The Case Against Marriage (very long!)

A Book in Progress by Glenn Campbell

Chapter 1

You’re probably not going to listen to me, but I’m going to give it a shot anyway. You’ve been considering marriage, and I am here to dissuade you. I’m not against love, mind you, or even against bonding for life if that’s the way things turn out. It is only the public contract I object to. Why does a private relationship need a public sanction? Why can’t you negotiate your relationship on your own, as it unfolds, just between the two of you, without the social or governmental license?

Instead of enhancing your relationship, marriage might screw it up permanently, replacing true attraction with a dull institution. At the least, it reduces your flexibility, making it harder to respond to inevitable changes in yourself and your partner.

There are plenty of married people out there, and I’m not saying they should get unmarried. We all have to make the best of our current circumstances. I only want to address you, the naïve young dilettante, while there is still a chance to save you.

Let’s think this thing through together, shall we? What does marriage really mean, and what are its practical effects? Is it really going to help your relationship or hurt it? What are the legal, social, economic and psychological ramifications of walking down the aisle? Why do people think they need marriage, and how are they deluded?

Gays and lesbians are always crying because they can’t get married in most jurisdictions. I say they should count their blessings! It is like women fighting for the right to join the military and go to war. Before you make a big deal about it, you ought to think things through: “Do I really want to go to war?” Why should gays fight to join the same prison everyone else is trapped in?

Gay relationships, in fact, may be leading the way to an enlightened future that heteros ought to embrace. Think about it: Gays can’t get married, so what do they do? They piece together the elements of marriage á la carte, as it suits their needs. If they want to share death benefits, that make up wills. If they want to share a bank account, they open one together. They don’t try to share everything all at once from this day forth, which, legally, is what marriage makes you do. Gays have to negotiate every act of sharing on a case-by-case basis, which is the essence of a healthy and dynamic relationship. In the absence of specific negotiated sharing, they remain free and independent individuals.

I know something about marriage from having been through it once. I also see the tail end of the institution as an unofficial observer of Family Court in Las Vegas. Las Vegas, of course, is the marriage capital of the world, but you learn far more about the institution by studying divorces as they pass through court. There is a Yin and Yang between marriage and divorce. Campbell’s First Law says that the nastiness of the divorce is proportional to the unreality of the initial delusion. Divorce is the paying of the piper after an overdose of fantasy.

During divorce, there is plenty of blame floating around, but in the end, you have to acknowledge that it was your own damn fault. You were the one who bought into this fantasy. Before you got married, you believed the fairytale nonsense, that this was really going to change your relationship for the better and make it more “secure”. The trouble with security is that it often works both ways: In trying to lock out the uncertainties of the world, you may be locking yourself in a cage that reduces your own freedom. Because you can no longer easily step away, you may have lost much of your ability to negotiate with your cellmate. Instead, you make accommodations and more accommodations and sweep problems under the carpet until-Kaboom!-things finally blow up.

People are fundamentally independent entities. The urge to merge with someone else can be huge, but there is a practical limit to how far you can go. If you get too close to anyone for too long, there are bound to be problems. It is like being handcuffed to the one you love: After the novelty wears off, it is going to be a pain in the ass to get anything done. The person you are trapped with is bound to fray on your nerves. Once you have already shared everything you can share, you hunger for new experiences as an independent being so you can maybe come back later and share again.

The healthiest base position is one of discrete individuality. We should each be self-contained entities with our own careers, assets, goals and relationships. We should come together with others only as it suits us, negotiating each engagement on its own merits. Over time, we might share more of ourselves, and this is fine, as long as it happens naturally. You never have to take any “Big Step” to make a relationship work. Instead, a lot of little steps could conceivably lead you to the same result. If you move slowly and incrementally, what you will probably have in the end is a more solid and stable relationship, because everything was carefully built stone by stone to suit your needs, not purchased as a prefabricated unit.

The institution of marriage replaces an independently constructed relationship with a single social contract that attempts to compact years of development into a single sentence: “I do.” It is like buying your diploma from a mail order company rather than actually going to college. It is a waving of the magic wand that is supposed to build everything all at once. You stand up before all your family and friends and say, “This is all I am ever going to want for the rest of my life.” Do you think that by saying this you are really going to make it happen?

If it does happen-you remain attached to each other for life-how do you know it was really a free choice? Did you stay together because it was truly the best arrangement, or was it because you were imprisoned together and escape was too painful? If you are married, you are never really going to know.

In this book, we will explore marriage and relationships and sexual attraction and law and contracts and loneliness and fear. What are people afraid of when they get married? No institution can be all positive; there have to be demons under the surface, and we will try our best to dig them up.Welcome to the Community

Chapter 2 – Welcome To The Community

What is marriage?

This may seem like a complicated question. There are many dimensions to it: emotional, sexual, religious, cultural, financial. If you ask a hundred people on the street what marriage is, you are probably going to get a hundred different answers.

However, if you ask a hundred lawyers the same question, you are more likely to get a consensus. Under the law, marriage is quite simple: It is an economic contract to share future income and liabilities. You can layer on top of it whatever emotional meaning you want, but what the law sees primarily is a merging of your economic activity.

Under the law, marriage creates a new economic entity called “the community.” It is like a big common pot that both of you are contributing to and taking from. The exact legal mechanism differs by state and country, but getting married anywhere implies that you are going to share your money and property.

In “community property” states like Nevada, the distribution is very simple and brutally rational. Unless you have an explicit written agreement otherwise, everything you and your spouse earn “from this day forth” is going into the community pot, regardless of whose name it is in. Everything bought with this money is community property that you jointly own, even if it can only be realistically used by one party or the other. Conversely, any new debt incurred by one member of the community is automatically borne in equal proportion by the other.

You may think you still have your own checking account, your own credit cards, your own clothing and your own possessions, but under the law, this separate ownership is fiction. The only things you still own by yourself are those you acquired before the wedding. Everything else, technically, belongs to the community.

In “common law” states, things work a little differently. In that case, a married partner can “own” a piece of property by themselves, but their spouse is still entitled to a slice of it at the time of the divorce.

At the time of your marriage, you may think of “the community” as something benign and protective, but it can easily turn into a monster. Instead of being financially responsible only for yourself, you are now responsible for a person who you may have only limited control over. Yes, you can benefit from their good fortune, but you can also face enormous losses from their misfortune that may last long after they are gone.

Financially, marriage can be seen as erasing a firewall of protection between the two of you. Any disease that is contracted by one is automatically contracted by the other. If you remained unmarried and simply shared whatever you wanted, you would incur no such downside risk. You don’t have to be married to someone to help support them; you just do it. All marriage adds is the obligation to support them and to help dig them out of any bad financial decisions they make themselves.

You may not fully realize the full significance of the community until the time of your divorce. Once the community has been created, the law has little interest in who contributes what. If you work hard for ten years while your partner sits on his/her duff eating bonbons, they are still entitled (in a community property state) to half of every asset you have earned. Furthermore, through a special feature called “alimony,” you may be required to pay them a continuing stipend for any discrepancy in your incomes.

In a worst case scenario, let’s say you get married and go to Las Vegas for your honeymoon (evidently because you lack imagination). The day following your wedding night, your spouse goes on a gambling and buying spree and maxes out his own credit cards. Unfortunately, his debt is now your debt, and at the time of your eventual divorce, the outstanding debt is going to be split 50-50, regardless of who was responsible.

As another example, imagine your spouse gets cancer, exceeds the limits of your health insurance coverage and starts racking up enormous hospital bills. You are responsible for those bills even if your spouse dies, whereas you would have no liability if you had only lived with them and never married.

At the wedding ceremony, everybody talks about all the good things you are going to share. No one talks about the bad things. On the upside, if your spouse gets rich, so do you. On the downside, if your spouse gets sued, you are automatically the codefendant, and the potential liability is as unlimited as the potential reward.

The legal concept of shared property was created for good reason. Once upon a time, the primary purpose of marriage was the raising of children. Sex was prohibited outside of marriage because it inevitably produced children, who needed to be raised in a stable and socially sanctioned environment. Marriage was the joining of a man and a woman into a single child-rearing unit. The woman stayed at home to manage the hearth, while the man went out into the woods and brought home dinner.

Even though she didn’t actually do the hunting, the woman was entitled to a share of everything her husband brought home. This was only fair. It was the woman and her children who were the most vulnerable. If a wife struggled to maintain her husband’s home for many years, and then the husband struck it rich, the husband couldn’t just say, “See ya later!” The husband’s good fortune was automatically the wife’s.

Our current marriage and divorce laws have arisen from this medieval background, even if the social conditions have changed. The wide availability of contraception in the late 20th Century totally rewrote the rules of the marriage game. People today don’t necessarily get married because they expect to have children; instead, they are seeking some sort of emotional satisfaction.

Whereas procreation used to be a sure thing in most marriages, emotional satisfaction is much more unreliable and difficult to define. While children are going to stick around for years, emotional satisfaction can evaporate in an instant. When it happens, divorce is expected, and you face the messy problem of dividing up that community pot.

Once upon a time, people bonded for life. This notion may sound romantic at first, as though this kind of loyalty was a lost art. Then you realize that “life” in the supposedly romantic old days was usually very short and that most people were too busy surviving to think about emotional concerns. If your expected lifespan was 40 years and you saw death all around you, then you had to procreate fast. There may or may not have been period of courtship before the ceremony, but it was naive and syrupy romance undiluted by the real experience of, say, living with someone. After the marriage, the courtship was over, and there wasn’t much time for emotion thereafter.

Most people these days are “serial bonders.” As the human lifespan increases and the generation of pre-contraception babies passes on, it is increasingly difficult to find anyone who is truly “bonded for life.” Instead, people bond for a few years (perhaps believing they have bonded for life) but eventually fall out of it. This isn’t so unreasonable when people are living 80+ years instead of 40. People can grow and change, and the relationship that was right in one phase of your life may not be best for the next.

In the 21st Century, marriage still persists in its medieval form but with one very important change: It has been almost entirely separated from sex and procreation. These days (in most countries) you can engage in fornication with impunity, no license required, and you can live with your partner without anyone’s permission. You no longer have to wait for your wedding night to enjoy the forbidden fruit of sex. Now, that fruit is available á la carte (although it may have gone rotten from overexposure). Modern marriage, under the law, grants you no special sexual privileges.

Contrary to popular belief, modern marriage is not a parenting contract. The real parenting contract, as far as most courts are concerned, is the child’s birth certificate. Regardless of whether the parents are married, it is the birth certificate that determines who has parental rights and who is jointly responsible the child’s well-being. If child custody is reassigned at the time of divorce, this is mainly a matter of convenience: When the economic relationship has collapsed, it is assumed that the parenting relationship also has.

However you may define marriage, most of its long-term power derives from the simple sharing of assets and liabilities. Presumably, you are willing to share your finances because you trust this person and expect to live with them forever. Once you start down this road, disentangling the arrangement becomes more and more messy, and this exerts its own emotional pressure on the relationship. Strictly from a logistical standpoint, divorce is many times more difficult than, say, preparing your taxes or catering the original wedding. Your natural fear of this massive undertaking may be enough to convince you that the relationship is working even if it isn’t.

Since the main purpose of marriage is no longer the raising of children but the seeking of something emotional, the big question is whether creating the community pot really increases the likelihood that your emotional goals will be achieved.
Chapter 3: Sex and Intimacy

All of us are sexual creatures. It is programmed into us by our genes. Sex is obviously needed for procreation, but humans exhibit far more lust than can be explained by conception alone. Sex is also a bonding mechanism. It is part of the emotional “glue” that holds couples together during the long commitment required to raise a child to adulthood.

Sex may make sense from an evolutionary standpoint, but from the viewpoint of an adolescent just discovering it, it can seem quite bizarre and disturbing. If you analyse it too deeply, sex is Loony Tunes. It makes no rational sense for men to drool over Playboy models merely because of their bulbous shape or for women to lust after… whatever it is women lust after. (You tell me.) Your sex drive is often going to be in conflict with the thinking part of your brain-that is, if your brain actually has a thinking part. Some people seem quite content following their animal instincts and plunging the depths of whatever hottie comes along. If you possess some intelligence, however, things are much more complicated.

If you have a brain, then you have to recognize that obeying your feelings alone can often lead to some very unhappy results. Your animal drives have to be moderated and disciplined by intelligence. Nonetheless, the sex drive is there and can’t be totally ignored. You can think of it as the grease that can help get an intimate relationship started.

Children are essentially asexual until puberty, when a seemingly alien mechanism kicks in: They begin to be drawn lasciviously to the opposite gender (or maybe to the same gender, but let’s not complicate things). These sensations are visceral, not rational. Boys don’t make a logical decision that they like breasts and want to touch them. For that matter, girls don’t have any choice about growing breasts or being drawn to guys. The whole change is a frightening Frankenstein experiment-with you being the monster.

Just because you are drawn to the opposite sex doesn’t mean you know what to do with them. It may take adolescents a few years to connect the inexplicable feelings inside them to a desire for sexual intercourse. (They can be attracted to the opposite sex even when they still think sex itself is gross.) But even when they understand that sexual attraction draws them toward the sexual act, intercourse itself doesn’t really provide any resolution. After you finally have sex, then what do you do?

Sexual attraction can be very cruel that way: It starts you going along a certain path but then gives you no further instructions. Once the attraction is triggered, people don’t just want coitus. They have complex emotional expectations for the relationship that are mostly asexual and may or may not be realistically fulfillable.

In a sense, sex is a smokescreen. It is a catalyst that may start a relationship going, but sex alone won’t provide any lasting satisfaction, and it doesn’t explain what people are really seeking.

What do people really want from romantic relationships? They are looking for self-worth, purpose and relief from their loneliness. These goals have nothing to do with sex. They are “existential” problems-meaning that they arise as a natural product of our existence on earth.

Life, by its nature, is lonely and confusing. We appear on this planet in bodies that are alien to us, living with a family we did not choose, having been given no instruction manual or pre-mission briefing. As we outgrow our family, we find ourselves to be alone and insignificant in a world that doesn’t really care about us, at least like we thought our parents did when we were very young.

With a romantic relationship, we hope to fill up this void. We dream of someone who loves us unconditionally the way our parents did. We want a trusted confidante with whom we can share our innermost thoughts and feelings. We want someone who will take care of us when we are ill and protect us from danger. We want them to praise us and maybe even worship us, but we also want them to give us direction and tell us what to do.

There may not be any person on earth who can provide all these services, and we may not be secure enough in ourselves to accept this person even if they walked in the door. Whether our dreams are achievable does not prevent us from having those fantasies whenever we pass a hottie on the street. The monkey part of our brain says, “Mmmmm, me want sex!” but then the higher part kicks in and wants to know whether they will fill all the other empty holes within us.

No relationship can fill up all the empty holes, but as long as we don’t expect it to, a romantic engagement may still be worthwhile. Even if the existential problems are our own to solve, there is still value in intimacy.

Intimacy is an intuitive channel of communication between two people who know each other very well. Instead of needing twenty words to say something, you can do it in only two, or maybe with no words at all. Intimacy involves having a shared language and a body of common experience that allow you to convey more subtle meanings than you can share with anyone else.

Intimacy is valuable because it gives you another set of eyes, ears and mental judgments. It’s like having a second brain. Whenever you go off track, your intimate partner can presumably tell you this. Intimacy is never perfect, and there will always be some gaps in the communication, but it can relieve at least some of your loneliness by giving you someone to talk to about your problems.

Intimacy is inherently non-sexual, but sex can be used to get it started. There can be huge natural barriers between individuals, and sex is often the only mechanism that can overcome them. Sex at least creates physical intimacy. Emotional and intellectual intimacy may flow from it, but only if the parties are mature enough to handle it.

Once intimacy is achieved, it is a precious treasure that needs to be protected. True intimacy is very fragile and can be lost very easily. After a while, you may find yourself going through the empty motions of intimacy without actually exchanging any information.

If intimacy is the most valuable element of a relationship, then shouldn’t this be what we are focussing on? Over time, sex becomes inconsequential, as does the image of the relationship we project to others. All that really matters is how well you and your partner are communicating.

The question, then, is whether marriage is likely to enhance this communication or damage it.

Chapter 4: Commitment and Negotiation


It is a word you hear a lot at weddings and from people who are about to wed. They say, “I am getting married to express my commitment to my partner.” Commitment, in this context, is supposed to mean dedication or loyalty.

The word has other meanings however. If you “commit” a crime you may be “committed” to prison. Once you are in prison, however, you wouldn’t say that you were “committed” to your cellmate. It isn’t loyalty or dedication that keeps you together. A more accurate description is that you are “imprisoned” together.

Commitment, in the sense of voluntary loyalty, is certainly an essential part of life. The question is whether commitment can be nailed down forever in a public ceremony. It is like capturing a butterfly and pinning it in a case. In the process of trying to preserve it, you are also killing it. Can commitment-the voluntary kind-really be pinned down forever without turning it into imprisonment?

The betrothed may tell you, “I know marriage won’t always easy. There could be problems from time to time, but I am committed to resolving them. There is no reward without sacrifice.”

Yes, there will be problems, because you will have merged your finances and created a cell for yourselves, and sooner or later most cellmates are going to be at each other’s throats. Yes, you will probably “resolve” any problems between you because you don’t have much choice. They won’t necessarily be healthy resolutions, however; perhaps you’ll just be sweeping problems under the carpet to be dealt with later.

If you are trapped in a cell with someone full-time, you are tempted to solve problems with temporary, superficial fixes rather than any deep surgery. If your cellmate has sensitivities, you are going to learn to tiptoe around them, because you know the penalty for saying the wrong thing. When you are trapped in cage with a tiger, you don’t think much about the long-term health of the relationship; you only want to avoid being eaten right now.

Your motivation would seem purer if you had your own house and your friend had theirs and every day, through no formal obligation, you went over to see your friend. Then you could truthfully say that you were “committed” to them. If the two of you had a fight, you could withdraw to your respective homes and not see each other for a while. If you both found you missed each other and that there was still value in the relationship, you would probably be drawn back together-provided you could resolve the problem that pushed apart.

People who get married assume that love and positive reinforcement can solve every problem. The fact is, they can’t. In every long-term relationship, problems will inevitably arise where the only effective solution is withdrawal.

Let’s say your partner is drinking too much, to the point where you feel it is interfering in your relationship. Or maybe the problem is not something bad or destructive, just some aspect of your partner’s behavior that diminishes your interest in them. If you are free to withdraw, then you will. You try to make it clear to them what the issue is, then you pull back to your own independent life.

Maybe this will be a permanent withdrawal or only a temporary one. At the time you pull back, you might not know. All you know is that the behavior has to change for the relationship to be comfortable to you and that talk alone hasn’t helped. Even if you think the withdrawal will be temporary, you need to have the permanent option in your arsenal. Then you are in a strong negotiating position.

I regret to inform you: Love can be war sometimes. No matter how much you may be attracted your partner in the beginning, the ultimate success of the relationship will probably be determined by how well you fight. It may be all milk and honey at first, but sooner or later, your partner is going to head in some direction you object to. Either you are going to renegotiate or the relationship has to end.

If you are trapped in a cell with someone, then you are in a very weak negotiating position. You can say, “If you don’t stop drinking, I’m leaving you,” but things have to get really bad before you are likely to follow through on the threat. If you’ve already merged your finances and loudly declared your relationship to the world, then no withdrawal can be graceful.

Instead you make “accommodations.” You start making excuses for your partner’s behavior instead of setting boundaries on what you will accept.

Negotiation is what a long-term relationship is all about. Eventually, you will want certain things while your partner wants different things. You negotiate and hopefully come to some sort of workable compromise.

To be able to negotiate, you have to retain some independent power. It may be hard to think of love that way, especially when you are new to it. The fact is, a total merging is neither possible nor desirable. No matter how close you may become to someone, you ought to have one foot firmly planted outside the relationship, in an independent life where you don’t need them at all.

This independence is a source of power that can help you squeeze the concessions you want out of the one you love. If they are strong, too, then you will find an honorable middle ground. Healthy love is form of ongoing conflict, hopefully more of a chess game than open warfare. The important thing is to play by the rules.

Think about the court system. When people go to court, they are fighting over something. The court system works because there is a standardized system for resolving these conflicts. The court is a “conflict resolution system,” and the healthy functioning of society depends on how well this system works.

