavily towards young women, which works good for you! 🙂

        2. Adrian

          Lee,

          A couple of posters on another post spoke of this, and it was revealed that group activities are just that, activities, not meetups for dating. Trying to date within the group can be like the work environment, making others uncomfortable.

           

          Plus there is fierce competition for the few single women there. The majority of the people there are couples or single men jumping on any new girl that enters the group.

           

          You did not find it this way when you were in group activities?

        3. lee

          no i did not but i mean can you only meet women in activities specifically designated as dating activites? i think not. true not everyone in any group activity is going to be single but you meet people you develop friendships with and get introduced to their circle of friends and associates. no it’s not a guarantee, i mean if you want to walk into a room full of eager single women and pick out the one you like and take her home it doesn’t work like that. it’s going to take some effort on your part to meet the women in your city. you won’t meet them sitting at home and since you said there aren’t that many young women where you live to begin with online dating s not going to be that helpful to you unless you don’t mind the long distance thing.

        4. Karmic Equation

          Hi Adrian,

          Joining a club or activity FOR the reason of finding someone to date will not be fruitful. You should join clubs and activities because you love those activities.

          However, you shouldn’t be shy about approaching (single) women you find attractive and striking up conversations with them about the activity.

          I met my exhusband through softball — and I wasn’t even playing. He was on the same team as a girlfriend of mine and I had to go to their game to give her something. Even though I was dressed for work (nice blouse, hose, and heels), when the team decided to go out after the game for food and drinks I went along. My exhusband and I didn’t speak a word to each other that night, but we def noticed each other and my friend played matchmaker a week or so later. Another boyfriend I met while karaokeing. He was the nephew of one of my karaoke friends and was just there for a night out with his uncle. My current bf chatted me up from noticing me in pool league. I didn’t join my pool league to meet men. I simply love pool.

          Don’t think about your talking to these women as “approaching” them or that you have to have a great line. The great thing about doing an activity you enjoy is that presumably that is something you can talk about to anyone else, man or woman. And in this context just talk to her as if she were just another afficionado of the activity. You should be able to read her body language and go from there.

          If the cute girl was a dude you thought you could be friends with, would you angst about talking to him?

          Here’s my tip to treat men and women as equals. I don’t go about thinking of women or my women friends as people with women parts. They’re just people. I do the same with men. Until a man makes his interest known to me (for me he would be approaching) — I just think of him as an androgynous human being. He’s just an asexual friend/acquaintance.

          Once the approach is made, THEN I put him in another category, called “attractive” man or “not attractive” man. And act accordingly.

          If you apply this to yourself, don’t think of a woman as “female you’re interested in” until you’ve had a few conversations with her and she’s indicated she’s interested in you.

          This way, you won’t psych yourself up or out. Worse comes to worst, you might make a new friend who’ll play matchmaker for you someday…or at least friendly enough with you to invite to parties she may host, etc. Networking is not just for professional development. One should network for dating as well.

  6. 6
    Rebecca

    I definitely don’t share the moral view of marriage – that made me bristle, as if marriage is a trial to show I’m a good person.  I’m not much of a romantic, although I certainly wouldn’t seek out a long-term relationship with a man who didn’t give me something like butterflies in the short term.  So I guess that leaves me with the psychological view, although I don’t think I’m that cooly rational about relationships either.

    I’ve always dated men who were my friends first; who treated me so well that I was inspired to try to be as good to them (the start of a virtuous cycle); and I like the idea of having the back of someone who has my back, so I guess there is some of that moral view of marriage as a social good.

  7. 7
    MichelleC

    I agreed with the 3 positions/views on marriage and genuinely hope to re-marry someday when it is right. It seems that the 3 views of marriage in the article can also be applied to the people’s behavior WITHIN a relationship, especially the Romantic and Moral views but even the Psychological view too.  Aren’t they interconnected? My last BF was emotionally unstable, prone to quick anger, very cold and unromantic emotionally, and morally a very big mess!  So the question begs to be asked.. How intertwined are these views of the institutional views of marriage? The person you marry directly affects your views. Boy, will I be careful now.

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