2016 was a big year for news, dominated by the US Presidential campaign. So guess what the top read New York Times article was for the whole year? It was an essay by Alain de Botton titled “Why you will marry the wrong person.”
The title, and article, is meant as an insight that frees us, rather than dooms us, in marriage. I’m presently doing pre-marriage counseling for two couples, and this article is a newer part of their homework. De Botton writes:
“For most of recorded history, people married for logical sorts of reasons: because her parcel of land adjoined yours, his family had a flourishing business, her father was the magistrate in town, there was a castle to keep up, or both sets of parents subscribed to the same interpretation of a holy text. And from such reasonable marriages, there flowed loneliness, infidelity, abuse, hardness of heart and screams heard through the nursery doors. The marriage of reason was not, in hindsight, reasonable at all; it was often expedient, narrow-minded, snobbish and exploitative. That is why what has replaced it — the marriage of feeling — has largely been spared the need to account for itself.”
So de Botton gives some suggestions for how that accounting might happen:
“We seem normal only to those who don’t know us very well. In a wiser, more self-aware society than our own, a standard question on any early dinner date would be: ‘And how are you crazy?’”
“The person who is best suited to us is not the person who shares our every taste (he or she doesn’t exist), but the person who can negotiate differences in taste intelligently — the person who is good at disagreement. Rather than some notional idea of perfect complementarity, it is the capacity to tolerate differences with generosity that is the true marker of the “not overly wrong” person. Compatibility is an achievement of love; it must not be its precondition.”
As I look over the CMC June birthdays and anniversaries, this is one of those months dominated by anniversaries. Abbie I will celebrate 16 years on the 16th. It’s sweet. We’re more aware than ever how we each of us are crazy, and we’re in it together.
The points of this article ring true for me. It’s a small consolation to know America got a larger dose of this wisdom than that of any other Times article last year.
Alain de Botton was also interviewed in February by Krista Tippet for the On Being podcast: “The true hard work of love and relationships.”