If your marriage falls apart, you might find yourself in the public court system, but every relationship should have its own “conflict resolution system” in private. When you have a conflict with your partner, what is the proper process you should go through to fix it? When you are fighting, all you are usually thinking about is the current bone of contention. What is more important, however, is the manner in which you fight.

The most powerful tool of negotiation is withdrawal. To be able to negotiate on substantial issues, you need to have the ability to pull back, away from the relationship, even if you don’t actually do it. If the person you are negotiating with knows you are trapped, you might not get much change out of them. If they know you are free to move and perhaps take away something they want, then they will probably be more responsive.

We like to think of relationships as involving only love, but relationships also involve power. No matter how tender you are with each other, there is a power struggle going on behind the scenes. You are constantly pushing and pulling at each other. Sometimes, you can verbalize what you want and solve a problem with words alone, and sometimes you can’t. If you have weapons at your disposal, sometimes you have to actually use them, not just threaten to.

Divorce is a nuclear weapon: It is withdrawal without any hope of recovery. Unfortunately, it is difficult to negotiate with only nuclear weapons behind you, since the only possible outcome is total annihilation. It is easier to negotiate with small arms-you know: bombs, guns, hand grenades, knives. In love, the weapons can be relatively gentle, as in, “Sorry, I don’t want to do that, so I am not going along.”

If I have my independent life and you have yours, and I decide not to see you for a few days, it’s no big deal. Maybe I am sending you a message about something I want to change, but I’m not saying that the relationship is over. It’s just that we come together when we have things in common and pull apart when we don’t. If we are important to each other and truly “committed” to each other, then we will always be drawn back.

Things are different if the two of us have merged our practical lives to the point where casual withdrawal is impossible. If you are married, and your spouse takes off for a few days, it’s a big deal. You’ll want to know where they’ve gone and what they’ve done. Feelings may be hurt and jealousies may arise. Any withdrawal in this case seems like a loss of commitment. What about those vows you made on your wedding day? Joined at the hip ’til death do you part.

No one stands up before all their family and friends and says, “I pledge to stay with this person whenever it is convenient and for only as long as the relationship is really working.” That’s probably the healthier position, but it’s not the way marriage is supposed to work. Marriage means you are living permanently with someone “for better or worse,” even when you aren’t getting along with them. Any withdrawal is going to be seen by the world as a failure of the marriage.

If you hadn’t made this loud declaration in front of family and friends, then occasional withdrawal wouldn’t seem like a big thing. It would just be part of the natural ebb and flow of the relationship.

Chapter 5: Pair Bonding

“Bonding” is the process by which humans become emotionally attached to one another. It is like tying two people together with an invisible rope. When you are bonded to someone, you are always drawn back to them, whether or not the relationship is healthy for you.

Two kinds of bonding are critical to the survival of our species: the bond between child and parent and that between the man and woman in a child-rearing unit. A toddler won’t wander very far from his parents; he may explore for a few minutes on his own, but then he looks around with alarm. “Where’s Mom?” he says, and he runs back to her. Likewise, a man who goes out into the world to hunt for food for his mate is drawn to return to her and not just take off. (There may be some delays and diversions, but he will be back, eventually, with a damn good excuse for why he was late.)

If you are bonded to someone and are separated from them for a while, you start getting anxious. Toddlers cry for their parents, and adults start calling on their mobile phones just to hear the voice of their partner. Both want to assure themselves that their relationship is still secure.

Bonding can work in one direction or two: The person you are bonded to can be equally attached to you or might not even know you exist. A teenager can become bonded to a heartthrob movie star who definitely can’t return the sentiment, but the bond is still real to the teen. When a bond exists in only one direction, we could call it “unrequited love.”

Bonding is a physiological and neurological imprinting process involving a primitive and unconscious part of the brain. The thinking part doesn’t have a lot to do with it. An infant is going to become bonded to whomever is taking care of him. He doesn’t stop to think, “Is this the best parent for me?” Likewise, if you put a man and a woman on a desert island together, they are probably going to fall in love and become emotionally attached to each other.

The lesson here is that you got to be careful which desert island you let yourself be shipwrecked on. You also have to be prepared to leave a desert island if it isn’t good for you-or more importantly, good for humanity as a whole.

The existence of a neurological bond between two people doesn’t mean that the relationship is healthy. Sometimes it can be more like an addiction. People can be bonded to each other who have nothing in common and who even hate each other. This is why some former romantic partners turn violent. All functional aspects of the relationship may have collapsed, but the primitive attachment can still be engraved in the recesses of the brain. Instead of phoning to say how much they love the other person, the frustrated party can call to issue threats and to try to engage the other in a fight. This, too, is an expression of bonding.

In the animal kingdom, humans are “pair bonded” creatures. The natural order of things seems to be one man bonding with one woman for long periods. True, homosexuals can also bond, but even there, pair bonding seems to be desired outcome. It is extremely rare to find someone who doesn’t care to bond at all. There are plenty of single adults in the world, but most of them remain single mainly because the circumstances for bonding haven’t been right, not because of a lack of private desire.

Statistically, most humans end up pair-bonded sooner or later. If this is the lifestyle that people naturally gravitate toward, there is no reason to fight it. The problem is finding the right person to bond with, one who enhances ones potential rather than drawing it down.

Once the bond has been formed, the problem is how to make the relationship work in a complex social environment. This is something that is not coded in the genes and doesn’t necessarily come naturally.

In ancient marriage systems, still practiced in some parts of the world, who bonds with whom is considered far too important a decision to be left to the parties themselves. After puberty, boys and girls are kept strictly segregated, and the elders alone determined who would be placed on a desert island together.

Victims of arranged marriages may bond just as surely as those who marry for “love.” In fact, choosing your own spouse may be no better a predictor of long-term success. Proponents of arranged marriages in modern India point out that their rate of divorce is much lower than in the Western world. In both cases, the marriage can turn dour and loveless with time. The difference in our culture is probably a greater willingness to jump ship.

In Western culture, we are hooked into the notion of romance as an avenue of personal enhancement, not necessarily procreation. If producing children is your only goal, then any almost partner will do, as long as they bring home the bacon. If you are looking for some kind of vague personal satisfaction, then your standards are much higher-maybe impossibility high.

Pair bonding is a neurological “latching-on” to the other person. The formation of this bond sometimes goes by the colloquial term of “falling in love.” Bond formation can be joyous experience!. Everything about your partner becomes magical: their look, their smell, the color of their eyes. Everything they do seems just so very fascinating. It feels, for a while, like there is no one else in the universe and that you were somehow “made for each other.” People who have to watch this gooey lovefest from the outside may feel a little queasy, but to you it is the most wonderful feeling in the world.

The dreamy unreality of falling in love is really just the brain rearranging itself to absorb this new image of “Mom.” After a while, the fog lifts; objects become solid again, and you have reached your destination. Bonded. Now what do you do?

Sex becomes irrelevant after a while. Eventually, it is more like a routine maintenance activity than meaningful communication. Sexual attraction is replaced by a non-sexual bond closer to that between parent and child. Even if you married the perfect sexual specimen, you stop seeing their body; it becomes no more special to you than your own. Instead, you become preoccupied with the routine problems of living. After it stabilizes, the bond itself is taken for granted. A new family is formed, and the two of you are less like lovers and more like a couple of siblings who have been sharing the same bedroom since as long as you can remember.

This is when the real trials emerge. During the courtship, sexual attraction and your own desperate emotional needs lead you to gloss over the differences and inconsistencies between the two of you. “Sure, he’s a serial killer,” you said, “but I can work with that.” As the sensual attraction wanes, those practical problems, previously swept under the carpet, reemerge with a vengeance and have to be dealt with. It’s a huge challenge. You thought that falling in love was going to solve all of your problems; instead, it just rearranged them.

Withdrawing from a bonded relationship can be very difficult. Is is similar to trying to quit an addiction. Even if you have made the decision that the relationship isn’t working, your partner might not have. Webs of dependency have developed, and egos are on the line, so it may not be possible to pull away gracefully.

It is going to be many times more difficult if your finances have been merged and you have made a vow to stay with this person “forever.” Aren’t you a person of your word? How can you go back on it?

As the songs say, “Breaking up is hard to do.” In popular culture, when someone is “dumped” by their girlfriend or boyfriend, it is an emblem of loserhood. It could be the worst part of your week. The damage, however, is only to your ego, and you will probably recover.

Divorce, however, can be absolutely devastating. It’s not just a ego problem or a de-bonding problem but a vast strategic and financial challenge as well. Aren’t the dilemmas of bonding difficult enough without adding additional layers?

Chapter 6: Freedom

People claim to love freedom. They may even say they are willing to die for it. Once they actually have it in their hands, however, most people are likely to waste it and try their best to make it go away.

What is freedom? It is the ability to adapt to unexpected circumstances. If you are driving down the highway and see an interesting side road, freedom is the ability to explore that road and even make it your main route if it turns out to be beneficial.

An absence of freedom is when you are locked into the highway you originally chose and have no option to deviate from it. Regardless of any opportunities or roadblocks you encounter, you are condemned to continue straight ahead.

People sent to prison have relatively little freedom. They have to do what their jailers tell them to do, on the jailers’ schedule not theirs. People not in prison but who are deeply in debt may have more freedom, but they are still condemned to go to work every morning, perhaps at a job they don’t like. Relatively speaking, the people who have the most freedom are those who aren’t in jail and who have enough money in the bank that they don’t have to go to work. They can do whatever suits them and don’t have to take orders from anyone.

Freedom is a limited commodity. Each of us born with only a finite reserve of it. Our freedom is limited to the waking hours we have left on Earth. During some of those future hours, we will not be free; we will be forced to support someone else’s goals and follow roads that may not be the best for us. Only after our contractual obligations our fulfilled can we explore those interesting side roads.

From time to time we have to sell some of our freedom to get other things we want. If you have no money, no food and no place to stay, you might eventually be driven to get a “job.” A job is where you exchange some of your freedom for money. For a period of time, you pursue someone else’s goals according to their instructions. In exchange, you are paid money, which you can then use to buy what you want.

Freedom is traded for other things in various kinds of contracts. For example, when you get a job, you are entering into an agreement to show up at a specified time and perform a certain task. By its nature, every contract takes away some of your freedom during the time it is in force. In return, you get some sort of compensation, which may or may not be worth the amount of freedom you paid.

When selling your freedom, you have to be smart, like any other consumer or business person. While spending some of your freedom may be necessary, you don’t want to pay too much for the product you are getting. Just like saving money, you want to preserve as much of your future freedom as possible. You shouldn’t commit to, say, a five-year contract when you can achieve the same goals with a six-month contract.

Why should you preserve your freedom? Because you never know exactly what the future will bring. If you get a job delivering telephone books and a better opportunity comes along, you want to be able to take it. Even if you don’t know what the opportunities will be, you obviously don’t want to commit yourself to one project too far into the future.

Likewise, there are always unpredictable dangers and disasters ahead. A business that seems lucrative now may not be so in a couple of years due to changing markets. You want to be able to shift focus and change strategies based on what really happens and not be locked into what you predicted a few years ago.

What would you think of somebody who signed a lifetime contract? Wouldn’t that be foolish? If a minimum-term contract is usually the best business practice, why do people sometimes choose the maximum term? The answer has something to do with freedom itself.

Freedom is scary.

Probably the only thing as frightening as having no choice at all is having too much. If there is only one highway, then you have to take it and there is not much point in worrying, but if you come to a crossroads where there are a dozen possible routes to take, the decision can be quite stressful. The situation is especially disturbing if the whole course of your future seems to hinge on this choice.

Young people start off in the world with essentially unlimited choice. They can become anybody and do anything; all they have to do is choose. They don’t see this as an advantage, however; it can actually be quite painful. “Who am I?” they ask. “What am I going to be?” To have these questions hanging over you can seem like a prison in itself.

It isn’t just you asking yourself these questions. Your family and friends also want to know. “So what are you going to do after you graduate?” From both inside and outside, you feel an enormous pressure to define yourself. Without a clearly defined role in life, you are drifting and empty. It is a very unpleasant kind of chaos, like floating alone in space. You are desperate for a quick identity, so you start shopping for one.

People who are just starting off in the adult world have a whole lifetime of freedom ready to be spent. They can make decisions now that may enhance or severely compromise their future options until the day they die. For example, if they choose to kill someone, that would greatly diminish their future freedom. If they continued their education, it might increase their options. Having a baby would certainly neutralize a sizeable hunk of their lifelong freedom. Whatever decision they make now, it is going to profoundly affect the rest of their lives.

Freedom is burning a hole in their pocket just as surely as if they had won the lottery. It is like giving someone a million dollars and saying, “This is all the money you are ever going to get.” Having all that freedom staring you in the face at once can be very uncomfortable, and a sort of panic can set in. The same thing often happens when people win a big jackpot or receive an inheritance. They don’t usually use the money wisely. There is a hidden emotional pressure to spend it quickly, just so the choice of how to spend it isn’t hanging over them all the time. Very soon, the inheritance is gone and freedom vanishes again.

When people bypass a short-term contract and instead sign a long-term one, they usually say they are “locking in” a good deal. Merchants are cagy about this when the sell consumers things like magazine subscriptions. Subscribing to American Widget is $22 a year, but if you ACT NOW, you can get two years for only $34 and three years for only $39.95. That’s a 40% savings off the one-year subscription price! Who wouldn’t want to lock in the savings?

The magazine is willing to offer this deal because it knows full well that most consumers lose interest in widgets within a year and don’t resubscribe. To the consumer, however, it seems like a great bargain. Right now, he is fascinated by widgets and he can’t imagine any circumstance where he wouldn’t be.

“Locking in” the savings has the added benefit of “locking out” freedom. The consumer is interested in widgets because they somehow give him identity. Without widgets, he would again be adrift and would have to come up with some new source of meaning. He is eager to purchase a long-term subscription in part to convince himself that his own interest is real and not ephemeral. Finding identity is hard enough; once you think you have it, you want to lock it in as quickly as possible before you change your mind.

True freedom carries with it great anxiety. With every choice, there is the burden of evaluating all the options and the knowledge that if you screw up it’s your own fault. It seems so much easier, sometimes, to turn your discretion over to some outside force that will make your decisions for you. If you join the military, for example, they’ll give you a spiffy uniform and a clear social identity, and they will make all your major decisions for you until the end of your enlistment.

Marriage is like that. It isn’t enough that you have found someone you are compatible with right now. You want to “lock in the savings” by signing a long-term contract. You want to deliberately place yourself on a desert island with them so you never again have to face loneliness or the burden of choosing.

Well, that’s a pretty long subscription, but at least you get some nice sign-up bonuses. There’s all those gifts you get at the wedding and of course that nifty ring on your finger that clearly tells the world, “This is who I am.”

Chapter 7: Boundaries

Once you start falling in love, the big question is, where do you stop?

No one wants to be lonely. It can be terrible to think no one cares about you, understands you or needs you. When the opportunity for love comes along, you may dive in. It can be a wonderful feeling to melt into the arms of another. Deeper and deeper you drift into their warm embrace, until you wake up in a panic….

“I can’t breathe!”

Inside each of us are two conflicting forces. One is the “urge to merge”-a desire to join with others, to love and be loved and to become part of a team. The opposing force is “differentiation”-the desire to be a valuable, powerful and independent person in your own right. If you go too far in either direction, you are going to be unhappy and won’t do much good for the world at large.

At one end of the spectrum is loneliness. Everyone knows what that is. Loneliness is when you have no one to talk to and no one seems to care about you. If loneliness causes panic and drives you to merge with someone else, you may eventually experience the other extreme of distress: engulfment.

Loneliness seems easy to understand. There are songs and poetry written about it. Engulfment is more complicated. It is when your own identity seems to be swallowed up by someone else’s. Engulfment is when you perceive that you have no control over your life, that your independent sense of worth has been lost and that your personal needs have been sacrificed to those of others.

If you join a religious cult, your identity and independent judgment are going to be subverted as the leader tells you what to do and think. You are made to understand that your own needs and perceptions are worthless and that only the group matters. If your own identity is very weak, you may accept this, but most of us are going to rebel. When we feel that someone is compromising our personal self-control, we are going to pull away. We don’t want to be engulfed.

The fear of engulfment is as terrifying in its own way as loneliness, and it can drive people to some extreme behavior, including hurting the people they love.

In every romantic relationship there is a hidden war between loneliness and engulfment. When you are feeling lonely, you are drawn to be closer to your partner. When you feel swallowed up by them, you are driven to push them away. Most of the petty fights between romantic partners are unconscious reactions to perceived engulfment. When you are feeling overwhelmed or compromised by your partner or feel you have lost too much control to them, then you are going to pick a fight or do something else to create some distance between you.

This constant push and pull can be gentle or very violent. Hopefully, you can say, “I need my space right now,” without your partner getting offended. Unfortunately, most people don’t have that level of self-awareness and emotional control, and their cycle will be more extreme and theatrical. There will be frequent fights over trivial issues interspersed by equally superficial “making ups.”

When volatile couples fight, they think they are fighting over whatever issue is in front of them. In fact, what really triggers the conflict is usually an emotional panic in one of the parties: “I can’t breath!” In other words, they feel that their identity is being drowned in the other.

When marriages turn to hell, it is usually when one partner is feeling engulfed but doesn’t have the means to regain their self-esteem or earn genuine identity. Instead, they falsify an identity by generating conflict. Conflict gives the relationship the illusion of substance when one partner in fact feels empty and lost in it.

The most volatile relationships tend to be those in which there is a gross imbalance of power. If one partner is much stronger in psychological or worldly terms, the weaker partner is going to feel engulfed and is likely to react with overt or covert aggression.

For example, imagine a rich and respected businessman who marries a young and beautiful “trophy wife” who has no real skills of her own. You would think that the wife would be grateful, being that she has been “rescued” by this white knight and has become just as rich as he without any effort. Turns out, they don’t usually live happily ever after. The wife, feeling empty and useless, creates a pseudo-identity for herself by giving her husband hell. Every private sensation of “I am worthless” gets translated into “You are worthless,” as she demands that her husband heal all the discomforts within her.

When white knights swoop down to rescue maidens in distress, the fairy tales lead us to believe that they will both life happily ever after. Fat chance! The flipside of every rescue is a loss of control by the person being saved, which often emerges later as an engulfment reaction. Pretty soon, it is the white knight who needs rescuing as the maiden badgers him over his perceived defects and demands that he fix every other problem within her.

In most cases, wise knights learn, the maiden must be allowed to rescue herself. Romantic relationships are successful, in the long term, only when power is relatively equal, when each person is responsible for their own problems and when a stable middle ground can be established between loneliness and engulfment.

For a healthy relationship, there have to be “boundaries”. These are the borders beyond which you do not attempt to merge. You can fall in love and lose yourself in another person, but only up to a point. Where is that point? At what boundary line have you spent too much time with the one you love and focused too much attention on them? You have to figure it out dynamically by experimentation and negotiation.

Your partner might solve a few of your problems, but most of life’s challenges are yours alone to solve. “Who am I?” you may ask. A relationship can’t really answer this question. You can’t just say, “I am the spouse of _______” and leave it at that. This is not an adequate identity that is going to give you any lasting satisfaction.

A relationship cannot and should not protect you from the cruel demands of the outside world. Seeking “protection” or “security” from a relationship is a flawed goal. If the other person seems willing to take care of you, you may feel protected for a while, but it is a false security. It may be a time bomb in the making. The fact is, no adult can adequately look after the needs of any other. To be truly satisfied with your life-and not be driven to torture your partner-you have to go out into the world mostly alone and make your own way.

Volatile relationships tend to swing violently from one passionate extreme to the other: First you are worshipping your partner, then you are reviling them. Stable relationships rely on more subtle adjustments: “I love you, but I need my space.” For a relationship to be healthy, there have to be some clear distinctions between my space, your space and our space. All of these boundaries need to be actively negotiated. They shouldn’t all be mixed together in the same pot.

ACT NOW to take advantage of this special limited-time offer. Operators are standing by.

Chapter 8: A Wedding Disorder

Something deeply ingrained in the human brain and genome draws men to pornography. Even on the flat printed page, seeing the naked female form or the crude sex act seems to trigger male pleasure circuits-almost as much, it seems, as real three-dimensional females and actual cooperative intercourse.

In the second half of the Twentieth Century, this pornographic urge fueled a huge publishing industry. Glossy mainstream magazines like Playboy portrayed the idealized female figure in seductive poses, while countless grittier and lessor-known publications briefed the male on female gynecology and the objects that could be inserted therein.

Attempts to develop similar pornography for woman never really took off. There was a magazine called Playgirl that depicted naked men in sensual poses, but this turned out to be of greater interest to gay males than it did to genetic females. Females don’t seem to respond as strongly to that kind of visual stimulus. That’s not to say that that they aren’t genetically programmed to respond to pornography or that a vast and useless industry can’t be built upon this urge. It’s just a different kind of pornography.

Video technology and the internet decimated the printed pornography industry, at least for men. Playboy, once a half-inch thick with lucrative advertizing, is now only a thin shadow of itself. Printed pornography for woman, however, is still as lucrative and shameless as ever. You see it in public places: Young woman drooling over their thick and glossy magazines, thinking selfish and erotic thoughts. These magazines don’t depict naked men. Instead they show beautiful women in idealized poses… dressed in wedding gowns!

The male himself is little more than an accessory in this process. His only duties are to show up at the ceremony, wear the tuxedo assigned to him and say “I do” when instructed. It is the bride, her female relatives and her girlfriends who get all hot and bothered about a wedding, usually for months and sometimes years preceding it. The male is dutifully “consulted” in the planning stages, but it is rarely more than a pro forma consultation. His primary duty is to say “Yes” and sign whatever piece of paper is stuck under his nose. There is little doubt who is in charge of this operation.

Weddings come in two kinds: fast and extravagant. Here in Las Vegas, we specialize in the fast variety. You meet someone special and feel, based on three weeks of experience, that this is the perfect match, so you run off to Vegas to tie the knot-quick, before you change your mind! The aim here is to escape the usual ponderous wedding machinery (and the usual safeguards) and just do it. Here in Las Vegas, we can get you married in under two hours, with a variety of available wedding packages that may include flowers, organ music, a video of the event and ministry by Elvis.

If you don’t take the Vegas route, then you are condemned to include all of your friends and relatives in the ceremony, and the event will quickly balloon into a massive monster with a life of its own. Especially if this is your first wedding, things can’t be done simply. For one thing, you don’t think it is your “first” wedding. You believe this will be your “only” wedding, so you think you need to pull out all the stops.

The wedding procedures are strictly programmed by perceived tradition and commercial marketing. Couples often try to deviate from these procedures to make their event seem unique, but they are still defined by the traditions. There will probably be bridesmaids and a best man, who will carry the ring. There will be wedding cake, which has to be eaten by the bride and groom in a certain way. The guests will have to be fed, usually at the expense of the couple and their families, and a photographer must be hired to record the event. The bride will throw her bouquet into a crowd of unmarried woman. At the end, the couple will drive off in a car with “Just Married” embarrassingly sprayed on the windows.

In practical terms, we’re talking about a huge expediture in both planning and money. Ten grand might get you by, but don’t count on it. A good rule of thumb is that an average wedding and honeymoon will absorb whatever money you have in the bank plus the current limit on your credit cards.

What is the purpose of a wedding? We already know that, under the law, marriage is little more than an economic contract to share future assets and liabilities. Nowadays, people can comfortably live together, buy property and raise children without marriage, so there isn’t anything you can do after the wedding that you couldn’t do before. How does a complicated wedding ceremony change anything? Why do people feel that they need the extravagant public event when a simple trip to the courthouse will do?

Intellectually, couples usually say that the wedding isn’t going to change their relationship. They love each other before the ceremony and will love each other no less and no more after it. So why do they need the ceremony at all? Obviously, people wouldn’t engage in such an expensive project if they didn’t expect it to change something. If it isn’t going to change the couple themselves, is it supposed to change their family and friends?

A wedding ceremony seems to be a form of advertizing. It is a loud announcement to the world that a change is happening: John and Sue, once single people, are now man and wife. What is accomplished by making this announcement? Maybe it is a declaration to your family and friends that you have finally “grown up.” It could be a sort of coming-of-age ceremony, where you claim to the world that the insecurities of childhood are over and you have finally arrived at solid, stable adulthood.

But the wedding ceremony could also have another purpose. It could be a sort of magical talisman that is supposed to give the relationship substance and certainty when you are feeling privately ambivalent about it.

The first President Bush-who turned out in retrospect to be the wise one-used to have a mantra that he repeated to himself: “It’s the economy, stupid!” By this he meant that, all politics and publicity aside, it was the underlying performance of the national economy that determined his success as president. Couples ought to listen to similar advice: “It’s the relationship, stupid!” In other words, what is really important is not your marital status or the ceremony you go through or what other other people think or how you eat your wedding cake. The only thing that matters is how well you get along with your partner. This simple fact can easily get lost in a public ceremony or an economic contract.

When you find someone who you get along with, the relationship itself ought to be sufficient reward, right? In most cases, however, it doesn’t seem to be. If you fall in love with someone, move in with them and have sex with them on a regular basis, pretty soon things start becoming distressingly routine. “Is this all there is?” you ask yourself. In your own fantasies and in the fairytales you have been fed since childhood, love was supposed to be a magical experience that enlivens your life forever. Reality, however, will probably give you something different, probably a life that is just as routine and boring as it was before you fell in love.

Something seems to be missing, and people look around them to try to figure out what it is. If love right now isn’t perfect bliss, then what do we need to do to make it happen? What is the one missing piece?

I know: We need to get married!

You may not have a clear plan as to how this is going to improve the relationship, but if your parents did it and your grandparents did it and all your friends are doing it, maybe you should, too. Maybe living in a relationship just for “now” isn’t sufficient. Maybe the one missing step between you and eternal happiness is to stand up before family and friends and make a permanent declaration.

It you know, deep down, that this reasoning doesn’t make much sense, it might help explain why the ceremony itself has to get so complicated. If you are going to invest in magic, then you want to pile on as much magic as possible.

If you are not completely satisfied with your out-of-wedlock relationship, there are two directions you can go: You can pull away, or you can dive deeper into it, thinking that what you need is more commitment and less choice. Diving deeper is usually a lot easier than pulling back. At least it seems like an adventure while pulling back can involve painful rejection, awkward disentanglement and a lot of hurt feelings-and then you are alone once again. If you are only vaguely dissatisfied, unclear on your own goals, afraid of loneliness and don’t know what to do, which direction are you going to go? Deeper, probably.

The legal path between unmarried and married is really quite simple: You go to the courthouse and get a marriage license; you bring it to a justice of the peace or a certified clergy member who takes your vows; this official then signs a certificate of marriage, which is filed permanently at the courthouse. Under the law, the only thing that proves you are married is that piece of paper at the courthouse.

If you went to Vegas, you could get these steps done quickly and with a minimum of expense, but that’s much too easy for most people. If a ceremony is expected to change things, then it has to be complicated. If this magical theatrical event is supposed to be a symbolic representation of the relationship, then it has to have substance if the relationship is expected to.

There is a recurring philosophy often expressed in various forms by couples about to be married: “No pain, no gain.” If you want a relationship to succeed, they say, then you have to be willing to make sacrifices.

Is this true? Well, yes and no. Sometimes, you do have to make sacrifices for things that are important to you. The mistake is thinking that sacrifice alone will guarantee success.

Chapter 9: Theories of Romance

So how do you find the romantic partner who is right for you? Is it all magic, or can there be some science involved? Is it really possible to “choose” at all, or are you at the whim of the stars?

There are two basic theories about how to find romance. One is that you should fall in love with whomever you happen to be thrown together with. We can call this the “opportunity theory.” The other approach is to actively and consciously search for the best partner. You seek out and review candidates and compare them to a set of criteria you have in your head. You pursue those candidates who meet the criteria and reject anyone who doesn’t fit the bill. We could call this the “active selection” theory.

The extreme example of the opportunity theory is an arranged marriage. Your parents select your partner for you, and you only have to go along. Most of us would agree that, knowing our parents and loving them dearly, there is NO WAY we’re going to sign on to this plan.

However, there are other examples of opportunity that we might agree with. If you are thrown together with someone at work and get to know them over a period of time, you may find that the two of you “click”. This person may not have been part of your plan, but they could still end up being a productive choice.

Active selection is more complicated. It is more akin to the recruiting of new employees: You review the resumes of available candidates, chose several of them for interviews, then make an offer to the one who you think is the best. This is the idea behind personal ads in your local alternative newspaper, e.g. “Slender SWF seeking SM, tall, dark and handsome. Proof of employment required.” It’s also the sort of thing that happens in singles’ bars: You strut around in your costume, checking out the lineup of available candidates, and after an indeterminate number of drinks you decide who to go home with.

There are several problems with an active selection process. One is the quality of the candidates. Both men and women seem to agree-wherever they happen to live-that the candidate pool is pretty dismal. “Where have all the cowboys gone?” bemoans one popular song. It seems all the candidates who are available are not desirable, and those who are desirable are not available.

Another problem is that once you find a candidate who meets your criteria and you make an offer, there is no guarantee that your offer will be accepted. If that candidate is also going through a selection process, it may be entirely different from yours, and you, quite frankly, may not be their cup of tea.

A third question is whether you are even competent to make this selection. Do you really know what you want? Are the criteria that you put down on your Christmas list really the essential qualities that will lead to a successful relationship? Do you have the realistic ability to evaluate these criteria without your own desperation and wishful thinking skewing your perception?

In the animal kingdom, it is usually the female who does the selecting. She merely has to look pretty and act aloof while the male puts on a display for her. A gentleman bird struts around, puffs his chest, shows his plumage and fights competing males, all in an effort to demonstrate to the lady bird the quality of his sperm. If you are the lady bird, you are probably turned on by this, as your genes have programmed you. If you are an enlightened lady bird, however, you have to ask yourself, “Are these really the qualities I need in a mate?”

This behavior seems to be carried over in the human world, where the female tends to be more passive and pretty, while the male is expected to make the first moves and put on an active show to woo her away from her neutral position. Humans have their various meat markets where selections are made the same way as in the animal world: based on appearances and symbolic plumage. A good body in a tight dress will get females the attention of plenty of suitors, while the male seems to benefit from money, power and the style to show them. It is unlikely, however, that the evaluation methods of either the male or female are good predictors of a stable relationship.

Where have all the cowboys gone? You can find them at a rodeo-ropin’, ridin’ and drinkin’ beer. Maybe you see one fine specimen bustin’ a wild bronco. His bravery and musculature turn you on, and you decide to take him home. If you fall in love, start a family and your cowboy, in true cowboy fashion, takes off and is never seen again, whose fault is it? Are rodeo skills really a good predictor of relationship skills?

In the hiring of employees, a lot of stock is put in the resume, which is another form of symbolic plumage. If the candidate went to Harvard and seems to have all the background experience needed for the job, an employer is going to pay attention. An enlightened romance seeker might use a similar approach, analysing each candidate’s “resume” before deciding whether to accept/reject or pursue/not pursue. They think they are being more progressive by not looking at boobs or brawn but at credentials and background.

The critical thing that resumes don’t convey, however, is personality. This is the person’s habitual style of operating, quite separate from their credentials. For example, are they introverted or extroverted? Do they “work well with others” and can they be relied on to show up for work? Someone can have a fantastic resume but still be a shitheal to work with. One can also have a weak resume yet be highly motivated and intuitive on the job.

Personality is pretty much fixed by the time of adulthood, and there isn’t much that you can do within a romantic relationship to change it. That doesn’t stop people from trying. Once you are bonded to someone, you may find yourself saying, over and over, “I know I can change them.” What you inevitably find in the end is that you can’t change them. People can sometimes change their own personalities over the course of their lifetimes, but not through anything you can do from the outside.

Some elements of personality can be detected within minutes. Is a person warm or distant, smart or stupid, funny or dully serious? After fifteen minutes, you might have a general idea of who you are dealing with, but you are far from the full story. Of particular interest is how they react to stress. Do they blame others for their misfortunes, or do they take responsibility and rise to the occasion when times get tough? You might also want to know how their personality is going to interact with yours when you are both under stress.

When you interview or date someone, you are only going to see their best side. You aren’t going to see how they operate under fire. Unfortunately, to evaluate this you may have to actually hire them or live with them for a while. Maybe you are never really going to know your partner until long into the relationship. This is why you have to leave yourself an escape hatch.

The most important criteria for evaluating a relationship is the quality of actual communication. This starts with speaking the same language. If you speak English, then you ought to limit your search to other English speakers. This may seem like a no-brainer, but people are often drawn to candidates from alien cultures for their perceived exoticness. To expect your relationship to succeed, the two of you need to speak the same language from the very beginning-not just English, but the particular subset of English native to your worldview.

Should you choose a partner who is “like” you or “unlike” you? Do “opposites attract” and complement each other, or should you be looking for a clone of yourself? The boring and unfortunately true answer is that you need to find someone as similar to you as possible. This doesn’t have to be a clone necessarily. You can come from different backgrounds and have different preferences, but you have to have a subtle and expressive language in common, based on a set of common experiences. Without it, misunderstandings are going to grow, especially in times of stress, and you won’t be able to talk about the problems between you. If you speak English and they, at some fundamental level, speak Greek, it is never going to work out.

Meeting people through “opportunity,” with prudent selection, can have certain advantages over a purely selective model. For one thing, you have a chance to know these candidates better before making a choice. You are also seeing them operate under circumstances that they themselves don’t control. Ideally, you want to see the candidate perform under stress, and since you can’t usually set up this experiment yourself, you can only wait for it to happen naturally, then observe the results.

But opportunity can also be frightening. You don’t want end up with just anyone simply because you landed on a desert island together. It can be difficult to reject someone who you are already in close proximity to, even if you feel the relationship isn’t the best. At singles’ bars it is pretty easy to accept and reject. At the workplace, it is much more awkward, especially if you see this person every day. How do you regulate these sensitive relationships?

The most important thing is to know who you are and what you want. Romance itself should never be your top personal goal; you have to be working toward something else. Maybe you have a career that is important to you or some other personal mission. If you feel strong and secure in this identity, then it is relatively easy to regulate your romantic relationships based on it. Romance is allowable if it contributes to the mission and unacceptable if it detracts from it. It is easier to hold the line with others if you know where your own boundaries are.

Paradoxically, a relationship is most likely to work if it is not the center of your universe but only a second priority to something more important. As much as you may want your partner to give your life meaning, they can’t. Don’t ask me what your mission should be; that has to come from within you. Once you have solid direction and identity of your own, your relationships will fall in line behind it.

Chapter 10: A Bureaucracy of Two

One is the loneliest number. It is also the most efficient, flexible and creative number. The vast majority of mankind’s most creative works, from books and movies to great scientific ideas, were the product of one. When you are challenging the creative limits of anything, only one is likely to pull it off.

Couples and other kinds of teams can have great accomplishments together, but these are usually “second wave” expeditions after one person alone blazed the trail. Teams, by and large, don’t blaze trails; they can only support and follow the one individual who does.

There is a reason that most organizations have only one ultimate leader, not two: It simply works better that way. The leader can consult with others and call upon a team for advice and support, but the fundamental decision-making unit has to be one person alone. If one general isn’t put clearly in charge of a project or organization, or he doesn’t have the courage to make painful decisions, then the organization will drift and degenerate and eventually crash against the rocks like a ship without a captain.

Two can certainly have a fun time together, but when times get tough and the problems become stressful, two start stepping on each others and sniping at each other. The problem with two is deciding who will be responsible for what. If two people become CEO of a corporation, how will they divide up the tasks between them? Who will the staff go to when there is a problem? Equal cooperation may work when the decisions are easy, but when the ship starts taking on water, you’ve got to have real leadership, which doesn’t come in twos.

Two is supposed to be the optimal number for raising children, but is it really? If a child needs permission for something and Mom denies it, what is he going to do? Ask Dad, of course! If the two parents’ are inconsistent, as they often are, then the child can choose whichever answer he prefers. In the myth of perfect equality, the parents are in perfect harmony and reinforce each other’s decisions. In reality, there is usually a substantial gap between the two.

One is a necessary number, because one person can hold in their head more subtle ideas, plans and compromises than can possibly be worked out between multiple people. In a crisis, only one person can weigh a lot of complicated and conflicting factors and respond in real time with one optimal solution. Only one person can effectively assert authority and convey a consistent position to their subordinates. Only one person can step outside the box and rethink a problem in a totally new way.

The alternative form of leadership is a committee. Committees can get things done only when the goals of the group are simple and stable and can be conveyed between members in words. For a collective management to work effectively, the destination and the means to reach it have to be clearly defined. If you instruct a committee to build a skyscraper according to the plans you provide, they can hire and coordinate the many contractors and thousands of workers to get the job done. The one thing a committee can’t do is produce those original plans.

In a romantic relationship, the two of you form a committee. No matter how “in sync” you seem to be, the two of you together are unlikely to produce decisions that are as subtle, competent or creative as one person potentially can. In any complex project, one person can certainly assist the other, contributing their independent judgement and supportive labor, but one leader alone has to be in charge.

A romantic couple, deeply in love, can probably be trusted to put together a jigsaw puzzle. That’s the sort of well-defined, ritualized, labor-intensive task a team is good at. A couple can’t be trusted to create the puzzle, however. That’s one person’s job.

If the two of you go into the kitchen together intending to create a great gourmet meal, there can be only one head chef. She tells the sous-chef what to do, and no matter how skilled the sous-chef may be in his own right, he has to be willing to take the back seat and follow her lead. There can be no greater disaster than two celebrity chefs going into a kitchen on equal terms and trying to create a single meal. It just doesn’t work.

The potential benefit of a relationship is that your partner can give you independent feedback and thereby enhance the quality of your own independent decision-making. The possible risk, however, is that a relationship will “dumb down” your decision making. If you are forced to seek consensus with your partner on things that you can better handle alone, then you may have to settle for clumsy solutions that you know aren’t the best.

In the absence of a clearly defined leader, committees tend to make poor decisions under stress and during periods of rapid change. No one is willing to make the hard, politically-incorrect choices to get the organization out of whatever mess it is in. Committees don’t like to lay off staff, accept strategic losses or kill anybody’s pet project. Committees want only happy solutions.

Likewise, when a married couple faces a crisis together, the need for consensus may prevent the team from making the unthinkable decisions to solve the crisis. The wiser party may say, “We have no choice, we have to sell the house,” but if their partner doesn’t agree, then no action will be taken. Ideally, in a crisis, you want to move quickly, but two people can never move as quickly as one. It is hard enough for one person to make a decision under stress; the more difficult challenge may be convincing their partner to go along. If the partner can’t be recruited for the plan, then the status quo prevails, and they will both go down together.

In the worst case, a relationship turns into a “bureaucracy of two” where you are forced to seek permission for every decision you make. You can’t move a piece of furniture without filling out Form XJ-17A and having it signed by your partner. If you fail to get permission, and somebody’s toes get stepped on, you know there will be hell to pay.

In the beginning of the relationship, everything your partner does is “no problem.” They are just so wonderful in your eyes that they can do no wrong. After a while, however, territoriality sets in. Your partner cuts down your favorite rose bush, and you start demanding that they consult with you before doing such things. That’s when the bureaucracy begins.

A single person, rummaging through his closet (or his life), can easily say, “I don’t need this. I’m throwing it out.” Don’t try that when you are married! Throwing out anything requires Form GB-137, signed, sealed and notarized in triplicate. This applies not just to unused objects but also to time-consuming activities that no longer serve a purpose. The ship has to actually be sinking, with the band playing “Nearer My God to Thee,” before the passengers are willing to jettison any of their baggage.

All relationships demand a certain degree of accountability. Even if you aren’t married to the person you are living with, you want to know when they’ll be home at night. This accountability can be warm and gentle, but it can still be a burden on your creativity. The more you need to seek permission for things, the less capable you are of implementing complex, rapid and inspired solutions that only you understand.

In the simple projects that two people choose to share, the status quo is usually the preferred option. You go back to the same restaurants you’ve been to before and repeat the same sentimental activities. The management of the household proceeds on automatic: Once your home has been set up, things tend to stay the same for long periods. Within a relationship, there aren’t usually a lot of radical changes. When you find patterns you both feel comfortable with and that cause the least conflict, you tend to stick with them.

It is an unfortunate fact of life that long-term emotional relationships tend to inhibit change, creativity, personal growth and dynamic movement, at least in directions you haven’t gone before. Relationships require consistency and don’t flourish in conditions of uncertainty. This is one of the trade-offs of love that you have to live with.

If you want to be a secret agent, licensed to kill, roaming the world on Her Majesty’s Secret Service, then you have remain unattached. In this kind of creative position, you need to be able to change course instantly to serve your mission, and you can’t be putting your partner through the wringer every time you go to work. You can’t be calling up all the time, “Dear, I’m in Singapore about to be sliced in two by a laser. I’m going to be late for dinner.” Real relationships won’t tolerate that kind of uncertainty.

If you are unattached, you probably want to fall in love, but once you do, it is bound to slow down at least some aspects of your own personal development. For one thing, a relationship occupies a lot of time, taking you away from your own developmental projects. Secondly, your partner is going to embody a certain worldview, which in turn will probably lock you into a limited conceptual neighborhood.

Imagine you are a police officer and you fall in love with another police officer who you meet at work. You have a common language together (filled with acronyms and code names) and can talk about your jobs with great subtlety and ease. The one thing that becomes more difficult, however, is switching careers. Becoming bonded to someone who shares your interests may seem admirable, but it also tends to have a reinforcing effect, binding you to that lifestyle and culture.

After bonding with a fellow police officer, you are less likely to wake up tomorrow and decide you want to be, say, a teacher in Nome, Alaska. To make changes like this, you may have to leave your partner behind, at least in the sense that you may lose your shared language and your common experience. This kind of radical and inspired change is relatively painless for a single person but is inherently stressful in a relationship, so it doesn’t happen often.

Before you fall in love and certainly before you marry, consider this: To a significant degree, any relationship is going to “freeze” you at whatever developmental stage you were in when the bonding occurred. If you marry your high school sweetheart, your development is going to be frozen at the high school level and not grow far beyond it.

You probably know former high school classmates like that: those who found romantic “success” at an early stage and were nailed in place by it. They never left your hometown. They’re still working at the local factory, and if you go back to visit them, you may see that their bodies have aged but their brains haven’t changed much at all. From your point of view, they stepped into a time capsule at graduation and never left.

This is a dangerous effect of romance, especially when followed by marriage, debt and children. You think that love is going to open up new worlds to you, but instead it shuts them down.
Chapter 11: The Problems of Communism

From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”

That’s the Communist credo. In a perfect society, people who are strong should use their extra resources to take care of those who are weak. Communism was supposed to address the huge disparities between wealth and poverty that we still see today. It is obscene to see how some people ostentatiously waste money while others a few feet away are struggling just to feed their families.

Communism tried to equalize things by taking from the rich and giving to the poor. In the process, it destroyed the incentive to excel. If you are protected from the consequences of your mistakes, then you have no incentive to correct them. Likewise, if you have no incentive for exceptional performance, then you aren’t going to attempt it. No matter how well intentioned it may have been, Communism only reduced the total pool of resources and encouraged bland mediocrity.

Marriage is Communism in miniature. You are choosing to combine all your income and expenses in one pot and live by that Communistic credo. It’s 1917 all over again! When you make your vows and enter into the contract, you think that everything is going to be equal from this day forward. You are going to do what you are good at-say, cooking-and your spouse will do what they are good at, like mowing the lawn. Each of you will work just as hard as the other and with equal quality, and all the work will get done. In the evening, you will collapse into each other’s arms, happy with your day’s labor and content in your Worker’s Paradise.

Unfortunately, that’s not the way things usually work out in real life. What typically happens in this mini-Communism is that one person ends up doing more and more of the productive work of the relationship while the other does progressively less. If you start out with a gung-ho attitude and eagerly do more than your share, the system will adjust to that, and this elevated quota will be expected of you permanently.

The alternative, Capitalism, isn’t much prettier. “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours.” Each person is strictly accountable for their outward performance regardless of their circumstances. If you get sick, lose a leg or happen to be a child, that’s your problem.

If you engage in a romantic relationship, you are agreeing to abandon some aspects of Capitalism. To be in love, you must be willing to share with your partner without a strict accounting of who contributes what. Mutual aid is also part of the deal: If something bad happens to your partner, you will be there to help them.

To get the most from life, you have to be willing to share. The question is, at what point does sharing become destructive and counterproductive?

Without marriage and its communistic financial merger, the two of you would have to actively negotiate how much money you would each contribute to the community. Maybe you will split the rent, utilities and other household expenses 50-50. Whatever money you have left is yours alone, and you are each free to spend your own money as you wish without consulting the other. If you see something expensive you want, and you have the money, you are free to buy it, no permission or negotiation required. You would not be spending the other person’s money, because you would have to explicitly ask for it first.

Throwing all your assets and liabilities in the same pot dilutes each person’s responsibility. Because the new pot is bigger and more complex, each person is less connected to the consequences of their actions. What this means in many marriages is an explosion of debt. “Two can live as cheaply as one,” the saying goes. In reality, it appears that couples spend more extravagantly than single people, because the “community” is only as disciplined as the least disciplined partner.

Couples are also less innovative and creative in finding cheaper solutions to their problems. It’s the bureaucratic factor. To do something differently-like buying a cheaper laundry detergent-you need consultation and permission. If you are willing to make a financial compromise but your spouse isn’t, you’ll probably stick with the more expensive solution by default.

Marriages, like Communist states, always start out with high ideals: We are going to share everything equally. Unfortunately, true equality can be incredibly difficult to maintain. It is like two stars orbiting close to each other. Inherently, the system is unstable. Even if they come together equally, eventually one is going to start sucking more material out of the other than it is giving back.

However, in a marriage, it is not usually the stronger party who is sucking resources out of the weaker but the other way around. As one party gains in strength, the other tends to get more emotional, throw more fits and demand more attention. As the weaker party feels increasingly useless, they compensate by magnifying their discomforts and generating conflicts.

It is amusing to watch this dynamic in gay couples. With uncanny regularity, the couple consists of a strong “provider”, who goes out and competently deals with the world, and a more emotional “housewife” who overreacts to everything and requires constant attention. The hysterical wife remains perpetually needy in part because the provider is willing to provide. The substance of their relationship often consists of a series of repetitive sitcom scenarios where the needy one creates problems and the more competent one dutifully comes along clean up the mess.

How many marriages does this describe?

Think of Homer and Marge Simpson. Isn’t Marge an enabler? Doesn’t her strength and willingness to clean up messes ultimately encourage Homer’s oafishness? Now, think of several marriages in the town where you grew up-say, the parents of your friends who you were able to watch at close range. In how many of those marriages was the power truly equal? Wasn’t one partner usually more dependent and child-like, taking more than they gave?

By throwing all your finances into one pot, you are erasing natural boundaries and destroying incentives. The result may be the developmental stagnation or regression of one of the partners as the other voluntarily steps in protect them. When the going gets tough, it is easy to fall back on your partner. Isn’t that what they are there for? What this Commmunism may encourage, however, is unhealthy dependency. One person stops standing up for themselves because they no longer have to, while the one with ability feels obligated to pick up the slack.

The presence of this dynamic doesn’t necessarily mean that a marriage will collapse. There are many other kinds of marriage hell. In the Soviet Union, Communism itself cranked along in dull matrimony for 70 years.

But stagnation or regression wasn’t what you hoped for when you started your revolution, was it?

Chapter 12: The Power of Money

Under modern law, marriage has little to do with love or family. It is a legal contract concerning money and property. When you get married, you are agreeing legally to share your future monetary life, erasing or blurring the financial boundaries between you. On your wedding day, you will be joined into one “community” where you will share each other’s assets but also your liabilities.

At the beginning of your relationship, during the hormonal affliction of “falling in love,” money seemed irrelevant. You were so thrilled to finally find your apparent soulmate that you were eager to share with them everything you had, often to an absurd degree. You often see it in sidewalk cafes: amorous couples feeding each other from their own plates like they were children. It doesn’t really matter whether I order the Combo Plate #1 and you get Combo #6 or the other way around, because we are both going to share each other’s meal, generously and without conflict.

This sentiment lasts for about two weeks, until natural territoriality reasserts itself. Listen here: I ordered #1 because that’s what I want, and I’ll stab you with a fork if you try to steal any of it! I love you dearly, but if you wanted #1, you should have ordered it yourself.

Even if couples try to erase the financial and property boundaries between them, this Communist condition soon becomes uncomfortable and cannot be sustained. There has to be a mechanism that holds each person responsible for their actions; otherwise, disequilibriums will emerge where one partner starts draining the resources of the other.

In reasonably successful marriages, pseudo-ownership rules are created, even if they have no legal standing. Certain objects or domains are labelled as “his” or “hers.” She might “own” the bedroom while the garage is his territory. There is an understanding between them that each person has discretion over their domain and will not interfere in the other’s without permission. This system works up to a point, as long as there are plenty of resources to go around. The system tends to fail when the going gets tough and difficult decisions have to be made in a domain that isn’t clearly his or hers-namely the finances.

Informal boundaries don’t work when one or both partners have a problem with impulse control. If an unmarried person has a weakness for gambling or shopping, they are going to keep doing it until they run out of money and their credit cards are maxed out. At that point, economic reality will curb their behavior. They can’t shop or gamble anymore if they don’t have any money for it. The situation may be painful, but precisely because it is painful they will eventually learn to control their impulses.

When this person gets married, however, they now have a bigger pot of money and credit to draw from and a longer way to go before they hit rock bottom. They don’t have to face “hard” reality until they have burned through their partner’s resources as well as their own. The partner has few mechanisms to counter this. They can offer only a “soft” reality that isn’t nearly as powerful: verbal warnings, requests and pleadings.

You can try to draw a line in the sand and say, “I’m not giving you any more than this”-but where should you draw this line and how do you enforce it? If I have my own paycheck which I deposit into an account that is only in my name, I can tell my spouse, “You can’t have that money.” Legally, however, this division is fictitious. Under the marriage contract, it is their money, too! If my spouse goes into my wallet and takes $500, it is not legally theft, because everything we have is community property.

What if the impulsive partner gambles away only their own paycheck but fails to pay the electric bill as agreed? Is the non-gambling partner going to allow the power to be shut off? Probably not; they will grudgingly pay that bill from their own paycheck. Thereby, the impulsive partner receives no negative consequences for their action. When financial boundaries have been legally abolished, nearly all rules regarding money become likewise fuzzy and difficult to enforce.

If you are married and you have certain expectations of your partner that aren’t being fulfilled, you have very few mechanisms to enforce compliance. There are many aspects of another person’s behavior that love and talk have no effect on. You can try to use words to cajole or threaten, or you can try to set up a system of rewards and punishments like you do for children, but these mechanisms rarely work with adults. You are supposed to be equal partners in the community, which is fundamentally incompatible with one person trying to reward or punish the other. Once your financial lives have been merged, the only real weapon you have is the nuclear one: divorce.

If you never legally marry, your financial lives remain separate and you retain more discretion and control. Your partner gets your money only if you explicitly give it to them. If you decide to share a residence, then you have to agree on how the rent and utilities will be paid, but beyond this, your money remains yours and theirs remains theirs. No negotiation is required-and no guilt involved-when you spend your own remaining money however you see fit.

If your partner blows their money on something frivolous and finds themselves broke, you can realistically say, “Oh, well!” and not give them a penny. On the other hand, you can choose to subsidize them if you find the situation meritorious. If you earn more than they do, it is reasonable for you to pay more of the common bills. You have to figure out your own formula, but you can do it thoughtfully and deliberately, persuant to negotiation.

Retaining your own financial independence is a way to preserve natural boundaries. It doesn’t mean that you expect your partner to mooch off you. Things just work more smoothly when you control the product of your own labor. If nothing else, there is less bureaucracy to deal with, because you never need permission to spend your own money.

Merging your finances may seem harmless in the beginning. You say, “It’s only money,” but unless you have oodles of it, money is never something you should dismiss lightly. Money is power, responsibility and boundaries. It is a quantifier of your own labor and, to a certain extent, a measure of your worldly success. If your money derives from your own labor, you should never surrender control of it, even to the one you love. Being responsible for your own money is like being responsible for your own health and your own career-a natural personal domain.

For most of us without independent wealth, money is a regulating system that dictates much of what we do in our daily lives. Money, or lack thereof, forces most of us to work, and we will only participate in leisure activities that we can financially afford. Money may be tyrannical and unfair, but at least it gives some default structure to our lives.

If money were to suddenly become meaningless, most people wouldn’t know what to do with themselves. If all beer were free, more people would drink too much of it. If everyone had all the money they needed, no one would bother to go to work. Without money and its inevitable inequities, little in society would get done. There may be better methods for regulating and motivating people, but they have to actually be implemented and tested through experience. Theory alone isn’t enough. You can just abolish all monetary boundaries-like Communism tried to do-and expect people to know how to live with each other.

Romance tempts us with a new Communist Manifesto: “All you need is love.” This may sound appealing in theory, but the ideal breaks down under any kind of real-world pressure. Love is not a regulating mechanism the way money is. Money eventually runs out and creates a solid incentive for action, but love is supposed to be boundless and never run out. What this means in real life is that you never know how much of your own resources you should give to the one you love.

When you erase the financial boundaries between two people, you are courting a sort of anarchy where neither party knows where their boundaries lie. A Communist relationship may work satisfactorily when the community is rich and there are plenty of resources to go around. Anarchy creeps in when the community starts running low on resources. That is when it becomes difficult to decide who is responsible for what and how much each party should sacrifice for the other.

This is where the “security” and “protection” of marriage take on a darker meaning. When times get tough and the decisions become painful, it is easy for one partner to fall back on the relative strength and apparent security of the other. As long as the stronger partner is willing to give more, then the weaker partner is willing to take more, and this pattern tends to amplify with time. Once this protective-dependent cycle begins, there may be no easy way to stop it short of divorce.

Many marriages have disintegrated when one partner loses their job and starts sitting around the house all day. They try to find work, but they don’t try very hard and they aren’t forced to make any difficult compromises because they have their partner to support them. The supporting partner is frustrated but has little power to force the other to do anything. They can threaten and cajole, but they have only words to wield, not any real weapons. Their threats are usually empty and their partner knows it. Nothing they say has the same power as “hard” reality-where someone gets evicted for not paying rent and has to sleep in the street if they don’t produce anything.

That is the problem with protection: If you offer it to someone, they will probably use it, but not for the life-and-death situations you envisioned. Protection is more often used to avoid personal responsibility. Over time, it creates an addiction. If one partner gets themselves in a difficult bind and the other dutifully rescues them, what happens next? The partner gets themselves in more binds, knowing that rescue is sure to come.

The cycle often progresses to the point where the whole community ship is sinking, and the protective partner can’t get the dependent one to take the impending crisis seriously. “We can’t continue to spend more money than we’re making,” they say. Addicted to protection, however, the dependent partner doesn’t understand and expects the protective one to take care of everything. The ship can’t be sinking, they think, because the band is still playing.

We can’t be broke because we still have credit cards!
Chapter 13: Love is not Charity

A parent is unconditionally responsible for their child. If your child is the Elephant Boy, hideous to the rest of the world, you don’t love him any less. If your child is sick, you are going to care for him and try to get him the best medical attention. If your child behaves badly, you are going to try to be firm with him and do what you can to change the behavior, at least until he is an adult.

Responsible married people are tempted to apply this same standard of unconditional love to their spouse. After all, they said in their marriage vows, “For better or worse,” and “In sickness and in health.” If your partner gets sick or loses his job, you are going to stick by him. If your partner fails to do what he said he would, you give him another chance, and another and another. If he lapses into alcoholism, you try to get him into treatment. You know he had a terrible childhood, and you are willing to make accommodations for it. “Marriage can sometimes be tough,” you say, “But I have be willing to make sacrifices if I want the relationship to succeed.”

Unfortunately, this is a defective attitude that is only going to get you deeper into trouble. By attending unconditionally to your partner as though he were a child, you may be inadvertently “enabling” him and encouraging him to act like a child.

If your partner behaves badly, even once, there is really only one solution: withdrawal. If you aren’t married, this isn’t a big deal; you just go back to your natural independent position, living your own life and relying on your own resources. It may or may not be a permanent withdrawal, but your partner’s psychological problems are simply not yours to solve.

There is a difference between a child and a grown adult. Children are still developing, whereas adults have reached a steady state that we on the outside have very little power to change. A small investment in a child can have substantial effects on their development, whereas a huge investment in an adult will probably have very little effect on their long-term behavior.

A tragic childhood can help explain an adult’s bad behavior, but it shouldn’t change your response to it. If the behavior is noxious to you, you need to get away from it.

Romantic love is not a charity. It exists for your benefit, not your partner’s.

Let me repeat that: The purpose of romantic love is to serve your own needs, not those of the person you love.

You are not a therapist. You are not a provider. You are not a parent. You are consumer. You should choose a relationship solely because you believe it will give you good value for your investment. If the costs of the relationship exceed the benefits, or if you can clearly get better benefits elsewhere, then the relationship must end.

This may sound cold and selfish, but it’s the only approach to love that’s going to work.

Cooperative love between adults is completely different than a parent’s love for a child. A parent’s love exists mainly for the child’s benefit. Romantic love is more of a business proposition. In this special case, you only have one open position. You can be bonded to only one partner at once, so either this is going to be a competent employee, serving the needs of your business, or you should leave the position open for someone else.

This position is not a therapeutic one. You shouldn’t hire someone because they are needy and you want to feel needed. You take them on only because you expect them to perform a service for you, just like any other employee. You can make an ongoing investment in training, but you expect a quick response. If the employee fails to perform to adequate standards within a reasonable time, then you have to cut them loose.

What is their job description? You expect your love to understand you, be interested in you and have enough language in common with you that you can freely talk to each other. They should speak not just English, but a functional dialect similar to yours. You expect to be able to share with them things that are important to you, and you expect to get intelligent and constructive feedback from them that is different than what you would tell yourself. You don’t need a sycophant or worshipper. You are looking for a confidential observer who sees the world through different eyes and who can give you important new data about yourself and your problems. It is a lot like a president hiring an advisor. The advisor, knowing the president well, can give him an honest assessment of his own policies when no one else can.

What is the price of this arrangement? You have to be willing to do the same for the other person.

Sex can be included in this business arrangement. There should be tenderness and intimacy, because the closer you are to each other, the better you can communicate. When your employee is facing personal problems, you can do what you can to help. You are willing to invest a large portion of your time and resources in this employee, because you know how valuable they will be to you in the long run.

If they fail to perform their duties, however, they’re out! A president wouldn’t accept an advisor who came to work drunk. Correction: A president probably would accept an advisor who came to work drunk, because they have no doubt known each other for years and are familiar with each other’s weaknesses. What the president could not accept is defective information from the advisor. If the advisor wasn’t really advising and wasn’t providing honest and reliable information when it was needed, then he would have to be replaced with another.

If you find yourself repeatedly digging your employee out of his own problems, you probably don’t need them. Whether you keep them on the payroll comes down to a cold, hard calculation of whether the salary you are paying is worth the information you are getting.

Is this such a terrible expectation: to invest in a relationship for the practical ongoing benefit you are getting out of it?

Remember that this is your only opportunity for this level of intimacy. It isn’t like a parent who can raise six kids at once. You can have only one intimate advisor, so your standards need to be high. If you aren’t going to get adequate return on your investment, then it is better to be alone and leave the position unfilled.

If you want to treat alcoholism, give to the Salvation Army. If you want to devote yourself to helping others, then focus on those who can most realistically be changed-using whatever extra resources you have at your disposal after you have provided for your own needs. Your one special position must be exempt from all charity: It must not be used as an avenue for directly helping others. An intimate relationship can be therapeutic for both parties, but this is incidental. The real purpose of the relationship is to give you advice and counsel you can’t get elsewhere.

What happens if your partner gets sick, really sick, and can’t perform the duties required? Let’s say they get Alzheimer’s Disease or some other wasting illness beyond their control. Would you abandon them because they aren’t performing their job? Probably not. You would then revert to a parental role, in part to repay them for their past service, but then your special position would be open again.

A bona fide illness does not include personality disorders. This is your partner’s self-destructiveness due to some defect in their childhood. These diseases are untreatable by medical means and are probably also untreatable by therapy. The subject remains physically sound, just self-destructive and perhaps abusive of you. The only thing you can do is cut them loose because they aren’t performing the job and because anything you do is only enabling them.

If the employee isn’t doing their job, therapy is beyond your abilities. For the sake of your mission, you need to fill the position with someone who can do the job. Forget about “For better or worse.” You’ve got a business to run.
Chapter 14: Children

There are two kinds of children: those who exist and those who don’t. I am very much in favor of the former and opposed to the latter. In my opinion, children who don’t exist should stay that way.

In fact, my proposal to the Galactic Federation is that they put a total freeze on all human conceptions until this planet works out its problems. I’m sure there are aliens somewhere in the universe who have this technology. A little snip-snip on the testes of 3 billion males should do the trick.

Why should humans be allowed to bring new children into the world when there are so many already here who aren’t being adequately cared for?

If you have been considering having a baby, please, please think things through. It is even a more fateful and potentially debilitating decision than marriage.

The world has its massive problems, but instead of addressing them, you would be creating a whole new problem-another mouth to feed. Voluntary childbirth is an exercise in narcissism and vanity. You hope to create a little Mini Me who will worship you and follow in your footsteps. Trouble is, this little project almost never turns out as you hope it will. Sooner or later, he gets his own ideas and screws up your plans.

Now that childbirth is optional, not mandatory, why do people have babies at all? They do it for the same reason they get married: because there is a vague dissatisfaction in their life that they are trying to fill up. You fell in love and moved in with your partner, but you still felt empty. Something seemed to be missing, but what was it? Maybe you needed to get married!

So now you’re married and your life stills lacks meaning and direction. What could be missing? I know: children!

Oh, you’ll have direction now! Twenty years of direction! Will you have meaning, however? That’s a different question.

It is so much purer, morally, to contribute to the upbringing of a child who is already here. He can be your own child, that’s fine, as long as the choice to bring him into the world is no longer yours. As I say, I got no problem with children who already exist.

However, children who are already here can greatly complicate the problems of romance. Ideally, you can process your romantic relationship in isolation. If the two of you get along and are beneficial to each other, you come together. Whenever things don’t work, you draw apart. This is far more difficult if you’ve got a nest of little hatchlings to feed and it takes the resources of both of you to do it. The parental relationship is unconditional, and you can’t walk out on them.

Children can place you in the potential dilemma where you know your romantic relationship isn’t working but you stay together anyway “for the children.” Now you’re in a fine kettle of fish! I wish I had an easy solution for you, but I don’t. Whatever way you go, it’s ugly.

I can tell you how most people solve the dilemma. If the romantic relationship isn’t working but their whole world is resting on it, they convince themselves that it is working and they do their best to make it seem so. They don’t perceive that they have a choice; they just soldier on.

The physiological bond between the two of you is probably still there, even if no real communication is taking place. That may seem to be enough. If you pile on enough roses, chocolates and sentimental words, it almost seems like you still have a relationship. What you may no longer have, however, is your independent and reliable advisor. Over time, your advisor may learn the same thing you have learned to keep the peace: Tell your partner exactly what they want to hear.

It’s a lot of smoke and mirrors mostly, but I’m not saying that it’s wrong. You entered into a contract to raise children, and you must fulfill it by the most efficient means available.

Divorce may be impractical. More likely, however, it is simply unthinkable. Responsible people don’t perceive it as an option, since it goes against those vows they made on their wedding day. Unless they are forced into divorce by circumstances beyond their control, the logistical and emotional Armagedden seems too much to deal with. Instead, the problem is “solved” by neverending appeasement, accommodation and submersion of ones own interests.

It is a mistake, however, to think you have no choice. The unthinkable must be thought about. If the romantic relationship isn’t working-to the same standard you would expect if you had no children-then you shouldn’t fool yourself into thinking it is. If the regime is oppressive, you should be looking for opportunities to escape. You should never let yourself be broken.

If the romantic relationship isn’t working, then your children know it-at least on some unconscious emotional level. In some way, it is messing up their psychology, and the damage may linger for generations.

Divorce can be incredibly painful, but so is open-heart surgery. Sometimes, band-aids and analgesics don’t work. Sometimes you have to dive in with scalpel and fix the problem at its source. Surgery is painful for everyone in the short term, but it may be better than a dull and unsolvable pain that goes on for years.
Chapter 15: The Problem of Beauty

If everything goes to plan, you will bond with your honey for life. By the time you get there, “life” will probably be about 150 years. Your brain will be stored in jar connected by wires to the internet. Your honey will occupy the jar beside you. There will probably be a wire directly between the two jars so you can nag and annoy each other more efficiently.

At that point, your bodies will become irrelevant. All that will matter will be your minds and the special language you have built with each other.

That’s pretty much the way things are today. Once you have lived with someone for a while, you don’t see their body anymore. They are essentially a gender-less brain in the jar beside you who you are communicating with through a special channel. Hopefully, your communication gets more and more subtle with time, to the point where it is almost telepathic. At the same time, you should be maintaining your own independent relationship with the rest of the world, so you actually have something to communicate about.

Even if sexual attraction brought you together, it is destined to fade into the background, and it is not what keeps you together. All that matters in the long run is the quality and usefulness of your communication. Your relationship will succeed or fail based on it.

A logical question, then, is whether sexual attraction is really the best criteria for choosing your mate to begin with.

It’s an icky question. If the most important thing is talent, can that talent be enclosed in a physical package you do not find attractive? If the sexual attraction isn’t there, but everything else is, should you close your eyes and dive in anyway?

Is it acceptable to fall in love with someone for their perceived physical beauty? Is this really a valid criteria? Does beauty count, or is it only a distraction?

People have no choice about the bodies they were born into. This is mainly determined by their genes. However, programmed into our nervous system are certain innate standards of beauty. A beautiful man or woman, as perceived by other humans, has facial features and body parts in the right proportions. These are our fashion models and movie stars. If someone’s eyes are too far apart or too close together, it clashes with the image of beauty that our brain is programmed with. A person has absolutely no control over the spacing of their eyes, so is it fair to judge them by it?

For that matter, is it fair to discriminate based on any physical characteristic-age, height, weight, gender? If a woman will date only men who are taller than her, isn’t she eliminating a significant portion of the talent pool? Can’t a short man be just as good a communicator?

For that matter, why do you have to limit yourself to a single gender. If you are a man who is sexually attracted to women but another man comes along who meets all your other criteria, is it fair to “discriminate” against him solely because of his gender?

It’s a touchy subject no one likes to think about. No one wants to discriminate, but the fact remains that you are attracted to some physical specimens and not others. Are you a sexist, heightist, weightist, ageist pig? Knowing that physical characteristics are going to fade into the background anyway, how do you reconcile your sexual preferences with the illogic of it all?

First, let’s emphasize again: Love is not charity. You should never, ever fall in love with someone because you pity them, feel sorry for them or want to help them. Remember that you are engaging in love primarily to serve your own needs, not the other person’s. (Of course, you also expect to pay a price for this service, which is to provide the same to them.) You also expect them to come up to speed on your needs relatively fast. You don’t want to have to invest months or years in training; things should “click” from an early stage.

You also have to recognize that physical beauty can mask a lot of ugly things. A beautiful woman or handsome guy, defined by biological standards, can still be an asshole once you start living with them. In fact, too much objective beauty can be a warning sign. When someone is beautiful, they are tempted to skate by on their looks and are less likely to seek deeper kinds of accomplishment. Do you really want to be dating the Homecoming Queen or the class stud? There’s a word to describe their probable personality: airhead!

The talent pool will always be limited, so you have to be open to a broad range of physical specimens: young/old, tall/short, svelt/tubby. But at what point does their weight tip the scales? Should a midget be dating a basketball star? Should you be considering someone with a good mind who you are only marginally attracted to? Remember that you are both going to end up in jars anyway.

To answer the question, we have to step back a bit. Remember that sex itself is pretty loony. Logically, our body shape shouldn’t make any difference at all in our relations with others, but it does in the sexual arena. Over time, sex is going to be less and less relevant to a relationship, but it is important for getting it started.

Sex can be thought of as a tool-like a can opener-to help us get started at intimacy. It helps us overcome the substantial natural barriers between individuals. Without sex, you probably aren’t going to achieve the level of intimacy necessary to start the special communication going.

Romantic intimacy is like nuclear fusion. You need a lot of energy to get the reaction started, but after a certain break-even point, the process is self-sustaining. Sexual attraction can provide that initial energy source.

If that’s what you are using sex for, then your innate sexual preferences must be respected. Whatever turns you on has to be listened to (as long as it doesn’t get too kinky). The fact that you are attracted to one body type and not another may not make a lot of logical sense, but if you ignore these feelings, then you’ll be faking it, and you won’t get very far in the intimacy game.
Chapter 17: Escape from Narcissism

When we first became conscious, we were the center of the universe. Our parents revolved around us and whenever we had needs, we cried out and they were fulfilled. Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and even God existed for us, listening to our wishes and responding to our needs.

Later, we discovered with increasing alarm that we were not the center of the universe at all but only a peripheral player, one of billions. The world, we found, didn’t really care about us and for the most part didn’t even know we existed. There was no Santa Claus. The whole notion that we were the center of things was a cruel set-up!

Intellectually, we can all accept that we are one of billions, but emotionally it is difficult to wrap our head around. We are all trapped to some extent in that childish me-centered universe. We no longer believe in Santa Claus but we may still believe that the world should give us what we want and that by wishful thinking alone we can make it happen.

The real world can be brutal. It operates according to its own independent physics, not ours, and our private wishes have little effect. If our ship hits an iceberg, we can pray all we want, but it is physics that determines whether the ship sinks, not God.

That me-centeredness is called “narcissism,” and it can be incredibly difficult to escape. Due to our (hopefully) benevolent upbringing, we have an instinctive belief in the fairness of the world. The world, in fact, is not fair, has never been fair, and only our selective blindness makes us believe it is.

Narcissism leads us to believe that when we fall in love, our needs are going to be met. We don’t see are partner for who he or she really is but for who we want them to be. If the relationship doesn’t work out, we blame the other person, but it really wasn’t their fault. They were merely the Rorschach ink blot upon which we projected our own desires.

Narcissism leads us to believe that either (a) things are going to all work out for the better, or (b) we’re screwed no matter what we do. In fact, neither is true. The world is going to crank along according to its own rules, and whether we benefit from it or are hurt by it is mainly random.

If we invest in the stock market when it happens to be rising, we think we are golden. We see ourselves as incredibly skilled when in fact only dumb luck made us successful. We spend our good fortune as though it were endless. When the market finally falls again, we are totally unprepared for the roller coaster dip on the other side. “This isn’t right,” we say.

No, it isn’t right. It’s just the market doing its own thing. Any intentions we pinned on the market-to help us or hurt us-were our own private delusions.

Narcissism encourages us to use prayers, talismans and good luck charms to try to get what we want. To try to make success happen, we surround ourselves with the symbols of success. We deal with failure by not looking at it and pretending it doesn’t exist. We consider any tragedy that happens to us to be an anomaly and not the natural state of the world.

A wedding is a narcissistic event. We are surrounding ourselves with all the symbols, good luck charms and press releases of success, thinking this will make success more likely. We think our marriage will work because we wish it to be so. We are forgetting the most important element: “It’s the relationship, stupid!”

The only antidote for narcissism is to set aside your wishes and try to truly, deeply understand the independent mechanisms of the world. You can pray for rain or pray that a storm doesn’t doesn’t sink your ship, but the most effective approach in the long run is to thoroughly understand how the weather works. Then you are best prepared to deal with it on its own terms. What you’ll find in the end is that you can’t do much to change the weather; you can only predict and adapt to it and, if necessary, get out of its way.

People can fall in love and yet be remarkably clueless about their partner. They choose not to inquire too deeply because doing so could dispell their narcissistic fantasy. If you think you have married Prince Charming but he displays some un-charming attributes, you are going to sweep them under the carpet for as long as possible. You don’t want to know how he really works inside because that might destroy your delusions and force you back to loneliness.

Narcissism pretty much guarantees that our first few romantic relationships are going to fail. Our expectations are too self-centered and unrealistic, and we choose our partner based on irrelevant criteria. If we remain narcissistic, then we blame the world for our own mistakes. All men/women are assholes, we claim, because we ourselves certainly didn’t do anything wrong.

If we are wise, however, then we will begin to get a clue: Our romantic failures were our own damn fault. We chose not to thoroughly understand what was happening but instead let our wishes and gonads do our thinking for us.

You may get all starry-eyed about the opposite sex and want to worship them. But to truly get along with them, you have to strip them of their magic and learn see them as a childish jerk just like you. There are psychological mechanisms operating inside them, and your job is to understand these processes rationally, even if this knowledge leads you to a conclusion you don’t want.

In your first attempts at romance, you tend to unrealistically idolize your romantic partner and are shocked to find later on that they are somebody different. That’s you own failing, not theirs. Your partner may have told lies, but they were flimsy ones; had you not been blinded by love you would have seen through them in an instant. Your partner was just being who he is. You are the one who turned him into a White Knight.

We may think of love as a selfless giving to others, but a significant element of it is narcissism. We are drawn to someone for what we want them to be rather than who they really are.

Hopefully, after we crash and burn a few times, we’ll learn a thing or two. There is a limit to how much anyone else can fulfill our own emotional needs, and wishing for something doesn’t make it so.

In the beginning, we look up at the clouds and see what we want to see. After some bad experiences when clouds don’t give us what we want, we may learn to look at clouds more scientifically, as water vapor and air currents. We will lose the fantasy, but we may gain a better relationship with the clouds and get more of what we want from them.
Chapter 18: The Seduction of Novelty

Let’s say you visit a place of great scenic beauty, like the Rocky Mountains of Montana or the perfect beach on Maui. You are so impressed by the scenery that you decide to make it your own. At great expense, you buy a house with a picture window that looks out on the very scene you adore so much. Now you can possess it forever!

What happens then? After a few days, you stop noticing the scenery. You get used to it, and it stops registering on your consciousness. Instead of thinking about where your house is located, you become preoccupied once again with what is going on inside. In the long run, all that matters is the projects you are working on and how to get them done.

This describes an inherent problem of beauty and all other forms of sensual pleasure. If you find what you think is the perfect chocolate cake, and you surround yourself with it, it is eventually going to lose it’s appeal. You get the full sensual pleasure from something only when it is new or relatively rare. The more you experience it, the more it becomes routine, until it is just part of the background of your life.

As enthralled as you may be with your romantic partner right now, the sensual part of your relationship is going to grow dull after a while. You are going to stop noticing all the fixed characteristics about them that you once found appealing: the sound of their voice, the color of their eyes, the shape of their body. All you will really be concerned with is the operational and intellectual part of the relationship-that is, how well you execute projects together. The color of their eyes has no bearing on that.

Drug addicts also notice this phenomenon: Their first high from a new drug is fantastic, the second is almost as good, the third is good, the fourth is routine, etc. Over time, you have to take more and more of the drug to achieve the same effect, and eventually even that doesn’t work. Soon you are taking the drug not for the high it gives you but because of how bad you feel when you don’t take it.

In psychological terms, this process is called “adjustment.” Whatever new experience you encounter, good or bad, your brain is eventually going to adjust to it and the experience will come to seem normal and routine. The sensual passions of the experience are destined to fade, and what you have left are the practical problems of living.

It would be great to win $100 million in a lottery. The experience would be exciting at first, and it might seem that all your problems are solved. Even that good fortune, however, would eventually seem routine. Yes, some of your problems would be solved, but you would find that they are replaced by a whole new set of problems-ones, perhaps, that money can’t fix. No matter what happens to you, there will be challenges on the other side, and your overall happiness will probably drift back to the same level as before.

Most people seems to have great difficulty grasping the concept of adjustment and predicting it in their own lives. They think that if they are attracted to something new right now, they are going to be attracted to it forever, and they may have no problem signing a long-term contract the guarantee its delivery.

If you are in love with a certain kind of chocolate cake, and someone offers you a special discount, you might eagerly sign a contract to have this cake delivered to you every week for a year. What you are bound to discover, however, is that the company changed the recipe. Your second and third cake don’t taste nearly as good as the first. You call up the company to angrily complain, but then you find that, no, the recipe hasn’t changed. Only your brain has.

People are easily seduced by novelty. They’ll buy whatever the new thing is-like the latest entertainment device-without realizing how quickly it will become the old thing. They are even willing to go into debt to buy the new thing, so they are still paying for it even after it has become outmoded.

This is a natural human error of perception. If a certain product thrills you now, then you figure the same product ought to thrill you just as much tomorrow and the day after. After all, the product still has the same ingredients and physical characteristics. Science suggests that it should produce the same emotional reaction every time.

But the brain doesn’t work like that. Pleasure depends on novelty. You laugh at a joke, for example, only because it is new-because it blazes a new neurological trial through your brain. You might laugh at the joke the second time you hear it, but probably not the third, fourth and fifth times. It has lost its novelty and thus its pleasure.

When we encounter a new experience that appeals to us, we tend to repeat it. If we like a movie, we may be drawn back to see it again and again. There is a limit, however, to how many times we will do this. Sooner or later, our brain has explored every nuance of the experience and will be ready to move on.

Of course, you can’t move on if you have already signed a long-term contract committing you to that experience. Then you may be forced to repeat it over and over long after you have lost your passion. In that case, real pleasure is eventually replaced by the intellectualization of pleasure, where you say all the right words but don’t feel the same feelings.

How many exciting new products have you bought and used only once? If you have a garage, it is probably filled with these failed experiments. You were swept away be the novelty of the product, but once you had it in your hands, your passion faded quickly. You don’t use the product now because it turned out not to fit your practical operational lifestyle. What you are left with is the dull carcass of a dream, occupying space in your garage. You can’t throw it away, because it is still “valuable”; it just isn’t valuable to you.

Life, after a while, can become an accumulation of these dead dreams. You repeat the same old activities, thinking that they must be pleasurable because they once were. You don’t feel the same feelings anymore; you only tell yourself you do.

Chapter 19: The Investment Effect

“I love this place and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”

You hear this from established middle-aged people in every part of the world. From the lochs of Scotland to the deserts of Arizona, as long as someone is feeling no pain in their habitat, they will probably claim to love it there. On the coast of British Columbia, local residents say they love the ocean, forests and mountains. In Manhattan, they love their hypothetical cultural life and how their city “never sleeps.” In Massachusetts, people say they love their four seasons and their rich variety of weather.

I grew up in Massachusetts, and I say the weather sucks. It is a burden on the quality of life and makes everything harder. I find Massachusetts pleasant to visit in June, but I would never want to move back there.

What makes me different from the people who live there and say they love the place? I am no longer invested there.

If you have bought real estate in a certain place and established a life there, of course you are going to love it. But which comes first: Are you living there because you love it, or do you love this place because you live there and not claiming to love it would be too painful?

Whenever people extol the virtues of something they have already invested in and try to convince you to join them, you ought to be suspicious. By selling the same lifestyle to you, they are justifying their own past decisions. Their love for this lifestyle may be real to them, but it is also self-serving.

Who would you trust more: a restaurant critic who visits 50 restaurants a month and who has no personal connection to any of them, or a critic who visits only one restaurant that he happens to be part owner of? Of course an investor is going to love the restaurant he has invested in. He has a financial incentive to lure customers there, but he also has to believe in it himself to convince himself that he made the right choice.

Investing personally in something automatically creates emotional pressure to believe in that choice. To not believe would create internal conflict. You would have to acknowledge that you made the wrong choice and squandered your limited resources. Such an admission can be profoundly stressful. Most people avoid this kind of stress by letting their current loves and preferences be dictated by their currently active investments.

If you come to a fork in the road at an early stage of your life and you choose one path over another, then the farther down that path you go, the more you will probably declare your love for it. “This path is the best!” you say, even if you have no experience with any other. “I wouldn’t want to have made any other choice!” If you don’t loudly declare your love-stridently enough that you yourself believe it-then you might have consider that back there at the fork you made the wrong choice.

If, after high school, you choose to go to Yale instead of Harvard, of course you are going to believe in Yale from then on. You’ll be rooting for the Yale team in the pathetic Harvard-Yale football game, and you will scoff at your friends who went to that other Ivy League school. After you graduate, you’ll probably contribute to Yale’s endowment, not Harvard’s, and probably not to some lesser known school in the midwest that needs your money more. Declaring your love for Yale is essential to your emotional stability because you made a fateful decision back at the fork and you can’t afford at this point to think it was wrong.

You are especially going to believe in your choice if it was very costly one. If you had to wade through swamps and wrestle alligators to get where you are today, that just increases your love for your current path. The greater the sacrifice you have already made, the more you have to believe in your current itinerary to avoid suffering painful regrets.

If you invest in one path and are less than successful at it, your natural inclination is to invest even more rather than turning back. Why? Because you need to justify the expensive investment you have already made. It is like sitting in front of a slot machine and losing $1000. The more you have lost, the more you feel compelled to keep gambling to try to recoup those losses.

In fact, every spin of the reels on a slot machine is entirely random. The fact that you have already lost $1000 has no bearing at all on the next spin. The machine doesn’t “owe” you anything, but gamblers instinctively believe that it does. The more they sacrifice, the more they believe in their machine and that a big win is just around the corner.

I call this phenomenon the “Investment Effect.” This is the tendency of a prior investment to increase your emotional attachment to the path you have chosen. Your prior investment encourages you to select and distort the available evidence to favor that belief.

Some religions are very clever about how they use this mechanism. They send their young people on difficult “missions” in faraway lands. If you survive the mission, then of course you believe twice as fervently in the religion upon your return. How else can you justify the enormous price you paid for your expedition and the big hunk of your life it took away?

Marines who have to pass through a grueling boot camp may hate it at the time, but once they’ve surmounted all the barriers and graduated, by Golly they’re Marines! They fully believe in the requisite worldview and way of life. They talk the talk and walk the walk. Otherwise, they would have to acknowledge that their sacrifice was worthless.

What do married couples say on their 25th wedding anniversary? “Dear, if I had it to do all over again, I wouldn’t want to change a thing!”

Well, Duh! Of course they’re going to say that! They’ve invested 25 years in this arrangement-probably most of their adult lives. They’re not going to say, “Oops, made a mistake!”

I’m not saying their love isn’t genuinely felt on both sides, but unless they are truly free to leave each other, it is mandatory love, not quite the same as the free-will kind.

The fact that a man and woman married 25 years still say they love each other shouldn’t be taken as evidence in support of the institution of marriage. A young person might say, “Look at how happy they are!” and claim this as justification for their own marriage. Unfortunately, “love” and “happiness” aren’t really the issue, because any reasonably adaptive person can pull off those sentiments. The real question is how productive the relationship has been compared to the alternatives.

How do you define “productivity”? That’s something for you to decide. Surely, there must be things you want to accomplish before you die. Your life must have some purpose other than just procreating and being “happy.” Is you only purpose on Earth to repeat the lives of your elders?

If you expect to accomplish something more, than your relationship is “productive” if it serves that mission better than any other road.

Chapter 20: The Inevitability of Change

Right now, you probably have some long-term personal goals, and you may have mapped out a logical straight-line path to achieve them. Step “A” will lead you to Step “B” followed by Step “C” leading to your major goal at Step “D”, where you expect a lot of kudos and congratulations. Maybe you envision going to college, followed by medical school, followed by residency, followed by opening your own medical practice in the small town where you grew up. As you stand here at the beginning of your journey, your itinerary may seem clear. The only trouble is that real life may step in and throw a monkey wrench into your plans.

First of all, there will be misfortune. The chance of any one disaster striking you is probably low, but when you add up all the possible things that can go wrong, you can be sure that something bad is going to happen to you within the next few years. You could be crippled in a car accident. A family member might become gravely ill and need your care. You might not get accepted into medical school. No matter how solid your plans may be, there are are rich variety of things that can go wrong.

Secondly, the goal you were originally seeking may begin to lose its luster with time. The more you learn about yourself and your goal, the more you may see that this destination isn’t for you. In high school, you might have dreamed of being a doctor, but as you watch real doctors doing their jobs, you may begin to see them as slaves to HMOs and insurance companies. Maybe in college, you find yourself drawn to different interests that lead you elsewhere.

Thirdly, there will be unexpected opportunities. Through no plan of yours, you may meet someone, read something or stumble into a random situation that completely changes your perspective and starts you down a different road.

Change, by its nature, is unpredictable. You don’t know today what tomorrow’s changes will be. Change doesn’t always move in a straight line based on today’s trends, and of course it does not respect our wishes. Whether a hurricane strikes our city is not affected by whether we have bought real estate there. Hurricanes obey their own rules, independent of our intentions.

You can protect yourself against some forms of disaster, but not all. You can insure your home against hurricane damage but not against a collapse in the real estate market. People think they can protect themselves from change by putting more locks on their doors, visiting their doctor every six months and buying insurance against every possible financial disaster, but change is going to sneak in anyway.

The only thing certain about life is there will be change. Things will happen that you never expected, and when they do, you can treat them either as disasters or opportunities. You can either embrace change or fight it.

If you try to fight change, you’re eventually going to lose. To embrace change, you have to be ready to adapt to it gracefully when it happens. As you look ahead, you have to recognize that you won’t know the future until it happens. You can plan for a range of possible future events but not every possible contingency. You can’t play a game and know its outcome before it begins.

You can’t plan on specific changes happening. What you can do, however, is leave yourself open to change by allowing yourself as much future freedom as possible. When disasters or opportunities happen, you need to be able to adapt to them with as little prior hindrance as possible.

Preserving your freedom means limiting your long-term contracts to those that are truly necessary. It is harder to adapt to changing circumstances when you have already committed yourself to being somewhere two years or twenty years from now. Preserving freedom also means crafting a practical life that is clear of unnecessary distractions and excess baggage. It is harder to adapt if you have a house full of useless possessions, a garden that needs to be watered and pets that need to be fed. To be best prepared for unexpected change, your life needs to be as lean and efficient as possible. You want to be a lean, mean, change-embracing machine.

Embracing change means appreciating it as a valuable source of health and growth, probably more healthy than any straight-line route. Sometimes the worst possible outcome is to obtain exactly the prize you had been seeking. “Be careful what you wish for because it might come true.” Sometimes the best possible event, in the greater arc of your life, is an ugly disaster that smashes all of your dreams to bits.

No one wants to see a beautiful forest destroyed by fire, but such a disaster is sometimes necessary to make way for new growth. A catastrophe can sometimes clear out all the “dead wood” of your life and force you to rethink what is really important. If your house burns down with all your possessions inside, you may discover that you never really needed them. Maybe they were an unnecessary burden that hindered your growth in more important areas.

Campbell’s Second Law is this: “Your life is bigger than you are.”

What I mean by this is that your whole life may have a direction and complexity that is beyond your ability to grasp right now. You can attribute this position to a higher being if you want, by saying that “God has a plan for you” bigger than the problems front of you. You don’t have to believe in God, however, to believe that there is a higher intelligence and bigger mission to your life than you can see right now.

You obviously want to avoid catastrophes. You should always fasten your seat belt and drive safely to make accidents less likely. If, in spite of your best efforts, misfortune strikes anyway, you ought to be philosophical about it. To best deal with unexpected change, you have to perceive it as “part of the plan.”

Even if your whole family has been killed in a car accident and you have been paralysed by it, you are still going to find a source of strength in the event. In the end, you have to believe that it will make you a better person.

Chapter 21:
Back to the Sixties

“All You Need is Love,” sang the Beatles in 1967. The song went immediately to #1 on the pop music charts and has poisoned our thinking ever since.

Love is not all you need. There are countless problems it can’t solve. Love can be a drug that makes you think it’s all you need, but sooner or later you have to come up for air.

Love won’t put food on the table or solve your financial problems. It also won’t give your life purpose and meaning, at least in the long run. There will be be a period of infatuation when you will be satisfied just exploring each other, but eventually every nook and cranny has been plumbed, and you’re back where you were before: “What do I do now?”

It’s like landing on a fascinating little island with a castle and a quaint fishing village on it. You may spend days exploring the island, but pretty soon you’ve mastered it, and everything there becomes routine. That’s when it dawns on you: You’re on an island, and there’s no place else to go. Love might land you on this island, but it alone won’t get you off.

Love does give you a default plan. It goes like this: First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Johnny with a baby carriage. That last part of the plan will certainly keep you busy, but whether it will give your life true meaning is another question. The baby business will probably slow down your own development, because there’s a lot of things you can’t do when you’ve got a little one to attend to.

If you don’t take the baby route, then what do you do? If you didn’t know what to do with your life before you fell in love, and your partner didn’t know what to do either, then what makes you think that once you get together you will have any more direction? Now you are two people who don’t know what to do with their lives, except now you both have to agree on whatever plan you come up with.

When two teenagers fall in love and run away together, what do they do? They drive around, go to the city, scrounge for food and gas money, drive some more, sleep in the car, have sex to exhaustion, start arguing with each other, then eventually give up and go home. Love, it turns out, isn’t “all they need.”

It was irresponsible for the Beatles to claim it was.

The late Sixties were the era of “free love”. Contraception became widely available for the first time and spawned a “Sexual Revolution.” Sex finally came out of the closet, was discussed openly and practiced prodigiously. Loved became “free” but it didn’t stay that way. Eventually reality caught up.

It’s fine for flower children to copulate like bunnies, but the age-old question remains: What do you do next? It may be exhilarating to explore your sexuality, but the thrill can’t last. Once you’ve experienced all of the Kama Sutra positions, it becomes like the chocolate cake you’ve had too much of: It just doesn’t give you the same excitement anymore. Instead, you’re soon back to the same problems of living you had before.

The Sexual Revolution was perverted by pornographers and tainted by venereal diseases. Free Love got shut down pretty quickly, and a new equilibrium developed that we know today, i.e. “Pay-Per-View Love.” Sex was freed from the subscription plan of marriage. Couples could now enjoy carnal knowledge out of wedlock without it being considered a crime or even improper, and a child could be born out of wedlock without being called a “bastard.” Thus, marriage lost it is significance as a real transition between stages.

Before the Sixties, marriage was a necessary gateway to sex and the legitimacy of your children. After the Sixties, it was a optional step taken chiefly for emotional purposes. Marriage didn’t lose its popularity, however. Turns out, people still wanted the ceremony, even if it had little practical significance apart from finances.

People need ceremonies. When someone dies, for example, their friends and family feel a need to get together to say a few words. It doesn’t matter what the ceremony consists of: You can say “ashes to ashes” or anything else. What people seem to crave is official public recognition of a transitional event. After a funeral, people can say quite definitively, “He’s dead,” and begin moving on with their lives.

Couples aren’t satisfied just to be secure in their own relationship; they want public recognition that their relationships exists. The wedding ceremony provides that. It is a sort of notarization service, witnessed by everyone, so buddies of the groom can finally say, “Yup, he’s dead.”

The modern wedding ceremony is composed of an accumulation of traditions dating back to the Romans. This often includes contributions by Lennon and McCartney, who have become part of our romantic tradition as much as Romeo and Juliet. Whereas pre-Sixties weddings pretty much stuck to the traditional script and emphasized duty and responsibility, post-Sixties weddings began to go free-form, and you never knew what would happen.

The new weddings are all about expressing love in unique ways so it doesn’t seem like the couple is signing on to an institution. You have to customize your wedding so it seems uniquely “yours.” Today, the ceremony is all “love” this and “love” that, going light on the duty and very light on the “death do you part” part (which is now translated as “as long as you both shall live” or the more realistic “from this day forth”). She looks into his eyes and he looks into hers, and they recite the carefully selected magic words they have been sweating over for months.

Some in the audience, however, are squirming in their seats, knowing full well how corny this is going to look in the wedding video when viewed ten years from now…. that is, if anyone sees the video ten years from now, because it will probably be Splitsville by then and the video will be one of those things lost in the fire.

Chapter 22: Personality

One thing love can’t change is someone else’s personality.

“Personality” is an individual’s habitual style of dealing with the world. This is expressed in their interests, their political opinions, the way they communicate, what they communicate about, how they spend their free time and how they respond to problems. Personality is ones recurring patterns of behavior and perception, expressed in a variety of situations. It can also be thought of as a person’s unique mental illness, dictating their delusions and the kind of self-destructive mistakes they are likely to make.

Let’s say you are waiting at an airport gate for an outgoing flight that has been delayed. As the delay stretches from minutes into hours, you begin to see what your fellow travellers are made of. Some people repeatedly go to the podium to complain. The longer the delay is, the angrier they get. Some people pull books or laptop computers out of their bags. They figure that if they are going to be delayed, they might as well use the time for something. Other people head for the airport bar and wait for the flight there, and here in Las Vegas, others spend the time in front of the slot machines conveniently located near the gate. A few people might just wander around, observing the other passengers and drinking it all in. To them, the delay is not an inconvenience; it just another adventure.

How someone responds to a stress like this is an expression of their personality. The operating style of the angry people is fundamentally different from those who take advantage of the time. Under a similar level of stress in entirely different circumstances, you can expect that each of these people will respond in a similar way.

If you have raised children, you know that each of them has their own style, which starts becoming apparent at an early age. There are colicky babies and calm ones. There are children who like dolls, those who like to take things apart, those who prefer sports, those who whine a lot, those who are quiet and self-contained and those who talk non-stop. The older a child gets, the more pronounced and stable their traits become.

By the end of high school, teachers have a pretty good idea where each kid is headed. One kid will probably be doing mechanical work for most of his life, like auto repair. Another kid is destined to be an artist. A third is a charismatic leader and a born manager. Another, if he hasn’t dropped out of school already, will probably be a scam artist or lifelong drug addict. The exact career path each kid follows remains to be seen, but by the time of graduation, you have a pretty good idea of his lifelong predilections.

We can argue about how much of ones personality comes from nature (genes) and how much from nurture (environment and upbringing). If you discover, at the age of 35, that you have an identical twin sibling you didn’t know about, and you go to visit them, you will probably find both some uncanny similarities and some striking differences between you. This would be a graphic illustration of the nature vs. nurture issue. Your similarities are probably an expression of your genes, while your differences are an expression of the different environments you grew up in and the different opportunities you had.

Personality is a quality of your behavior, not your appearance, but the body you were born into is inevitably going to shape your personality, because it effects how people respond to you and what you are physically good at. A boy with a linebacker’s physique is likely to become a linebacker and not try out for ballet. It is often a cruel hand that biology deals us, but the characteristics of our body can’t help but influence our methods of interacting with the world.

Personality is not just a style of behavior; it also embodies ones unique perception of reality. You may think there is only one reality, but in fact it differs greatly from person to person. One person, raised in a relatively warm and benevolent environment, might perceive the world as basically fair and just, while another, the product of a less stable childhood, might regard the world as inherently treacherous and deceptive. The real world, in fact, is more complex than either prediction. Each is a personality judgment.

Fundamental self-worth is contained in ones personality. Is a person highly self-confident, or do they feel themselves worthless and expect to be cheated? Do they fundamentally distrust all parental figures or all members of the opposite sex? Do they have an impulsive need to defy authority? Do they have a fundamental belief in the goodness of others? These are all instinctual operating theories that will have a profound effect on a person’s relations with the world.

Personality defies language. You cannot dissuade someone of their fundamental beliefs about life using words alone. We are used to communicating with each other in words, and because we all speak English, we tend to assume that we all speak the same language. This is true only for physical objects; if you say, “Put the red ball in the blue box,” everybody knows what you mean. Language becomes far less effective when you try to talk about relationships.

What, for example, does “love” mean? It is going to mean different things to different people based on their background and personality. In fact, nearly all the language commonly used to discuss relationships is open to interpretation. The language might have sentimental value when used in a greeting card, but it is pretty much useless for getting anything done.

If I say, “You are selfish and immature, and you don’t understand me at all!” the only thing I have really conveyed to you is my own emotional unhappiness. I haven’t provided any useful information about how to be less selfish and immature or how to understand me better. That’s where language breaks down. “Be more mature,” isn’t an adequate instruction, because obviously you believe that you are already mature and have been doing things the best way you know how.

At the beginning of a romantic relationship, couples think they are in sync with each other when they exchange relationship words with each other-like “love”-and each seems to agree with what the other is saying. In fact, each may be interpreting the language in entirely different ways. Only later, in times of stress, do you realize how useless the language is. You can give your partner specific instructions on one thing you want changed-like “Pick up your own clothes!”-and they may indeed try to change, but they will probably miss all the other circumstances that concern you, like cleanliness in other parts of the house.

What you may find over time is that you are both speaking the same verbal language-English-but that no real communication is taking place. These communication gaps are a reflection of differences in your basic ways of processing the world. Unfortunately, there is no real cure for these communication breakdowns, because each of your personalities is already fixed.

Campbell’s Third Law is: “Nothing you can say or do will change another adult’s personality.”

It’s a hard lesson to accept, especially if you are romantically bonded to someone and have invested a lot of yourself in them. You can try to a change specific behavior, like leaving their clothes on the floor, but even changing this one specific habit is going to be difficult. You are never going to turn a messy person into a neat one or an irresponsible cad into a devoted partner. If you have already made an investment, you may try changing them anyway, but you’re probably going to fail in the end.

When responding to personality traits you object to, you have only one form of effective discretion: You can withdraw or not withdraw. Withdrawal, in fact, may be your sole means of helping the other person change. While you can’t repair someone else’s personality defects, you may be inadvertently reinforcing these traits by protecting this person from the natural consequences of their actions. When you stop picking up after them, it lets them experience the world more directly. The dirty clothes will pile up and eventually something will have to give.

Who should you choose as your long-term partner? Someone whose personality is as close as possible to yours. If you can find your missing identical twin, they would be ideal! You don’t have to have the same background, career or outward appearance, but you need to have the same basic worldview. Then there will be fewer gaps in your communication.

If the two of you have fundamentally different personalities, you are probably not going to get along in the long run, because there are too many opportunities for misunderstanding. Getting married isn’t going to erase your differences, no matter how much you may want it to. It will only stretch out the amount of time it takes to reach the final conclusion.’

Chapter 23: Problems of Selection

If you believe in arranged marriages, then finding a partner will be easy for you. Your elders will choose your mate, and all you have to do is go along. Likewise, if you believe that fate or the stars should choose your love, then your job is effortless. You just have to wait for Prince Charming to walk through the door, then you run him by your astrologer to confirm that he is really the one.

Things get much more complicated if you decide you are going to deliberately “choose” your own mate. Now the success or failure of the operation rests on your shoulders and there are plenty of ways things can go wrong. Compared to trusting the stars, this selection process can be incredibly stressful, because you don’t know for certain whether you are going to make the right choice.

It is a lot like shopping for an important object that you will be using for years, like a washing machine, a car or a house. In the case of romance, however, the stakes are many times higher. You aren’t just shopping for an appliance; you are shopping for an important part of your future identity, just one notch below choosing a career. Once you settle on a product, you are going to be making a huge investment in it and you expect to be stuck with it for a very long time.

And it isn’t just a matter of selecting a product; the product is also selecting you. Everyone wants the “best” product for the money, but if you set your standards too high, then you run the risk that the product you choose won’t be interested in you. If only $1000 washing machines interest you while you have $500 to spend, you’re going to walk away empty handed.

When you come across a potential mate and begin to interact with them, you do a complex calculation in your head. The first question is, “Am I attracted to them?” If the answer is yes, then the next one is, “Will they reject me?” The fact that you find a movie star attractive doesn’t mean you have any chance with them. The fear of rejection can be huge, almost as great as the fear of loneliness. Thus, people aren’t always going to shoot for the most appealing candidate. Instead, they’ll aim for the one they think they can realistically bag and take home.

Apart from the fear of rejection, there is also a fear that someone will become more attached to you than you are to them. You don’t want to be trapped into a relationship when you yourself have lost interest. What if you tell someone you like them but then change your mind? How are you going to escape?

Since you have only one position available, you face a natural dilemma: What if you settle on one candidate, commit yourself to them, but then an even better one walks in the door? It is like buying a house for a certain price, but the next week a better house goes on the market at a lower price. How do you know, when looking at the first house, that this won’t happen to you?

And what if you are faced with two houses, both on the market at the same time, both with their pluses and minuses? How do you choose between the two? You could be like the donkey who has a choice between two equally enticing bales of hay: He starves to death because he can’t decide which to choose.

All of these factors can confound the selection process. For example, you are attracted to a candidate, so you approach them, but what if they turn around and start pursuing you? At that point, you panic and pull back. If they’re pursuing you, maybe they’re desperate, which means there’s something wrong with them. Maybe they’re desperate because everyone else has rejected them, and they aren’t really as desirable as you think they are.

Why would they be attracted to you at all? This fact alone creates suspicion. As Groucho Marx said: “I wouldn’t belong to any club that would have me as a member.”

The only candidates who are unquestionably attractive are those who are already attached to other mates. The fact that they’re attached proves they are desirable. Their status also allows you to see what they are really like, because you can observe them interacting with their partner under natural conditions and you know they aren’t putting on a show for you.

You definitely don’t want someone who is as desperate as you are. Initially, you want a relationship that’s cool and casual. You don’t want somebody falling head over heals for you when you aren’t ready, but you also don’t want them to be too cool either, because that would mean they’re not really interested in you and might reject you.

Sigh! Sometimes, there seems only one solution to the conundrum of selection: alcohol, lots of it. At least that reduces the initial inhibitions. The only problem is the morning-after hangover. You wake up in bed with someone and wonder how this could have possibly happened.

Is there any place for intelligence in this process? Should you leave your brain at home? No, the brain can come along, and it can definitely be helpful as long as it understands the rules.

A successful romantic connection is going to be a combination of happenstance and natural selection.

Happenstance will throw you together with certain candidates and not others. You aren’t selecting from all the millions of available candidates, only those few who you happen to come in contact with and have a chance to evaluate. Hopefully, your career and avocations will brings you into contact with a variety of people. The more open you are to the world, the more contacts you will make. Then, when a potential candidate comes within range, selection comes into play.

“Natural selection” is a filtering process that flows naturally from the the interaction between you, with no one having to explicitly reject anyone else. In the absence of sexual attraction, people naturally draw together then pull apart based on the circumstances. Natural selection allows this process to proceed on its own.

Natural selection is a communication-based selection system. To make it work, you talk with the other person and find out what your differences are. (It is not how you are alike that is important here, but how you are different.) If you have a solid identity of your own, then it is easy to detect when something about them is out of sync with your own beliefs. If you find something they expound that you don’t agree with, you bring it up in conversation. For example, if you are an animal rights activist, and you find that the other person is a hunter, you should challenge them on it.

Being a hunter in itself isn’t necessarily a disqualification. Because the candidate pool is always limited, you don’t want to be rejecting good ones on superficial grounds. A dissonent detail like this is just a warning sign that requires further explanation. If the candidate doesn’t give you a satisfactory response that is consistent with your own beliefs, then you will raise further objection and obviously your relationship isn’t going to advance much further.

If the hunter calls you up asking for a date, you don’t really have to “reject” them. You just have to emphasize your objection to hunting and ask them again to explain themselves. You can emphasize your willingness to negotiate, but you remain firm on your principles. There is no point in further communication if the relationship is already blocked on this point. This method of withdrawal is going to be far more effective in turning them off than coming up with a lame excuse like, “Sorry, I’m busy tonight.”

The person who is right for you is the one who passes all of your most significant challenges. Remember that you are looking for a clone of yourself, not someone exotic. If the two of you are in sync on core issues from the very beginning, then the relationship is likely to succeed, even if you end up with someone quite different than who you dreamed of.

Natural selection fails only when you are so emotionally desperate or insecure in your own identity that you subvert your own principles. If the other person is invested in something you don’t agree with, and you choose to ignore this substantial difference between you and not press them on it, then it is your own fault if you proceed anyway and the relationship doesn’t work out.
Chapter 24: Advisors and Sycophants

Couples like to think of marriage as uniting their strengths. He has certain special talents, and she has hers, so together they must have twice the abilities, right? Unfortunately, they aren’t seeing the other half of the equation: Marriage can unite and reinforce their weaknesses. If they each have different vulnerabilities, they could end up twice as vulnerable.

Change and adaptation becomes more difficult in a “team”, because now they have to agree on everything. One person can’t just see an opportunity and instantly jump on it. There are forms to fill out and negotiations to conduct, and the opportunity could be long past before permission is granted.

And then there is the question of conceptual change. Is the personal growth of each individual helped or hindered by a team arrangement?

Each person has their own delusions-self-serving beliefs about life that are supported more by emotion than fact. For example, almost any hobby can be seen as delusional. If you like to go fishing, someone else who isn’t afflicted with this disease can innocently ask, “Why?” What are you accomplishing by it apart from killing time and torturing fish? If you are already invested in fishing, then you are not going to listen to these naysayers. You will go fishing for as long and as much as you have resources to do so.

In real life, a happy marriage involves an implicit understanding that you are not going to challenge each other’s delusions. Even if you disagree with something your partner does, as long as it doesn’t intrude into your own space, you are likely to keep quiet about it. You know what you need to do to keep the peace. If you criticized your partner’s fishing every time they went out, the marriage wouldn’t last long.

A tee-shirt in a fishing shop reads: “My wife told me if I go fishing one more time she’s going to leave me. I’m sure going to miss her!”

Instead of courting conflict, you come to an accommodation: You don’t challenge your partner’s delusions and they won’t challenge yours. The relationship rearranges itself to accommodate his golf addiction and her quilting addiction. In turn, these addictions are reinforced by the structure of the relationship and are probably less likely to change over time than they would if these people were single.

The more you are trapped together, the more you are likely to “accommodate” rather than “challenge.” Honest and independent intellectual exchange is compromised by the need to keep the peace.

After a hard day at the office, a husband comes home to his wife and recounts all the problems of the day. Whatever he says, he expects his wife to agree with him. He naturally desires only soothing words not more opposition. He doesn’t expect her to hurl the same criticisms at him that he already received at the office.

The wife, in turn, wants to believe in her husband, because she has already invested so much in him. If there is a conflict between her husband and forces in the outside world, the outside forces must be at fault. “Of course you are right, dear,” she says.

The only data the wife has received about the conflicts at work comes from her husband himself. This is like a lawyer coming into court and recounting his side of a conflict without the opposing side having any opportunity to speak. Given what her husband has told her, naturally she is going to agree with him.

There might be hell to pay if the wife disagreed with her husband. Then the conflicts of the office would be carried into the bedroom, and there would be no rest for either party. Instead, the wife is more likely to agree wholeheartedly and might even come up with a few new reasons why he must be right. The next day, the husband goes back to work, reinforced in the righteousness of his position, and makes a total jerk of himself.

Personal delusional beliefs are supported by ego and prior personal investment. People may be drawn to go fishing in part because they have always gone fishing and abandoning the hobby today would be saying that all those past investments were worthless. This kind of stable pattern of behavior is unlikely to change on its own. Words alone won’t change the delusion, at least without some power behind them. If you criticize my firmly entrenched beliefs, you are more likely to anger me than change me, and I will probably pull away from you.

The only thing likely to modify entrenched delusions are the pressures of the real world. You will stop fishing-or bowling or collecting butterflies-only when you run out of the resources to do so or when the delusion leads you to bad results. A relationship is destructive when it protects one partner from this kind of feedback; then their delusions never have to change.

Ideally, what you want in a relationship is a truly independent advisor, not a sycophant. A sycophant is someone who is hired to tell the boss what he wants to hear. “Of course you are right,” they tell their employer in every instance. This may sound nice and feel comforting, but it isn’t preparing the boss for the eventual intrusion of reality.

To best be prepared for reality, you need an advisor who will tell you when you are full of shit but who can also recognize when you are doing things right. This kind of talent is much more difficult to recruit and maintain than a sycophant. They must care about you and know you well enough to speak your language but not be so invested in you that they can’t see your weaknesses. It is a difficult balance to maintain.

Certainly, your advisor will lose their independence if you are trapped together in a cell with no hope of escape. To be truly effective as a critic, an advisor needs to be able drop a bombshell then pull back. If the criticism is truly valid, then the person being criticized is likely to be angry or confused. They need time to sort things out without the advisor lurking over them all the time.

Conceptual change takes time. If you have an argument with your partner, and you score some good points, the best thing you can do is withdraw and let those points be absorbed. If you remain under foot, then the immediate quality of interaction is probably going to degenerate.

If you go away, then your partner has a chance to think things through on their own. The pacing should now be up to them. If the criticism is valid, they need time to processes it and come up with a new plan. It the criticism is invalid, they need time to assemble a defense. They will come back to you when they have generated a new synthesis and are ready for your feedback again.

If your partner has been working on a project for a long time, they are going to be emotionally invested in it. A dutiful, sycophantic spouse is going to say, “It’s wonderful, dear!” regardless of whether it is, but that’s not really the kind of feedback you need. You need someone who will give you an accurate prediction of reality without being tainted by your own needs and feelings.

Truly useful and independent criticism is something you have to carefully cultivate. Your partner needs to trust you enough to say what they really think without fear of you biting their head off. If you respond badly to criticism only once or twice, it could shut down the feedback machine and rob you of useful data in the future. If you reinforce and reward good criticism, it is more likely to happen again.

When the two of you are in conflict, whatever you are fighting about will soon be forgotten. What is important in the long term is how you fight-i.e. your rules of engagement. This in itself should be a matter of debate between you, and it should be practiced on minor issues before the major ones come along. If I want Italian food and you want Chinese, by what methodology should we resolve this conflict?

In the long run, this is what makes or breaks relationships: not what we have in common but how we manage our differences.

Chapter 25: Trapped in their own Museum

As we have noted, the legal contract of marriage is chiefly a financial one, merging the economies of two individuals into one undifferentiated “community.” This may not seem too dangerous at first, but you know it’s only the beginning. What happens next can be truly terrifying.

If the couple has the means to do so, they will soon buy real estate together. Typically, they will be agreeing to a mortgage commitment of at least 20 years. It is this contract, more than the marriage itself, that begins to lock them into place like mammoths trapped in tar.

Once they have a home in their possession, what do they do next? They start filling with stuff! I mean STUFF, piles and piles of it, 90% of which they don’t really need. The real estate and the contents therein becomes an outward expression of their romantic oneness. The stuff they acquire is largely aesthetic in nature. It is suppose to convey to themselves and visitors who they are, individually and as a community.

Humans have always been pack rats. As a rule, whatever space they have for stuff they will fill with stuff. The storage of food can be handy of course, especially if you anticipate a famine. Famines may be rare in the industrial world, but the same impulse is still expressed in modern homes. Nothing that might remotely be useful in the future can ever be thrown away. No wall can be left blank, and every aesthetic sense must be catered to. Any unused floor space will eventually be filled with something useless, until the entire living space is stuffed with stuff and the couple looks around for larger quarters.

Legally, a wedding heralds a new financial arrangement, while socially and psychologically, it declares to everyone the supposed strength of a couple’s bond. Commercially, however, a wedding is an important launching point for economic activity. It is the start of a massive movement of furniture, art objects, consumer goods and maintenance services into a newly opened market.

Getting married is the beginning of the Great Accumulation.

Since the couple has supposedly “arrived” at a permanent plateau of stability, they feel more comfortable accumulating things. The collecting of merchandise is also a bonding activity. Even if the couple has nothing in common intellectually, they can still do two things together: have sex and go shopping.

Commercially, a wedding is a prelude to interior decoration, at least in the short term. In the long term, it is a prelude to a garage sale, a big one, where all that useless stuff is finally sold off at a tiny fraction of what the couple paid for it. The garage sale usually happens at the time of the divorce or when both partners drop dead and their heirs are forced to get rid of it for them.

Stuff is a substantial part of the substance of marriage. In the absence of children, marriage consists largely of acquiring stuff, rearranging stuff (“Honey, can you help me move this?”), maintaining and caring for the stuff you have (including the home itself and any pets that might be running around in it) and eventually the contentious division of stuff at the time of divorce.

Is this all life consists of-stuff?

Some couples live in trash heaps, but the highest ideal of marriage is to live in a pristine museum, surrounded by objects of sentimental value and non-personal items that radiate artistic good taste. Everything you have done or accomplished should be available on display: your diplomas, photos of you with various dignitaries, mementos of every vacation you and your spouse have taken, visual documentation of your entire genetic lineage, and trinkets from every major event in your life.

It would be difficult to get a public museum to put on a display like this unless you happen to be very famous. If you own the display space, however, you can do anything you want with it. If the hagiography concerns yourself and your family, that’s your choice.

Once they have reached the plateau of marriage, couples with the means usually set about creating a shrine to themselves. They consult with each other on what the shrine will look like and the objects that will be included in it. “Do you think this painting looks better on this wall or that one?” Every object is seen as an expression of who they are, who they were or who they want to be.

It is a never-ending project. Once the museum seems finished, the completion date can be endlessly extended by a process called “remodeling,” where you tear things down and rebuild them again. Shouldn’t we add a sun room out back? Don’t we need to rearrange the flower garden? Shouldn’t we turn the basement into an entertainment center? As long as funds are available, work on the museum can continue indefinitely.

It certainly looks like there is a relationship going on. The couple is working together toward common goals. They are getting along with each other, and they have plenty of things to talk about: their current and future remodeling. They conduct research together, including reviewing the religious works of Martha Stewart and Bob Villa. They travel together-to Home Depot and the plant nursury. It looks like they are living a full and productive matrimonial existence.

But are they?

Marriage seems like a step forward from selfish isolation. No longer will you be preoccupied only with yourself; now you will be sharing everything you have with another. You have found your “other half” so you no longer have to be lonely. You give to them and they give to you, so you no longer seem to be self-absorbed.

But what do we call it when someone builds a shrine to themselves, when they are occupied only with their own needs and when they cut themselves off from the needs of the outside world? Isn’t this “narcissism”-an unhealthy preoccupation with oneself?

In this case, however, the narcissism is shared by two. They may be generous or selfless with each other, but if they are not sharing anything with the outside world, they are still self-absorbed. By reinforcing each other’s self-serving delusions, they can cut themselves off from any real accomplishment. Any resources devoted to the shrine obviously can’t be spent on anything else, like projects to advance the good of others.

Once you have created the perfect museum and a comprehensive shrine to yourself, what happens to it? Eventually, you die; the museum is disassembled and the house and its contents are sold to strangers. Most of your life’s work is translated into money, which is split among your heirs.

As tasteful as the museum might have once been, there is nothing left to remember you by.

Chapter 26: A Change of Needs

When we are poor, all we can think about is money. We become preoccupied with it, and when an opportunity to make more comes along, we jump on it. Remembering the pain and uncertainties of poverty, we may eagerly sign a long-term contract that guarantees us a steady income. Unfortunately, the contract can lock us into the past, forcing us to labor for yesterday’s worries long after they have faded.

A funny thing happens after we have enough money: It stops being important to us. Everyone would love to have a million dollars, which if carefully invested could solve ones money woes for life, but if you had $100 million, would you be 100 times happier? No, because your money problems have already been solved, and your focus is going to turn to other issues. With the extra $99 million you would only buy more things you don’t need and probably be burdened by them. It can never make you as happy as the first million did.

This illustrates a recurring problem of human perception. People tend to project recent history into the future in a straight line. For example, if the price of gold has risen dramatically for the past five years, they assume that it is always going to rise, and they buy gold. They don’t understand that a past trend is no guarantee of a future one.

Future needs, as they eventually turn out, are rarely a straight-line extrapolation of the present. There is usually a satiation point where the original disequilibrium has been resolved and the trend goes flat or heads in the other direction. The price of gold can’t go up dramatically forever. Eventually, it is going to stabilize and even drop to a more rational level.

This “satiation” phenomenon is especially relevant when predicting ones own feelings. If people see that something made them happy in the past, they think it will always make them happy and that their happiness will be proportional to the quantity of that thing that they obtain. If a million dollars will bring them euphoria, they assume $100 million will make them 100 times as high. They fail to realize that once a need is satiated, it fades into the background, and unexpected new needs come to the fore.

When we are romantically unattached, loneliness preoccupies us. We long to be touched and to have someone care about us. When it finally happens and we find love, our natural inclination is to try to nail down this success with a long-term contract. Remembering how terrible loneliness was, we want to guarantee that it never happens again. Unfortunately, once we commit to a contract, we may discover that it solves only the problems of the past in a straight-line fashion and inhibits us from solving the less predictable problems of the future.

Marriage commits you indefinitely to daily social interaction with your partner. After your painful loneliness, this seems to be just what the doctor ordered. After a period of marital bliss, however, a new concern may loom in your mind: a desire for independence.

What would it be like, you wonder, to wake up in the morning and do anything you wanted without having to negotiate with anyone? How would it feel to be able to set your own goals and control your own environment? What would you do if you had no one pick up after or tiptoe around? Wouldn’t it be Heaven?

To some married people, this is as wistful and romantic a dream as marriage may seem to those who are single. They lust to be alone! Sociability may be pleasant up to a point, but it is harder to make changes in a team, and you are often held down by the limitations and demands of others. Loneliness is replaced by the tyranny of the group, which often discourages individual achievement. A group tends to operate by a principle of the “lowest common denominator”: You do only those few things that everyone can agree on.

In marriage, much of your time is not yours. It is “community property” that can be spent only with permission. If you make a plan for substantial amount of your own time but fail to consult your spouse on it, you could be in trouble. There is often a jealousy thing going on below the surface: “If you spend so much time doing that, you aren’t going to have enough time for me!”

After you have done the marriage thing for a while, you may long for a time when you possess no one and are possessed by no one. You may secretly dream of going to a luxury hotel on a tropical island and staying there all alone. It is the kind of fantasy you keep to yourself, because insecure spouses would never understand. Having an affair is one thing, but wanting to be alone, away from their neediness, is beyond their comprehension.

Some people never have a chance to experience independent living. They move from their parents’ home, to living with someone, to marriage, to raising children. They never have an opportunity to control their own life. Independence is a great mystery to them, like marriage is to a virgin. “How do you do it?” they ask. When you wake up in the morning all alone, how do you decide what to do with your day? Won’t you go mad if you don’t have sex on a regular basis? And is it even safe to be alone? What if you have a stroke or heart attack and no one is there to notice? Aren’t you going to die?

Independence is a critical life skill. To accomplish the most you can in your time on Earth, you not only need to get along with others; you also have to get along with yourself. If you know yourself and what you are capable of, you are going to make better decisions for others. If you don’t know yourself, many of your decisions are going to fail because they don’t take into account your own limitations.

When they suddenly find themselves alone, many people panic. They turn on the TV, start drinking or engage in some other distracting activity to make the perceived emptiness go away. They lack the skills of independence and self-direction. Without this personal center, they have probably made a lot of bad decisions in their life and will continue to make them without any self-awareness.

Comfortable independence is when you find yourself alone and consider it a joy. Now, you can do all those things that other people prevented you from doing. When you are self-directed, you don’t panic and waste time. Instead, you try to make the most of your time and you don’t let any of it slip away.

To be kept in tune, the skill of independence needs to be practiced at regular intervals: not just once a year but preferably every day. Maybe independence should be your default position, with relationships being temporary departures for only as long as the joy is real or a need is served.

Chapter 27: Reaching Your Plateau

Childhood is a process of intensive intellectual and emotional development. First, a child must learn how to function in a strange body on an alien planet among a family of other creatures he didn’t choose. For one thing, he has has to learn a spoken language from scratch, and he does it much faster than an adult ever could. Every day, he absorbs new things and becomes more in tune with his environment.

When a child is old enough, he is sent to school, where new skills are built upon previously learned ones. Elementary school is followed by junior high followed by high school and possibly by college and grad school. He learns professional skill, becomes proficient at it, then settles into an adult career.

What happens then? In most cases, his learning slows to a crawl.

Between the ages of 5 and 15, the developmental changes are huge. A personality and a physical body are formed which will probaby remain stable for the person’s lifetime. Between 15 and 25, there can be major social changes as formal education is completed and an average person settles into a career path. Between 25 and 35, the changes ar less significant. Unless someone has been the victim of misfortune, like war or layoffs, their growth tends to be only incremental: they advance further along their previously chosen career path but don’t deviate much into new areas.

Between 35 and 45, personal growth may be imperceptible from the outside. If you leave this person and come back ten years later, you find that they have more gray hair and have stabilized in their role, but compared to younger people it look like they have been held in suspended animation, with little obvious growth.

In general, people don’t change much between there and death. The body slowly deteriorates and the mind becomes set in its ways. Older people tend to be more interested in comfort than change.

Is this our destiny? Does the brain simply lose its ability to learn after the first few years? Or is this a choice? Do people stop developing only because they have decided that it is no longer a priority?

A young child learns a new language effortlessly. If he is exposed to three languages in his infancy, we will learn all three without an accent and without any formal training. An adult could never do that. He has to work hard for years to learn a foreign language, and even then he will never grasp it as intuitively as the child. Does this mean the adult’s brain is no longer capable of rapid learning?

Not necessarily. The adult is usually trying to learn a language part time, while the infant is devoted continuously to the task. If you kidnapped an adult and threw him together with a caring family in a foreign land where he had to use local words to get what he wanted, he would probably learn as fast as the child does. The structure of the brain is no doubt different between infancy and adulthood, but the raw ability to learn is still present. The child is better at intuitive learning (like being able to speak without an accent) but the adult can come up with intellectually strategies for learning that are far more sophisticated (like reading a book on the subject).

If an adult decides tomorrow he is fascinated by a new subject and wants to learn everything he can about it, he will do it on his own, probably much more efficiently than the child could. The only problem, however, is getting the adult motivated to make this decision.

Between childhood and adulthood only the circumstances of learning change. A young child is committed to nothing, and little is formally expected of him. He can decide one day he wants to be a firefighter and the next day a nurse. He can experiment with a lot of different viewpoints without being tied to any one. His schooling sets up a graduated series of challenges for him, so he is required to learn every day. He develops rapidly because his environment makes it easy for him to do so.

Adults, however, tend to get trapped by their commitments and stuck in repetitive routines. They reach “plateaus” where no further learning is expected of them and where the circumstances of their life discourage experimentation. Once they have invested in a certain way of life, unregulated learning becomes dangerous because it might lead them in directions other than the one they have already invested in. Instead, they tend to repeat the same comfortable activities over and over-bowling every Wednesday night, boating on weekends-because this protects their investments and presents fewer risks.

Without the physical and emotional freedom to explore and experiment, learning becomes much more unlikely. If you really want to learn about a new country, for example, you can’t just read about it in books; you have to actually go there. If you are trapped in a prison cell, your personal development is bound to slow down, not because your brain has solidified but because your range of possible real-world experiments is now so limited.

College students with few commitments can easily learn about a foreign county: They just take their backpack and go! Married people with mortgages and children can’t do this. They are limited to their 2-week annual vacation, and then they need someone to take care of their kids, pets, lawn and prior commitments. Given their accumulated habits and their established status, hostelling probably isn’t good enough for them. Their trip will end up being a big, expensive production that is far less efficient and educational than the college student’s.

Intelligence is a choice. Some adults are “smart” and others “dumb” simply because they choose to be. Smart people remain that way because they deliberately seek out new experiences and are willing to experiment with new ideas. They are smart because they have set up their life in such a way as to encourage their own unpredictable development. Dumb people choose to repeat the same ritualized activities, and they allow their practical commitments to expand to the point where no further change is possible.

For example, a vacation is a choice. People who want to learn are going to go backpacking in Europe or engage in some other adventure in a foreign universe where they don’t know exactly where their road will lead. People who don’t want to learn are going to spend their vacation in Las Vegas. They are going to go someplace that promises sensory stimulation without any personal challenge or risk.

If you are going to grow as much in your later years as you did in your early ones, you have to make a conscious decision to do so. You have to adopt an attitude that learning is desirable and be willing to limited your worldly commitments to those that are truly necessary.

Romantic love may be compatible with learning as long as it is flexible. A lifetime contract is not compatible with learning. If you want to develop beyond the state you are currently in, then you have to leave yourself the ability to change.

Chapter 28: Problems of Living

By virtue of being human, all of us our driven by recurring existential urges. These are deep emotional fears, similar to hunger and thirst, that secretly motivate our behavior and sometimes lead us to ruin. Our existential desires are not always fulfillable and are often self-contradictory, yet we have to learn to live with them.

One of these essential drives is the desire to be protected, comforted and cared for-the urge to merge. We all remember warm feelings of security from our childhood: Our parents took care of our needs, comforted us when we were hurt and protected us from the harsh realities of the world. With time, we chafed under this protection and wanted to experience the world more directly. This was thrilling at first until we realized how cruel and unforgiving the real world could be. When reality didn’t go our way, we longed to go back to being protected. We wanted to fall back into someone else’s arms and feel comforted and safe again.

Alas, you can never really go back. Every form of refuge has its price, and even if you pay the price, the protection you receive may still be an illusion.

People join religions for the illusion of protection. A religion gives you a set of comforting words to say and rituals to follow, and it teaches you about a God or supernatural force that is supposedly looking after you. The only trouble with religion is that it compromises your own independent judgment. If you follow the simplistic instructions of the group rather than judging life on its own terms, this is bound to lead to painful real-world mistakes.

With almost the same religious fervor, people look to romantic love as a source of protection. They want their partner to be a parent to them, even a god. They want to be held in someone arms and be kept warm and safe. When they don’t know what to do with their life or are facing a stress they can’t handle, they want a White Knight to rescue them.

The desire for rescue and the belief in White Knights can run very deep, so much so that we are tempted to see a rescuer in any mannequin or scarecrow. In the early stages of romance, we worship our partner, seeing them as a Superman or Superwoman with extraordinary abilities, even if we have never actually seen those abilities in action. We need them to have superhuman powers so they can fulfill all of the impossible needs within us.

The comfort, of course, is illusory. Someone can hold us in their arms and tell us comforting words, just like our parents did, but they can’t really protect us from reality. Eventually, our protector turns out not to be superhuman. Because they don’t know our needs as well as we do, they inevitably make worse decisions for us than we would make ourselves, and this may get us into even deeper difficulties than the ones we wanted protection from.

Another existential urge is almost the opposite: the desire to be a unique and powerful individual in our own right. This is what drives us away from the protection of our parents beginning at a very early age. As soon as we have the capability of doing something, like walking, then we want to do it ourselves, without any help from anyone. This need becomes especially fierce in adolescence, when the kid is desperate for a unique identity and insists that he needs help from no one.

Young people will go to some bizarre extremes to try to prove their uniqueness: tattooing, body piercing, a taste for loud music their parents hate and a penchant for high-risk activities. Give them a cultural restriction and they’ll rebel against it. This is a only shallow theatrical uniqueness, however. It is not what they really want and need, which is real accomplishment in the outside world.

Paradoxically, we not only want to be unique and powerful; we want to be seen as unique and powerful by others. Being independent and self-sufficient isn’t enough, because that is a very lonely position. We want others to see our independence and self-sufficiency. We want to be praised for our uniqueness, and barring that, we will settle for being reviled for it. The important thing is that we be noticed and that we make a mark on the world.

Everyone wants witnesses, preferably a million of them, but even one witness is better than not being seen at all. We feel more alive when we know someone is watching us and recording our accomplishments. In our childhood, our parents provided this service: When we achieved something, they praised us for it. In adulthood, we also want this praise and notice. We work hard in our careers not just for money but also for recognition. Being the Number One salesman in your division gives you a sense of worth deeper than money, because everyone else in your division is now recognizing you.

If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one to see, does it still fall? Physically, it does, but emotionally maybe not. If you have accomplished something, and no one is there to see you accomplishment, then is it worth anything? There may be some private satisfaction in, say, climbing the world’s highest mountain, but public recognition feels much better.

Romance is also supposed to fulfill this need. No longer will your accomplishments go unnoticed. Your partner will praise you for them just as your parents did. They will see and mentally record everything you do, which may give you a greater sense of having lived.

Unfortunately, this is sometimes a hollow recognition. If your partner praises everything you do, regardless of its quality, then their notice won’t mean much in the long run. On the other hand, your accomplishment could be taken for granted after a while and not praised at all, to the point where you are making great efforts in the relationship and getting little reward. If you are trapped with someone, either result is possible.

Why should it matter whether we have a witness? If we accomplish a personal goal, should the accomplishment alone be satisfaction enough, without the need for an audience? Being witnessed matters because we are essentially social beings. How others see us forms part of our identity and our core motivation. We couldn’t just arrive on an alien planet and know what to do with ourselves. The people around us necessarily mold us and direct us toward certain goals, and without all human contact we would be lost.

We can be self-sufficient to a degree, but there could be no worse hell than being trapped on a desert island alone. Without someone to perform for, the theatre of life begins to lose its meaning. If you see another human face only once a year, that contact is still essential to keep you going. Even the dream of human contact is better than no contact at all.

The existential drives may not always make logical sense, but they will always be part of us. We will always be seeking comfort and recognition from others at the same time we are trying to prove ourselves unique from them. It is okay to fall into the arms of another, and it is okay to seek fame and recognition for your specialness. What you shouldn’t do is suspend reality in the process.

Whatever you are seeking emotionally, you need to choose a path that is really going to give you what you want. Your quest must be moderated by intelligence. Joining a cult is not the best way to seek comfort and personal affirmation, because this mechanism is flawed and simply doesn’t work. Likewise, you shouldn’t pursue a path toward fame and fortune that isn’t really going to lead to satisfaction. You can try to become a movie star, but it probably won’t make you happy regardless of whether you succeed.

Reality, if you obey it, forces you into a higher plane of functioning where your emotions are disciplined by intellect. If you choose to listen to reality, it will tell you what you can and cannot do to achieve your emotional goals.

If you are cautious, thoughtful and open to the unexpected, you might find enough comfort, uniqueness and recognition to get you by. You probably won’t find them, however, if you simply lock yourself in a prison cell and throw away the key.

Chapter 29: Death Benefits

Death can be very inconvenient, especially for the person it happens to. No matter what you believe awaits you on the Other Side, it is clear that being dead greatly reduces your ability to interact with the world. You can rattle your chains and haunt your old house, but the chances of anybody listening and taking you seriously are very slim. It can be especially difficult to pass messages back to the living about what you want done with your estate and with the important projects you have been working on. Modern law and society expect you to have these matters settled before you depart this mortal plane.

If you are romantically bonded with someone and have lived with them for a while, chances are you want the bulk of your estate to go to them. There are two reasons for this. First, you want your mate to have the means to continue without you. For example, if you been sharing a house, and the house is in your name, you probably want them to have it so they can continue living there. Second, if your partner knows you better than anyone, they are best equipped to understand and implement your wishes. If they knew best what your goals were, they would probably be in the best position to carry them on.

It would be a great tragedy for your partner to be dedicated to you for years but have no control of your estate when you passed on. They would then be forced to negotiate with your parents, siblings or other relatives. Those are creatures of your past who might not agree with your current goals to the same extent your partner does. Control of your legacy might be diluted, and the goals you fought for while alive could be sabotaged.

Death benefits are one area where marriage makes things easy. If you are married, the law automatically assumes that your estate will go to your spouse. In addition, your spouse may continue to receive at least some of your retirement and pension payments, such as Social Security. If you remain alive but are unable to speak for yourself, your spouse has the greatest control over your care, and they would decide when to pull the plug after all hope is gone. Married people don’t even have to make up wills, because all of these rights are automatically assumed under the law.

If you are not married to your partner, nothing is automatic and you must prepare for these circumstances with explicit legal contracts. Gay partners have learned how to do this in societies that don’t allow them to marry, and heterosexuals would be wise to follow their lead. With the exception of certain retirement and employment benefits, there are no rights conferred by marriage that can’t be accomplished by separate legal contracts.

You must have a written will if you expect your unmarried partner to receive any part of your estate, and you must have a living will for them to have priority in caring for you. Once you believe you are in a stable relationship with someone, making up mutual wills should be one of your first legal steps together. You could even make a ceremony of it! (Instead of “‘Till death do you part,” you would be saying, “In death we will be joined.”)

One benefit of having a will but not being married is that your surviving partner can receive your assets but doesn’t have to accept any liabilities beyond the value of your estate. If you rack up huge uninsured medical bills in your final days, your married spouse would be responsible for paying them after your death. Your unmarried partner would not be. Likewise, if you were the subject of a lawsuit at the time of your death, the estate might bear continued liability, but your partner would not. If you bequeath something to your partner that is more an asset than a liability-like a heavily mortgaged house that needs repairs-your partner has right to not accept it.

Retirement benefits are more problematic. Social security and most private pension benefits are transferrable only to married partners. Battling on the front lines, gays are making inroads in some states and countries, but federal benefits in the U.S. are unlikely to change soon. If you choose not to get married, you may have to face the fact that some of your partner’s employment-related benefits may never be available to you.

A bigger question, however, is whether you deserve the retirement and employment benefits of your partner after they are gone. These benefits came about through their hard work, not yours. Pensions and employer-subsidized health insurance are the main tangible marriage benefits routinely denied to unmarried partners, but objectively these seem more like corporate fringe benefits than natural, inalienable rights.

If you and your partner have become financially interdependent and you have no great monetary assets to leave them, mutual life insurance policies may be the best solution. Your partner’s grief over losing you might never be erased, but a big check can make many things easier. Grieving but rich beats grieving and destitute. Life insurance is especially important if you are raising children or have other joint projects together that you want to see continued.

Remember that legal responsibility for minor children is generally assigned by the birth certificate or adoption papers, not by the marriage contract. Whether you are married or unmarried, your legal and emotional obligations to your children remain the same, and you need to make provisions for them in case you pass on. These can include, in your will, an explicit statement of who you want your children to be raised by. This assignment isn’t absolute, but it is usually given great weight by the courts.

Arranging to give your partner your assets after your death or incapacity is fundamentally different than irrevokably sharing them while you are both still alive, as in marriage. As long as you are conscious, you have the power and responsibility to control your own assets and negotiate their distribution. If you and your partner truly love and trust each other, you are automatically going to share what you have, no contracts required. Death is different in that all negotiating power between the partners is now lost, and your unspoken trust has little standing with the rest of the world. Now, the surviving partner is negotiating with courts, relatives, businesses and government agencies, and they need to have written evidence of the deceased’s intentions.

Being dead has its advantages. Presumably, you will have no worries and eternity will be as painless as lounging on the beach in Fort Lauderdale. Your surviving partner, however, will have worries, and it is a measure of your love right now that you anticipate what they may be and prepare for them as best you can. If you care about how they feel right now, then you should also care about their feelings and well-being after you are gone.

A will is a relatively easy document to prepare. Do-it-yourself will kits are widely available and don’t take long to complete-but you have to actually do it and not keep putting if off because you are both feeling healthy right now. Death and disability are notorious for turning up on your doorstep without an invitation.

Unlike marriage, a will is easy to revoke: You just tear it up or make up a new one to supercede it. You don’t have to go to court or negotiate with your partner to dissolve a will; you just do it. If you remain unmarried, your assets remain yours to do with as you wish, before and after your death. Even if you are acting on whim, your decision to create or destroy a will is solely yours.

Of course, this could leave you vulnerable to your partner saying that you are the beneficiary of their will when it isn’t actually true. You wouldn’t run the same risk if you were married. If a married person cut their spouse out of their will then died, the spouse could probably seek redress through the courts, since there may be community property involved. The situation of the unmarried couple depends more on trust: You have to believe that your partner isn’t deceiving you.

Proponents of marriage say that their institution is all about “trust,” and indeed it is. If you don’t trust your partner to do they they say they will and stick by you when times get tough, then you need to marry them to guarantee your rights.

Chapter 30: Arrested Development

All of us should be growing, learning and changing throughout our lives, right? The person we will be ten years from now ought to be far more mature, morally and intellectually, than the person we are today. If you look back at yourself ten years ago, weren’t you hopelessly naïve back then? A decade from now, you will probably look back on today’s you and think the same thing.

Growth is natural and healthy, and we ought to be planning for it. Unfortunately, you can’t “plan” specifically for your own growth, because you don’t know what direction it will take. It isn’t really growth if you think you have life all worked out in the beginning and you leave yourself no option to change. True growth implies that you are going to deviate from your original plans in unexpected ways.

You encourage growth not by nailing down a rigid plan but by leaving yourself as many future options as possible. If you contract yourself to travelling on only a single highway, then your growth is going to the limited to that road and you will always be ignorant of the rest of the world.

Because it deprives you of the freedom to deviate, marriage tends to freeze your personal development at the state it was on your wedding day. If your marriage is “successful” you will be pretty much the same person ten years from now as you are today. Marriage assumes a steady-state condition: You are so confident of your current path that you are locking yourself into it permanently.

In marriage, anything unusual you do has to be negotiated with your partner. That means to have to put all anticipated changes into words in the required format and submit them explicitly for consideration. Then you have to go through the expensive political process of achieving a consensus. You can’t just wake up with a good idea and then do it. There’s bureaucracy you have to deal with.

And you shouldn’t think that just because your spouse says, “Okay,” that your proposal has actually been approved. Surface approval does not imply subterranean compliance. Even if your spouse agrees verbally to something or doesn’t raise a protest, there still may be grudges and grievances building up below the surface. No matter how cooperative the two of you seem to be, there is always a power struggle going on behind the scenes, and eventually it is going to erupt into the open.

You have probably learned from previous eruptions that it is best not to rock the boat if you don’t have to. Successful couples tend to find a comfortable routine and stick with it. Every morning, they wake up and go through the same rituals and motions. The less deviation there is, the less there is a possibility of conflict.

People who are about to get married typically point to some older couple as their inspiration. Betty and John Smith have been married 50 years: Don’t they look happy? Well, yeah, but here is something else that is usually true about Betty and John: There has been very little change in those 50 years. They’ve probably lived in the same house for most of their marriage. They each have their hobbies that have been set in stone since the beginning of time. The only significant changes in the relationship have been forced from the outside, like economic hardship, illness or the deaths of family members.

A long-term marriage is not a vehicle of growth. At best, it is a vehicle of repetitive stability, which is often the enemy of growth. If you are going to hold out Betty and John as an example of what you are working toward, you also have to ask yourself: “Do I want to be doing the same things for 50 years?” It may be fine for Betty and John-both the product of an earlier era that wasn’t so driven-but is it right for you?

The critical thing about Betty and John that made their marriage last is they don’t have huge expectations. They don’t expect major growth or change; they expect each new day to be the same as the last. Young people, however, demand change. They expect “excitement” in their relationship at the same time they want “stability.” Unfortunately, these two goals are often incompatible. There is no way you can expect excitement if you have been living with someone full-time for years, because you already know all their tricks. The most you can expect is a sort of comfortable sibling relationship were there are no surprises. Is this really what you want?

To support the highest level of personal growth, you have to have the ability to entirely change your lifestyle on relatively short notice. You can’t say that you want real personal growth and still want to keep your nice house in the suburbs with two cats, three cars, a garden and all the attached anchorage. It may be a velvet prison, but it is still a prison. Within a prison, you can still be learning: You can learn how to better deal with your imprisonment. That’s not the same, however, as really being able to explore the world.

If a unique opportunity arises tomorrow to do something your never expected and you are able to jump on it immediately, then you will experience real moral and intellectual growth, especially if things don’t go to plan. As an adult, there is no reason you can’t grow as much a young people do when they move away to college, but only if you are willing to make big changes like that. If an opportunity arises and you can’t jump on it because you are committed to a preexisting plan, then you will not grow much. You will remain in stasis.

Every relationship is a trade-off between freedom and engagement. To sustain any relationship, you have to surrender some of your independence and some of your ability to change. In return, you perhaps find more meaning and a greater sense of belonging. It isn’t necessarily true, however, that by giving up more of your freedom you are gaining more meaning. The returns diminish if you commit yourself too much to a relationship at the cost of your own growth.

Certainly, you have to give up a lot of your own potential if you commit to raising children. In that case, however, you are transferring some of your own freedom and potential to them. Hopefully, your sacrifice is an investment in their future and the future of society. A romantic relationship is not the same kind of investment. Your partner has already grown to adulthood and is pretty much set in their ways. It is hard to say that your sacrifice to them is going to improve the future of humanity.

Raising children is a unilateral engagement: You will do your best for them regardless of whether you are directly rewarded for it. A romantic relationship, on the other hand, is a mutual engagement, where real current benefit is expected on both sides. In romance, you should expect to be rewarded for any compromise or sacrifice you make, and relatively quickly. If the relationship is not beneficial to you personally, greater than the energy you are expending on it, then it simply needs to end. It is not your responsibility to be the parent to an adult.

It may sound greedy and selfish, but you should be involved in romance mainly for one thing: as an avenue for your own growth. For growth to happen, the relationship has to remain dynamic and alive and to a certain extent dangerous and uncertain.

There must always be the possibility that you will break up tomorrow. If this isn’t true, then it means you are trapped and that growth will slow to a crawl.


5 Responses to “The Case Against Marriage (very long!)”

  1. amateurnotions Says:

    This sounds like an interesting post. I quite enjoyed chapter 1. Did you write it?

  2. Rori Raye Says:

    Very interesting, thorough post – what’s your personal experience with this? Rori

  3. Donna Says:

    It sounds like it would be interesting but I can’t read the yellow print at all…any suggestions for me so that I can read your entry? Thanks.

  4. natatat Says:

    No i did not write it, the site I got it from is at the end but I should put better attribution. I’m only 20, but I have serious doubts about getting married in the future

  5. natatat Says:

    oh and the yellow writing is just fluff – everything left black is the only stuff I would worry about reading

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