April 25, 1997

The Mating Game

I was sitting with a little girl of eight one afternoon. She looked up at me from her Hans Anderson and said, "Does m-i-r-a-g-e spell marriage, Mr. Ade."

"Yes, my child," I said.

George Ade

There is an old story about two women talking. One says "My daughter has a wonderful husband. He lets her sleep late in the morning and they have a maid and cook."

"And how is your son's marriage doing?" her friend asks.

"My son married a bum! She doesn't cook or keep up the house and she sleeps half the morning away."

There are as many different customs with regard to marriage as there are cultures. In some cultures, the bride's parents pay a dowry. In others, the husband has to pay a bride price. In many cultures, the parents of both contribute to the couple to help them to start a family.

Pearl Buck's novel The Good Earth, which was made into one of the great classic movies, deals with a man and woman from their arranged marriage into old age. It follows them through plantings, harvests and a plague of locusts. I recently saw the movie again and it is as fine as I remember it from my youth. The change from parent-arranged marriages to "love" marriages is a relatively recent one.

Now that arranged marriages are less common in the world, the rules of the game are not quite as clear. As in the market place in general, each participant tries to get what he/she wants and the best mate that he/she can get. Often both search for a real bargain. People rarely find a real bargain because every mate comes with a set of built in advantages and disadvantages. The pluses and minuses are intrinsic to the character of a person.

What continuously amazes me is how often people manage to find exactly what they want. It also surprises me that often people find exactly what they want and then throw it away. Maybe that is because love is not only blind, but stupid. Sexual attraction tends to obscure character traits that might make for a successful marriage. Some old timers believe that arranged marriages had a better batting average than those based on love. We will never know, because in the good old days people stayed married even though they detested each other, and some marriages were a living hell. Nowadays, in this country, half of all marriages end in divorce. That is actually a lot better than I would have suspected. People have to put up with a many unsolvable problems to stay married. This might have been what led Thoreau to say that "most men lead lives of quiet desperation." He forgot to mention the fact that most women also lead lives of quiet desperation.

One potential problem is being married to someone who is compulsively neat. In that case, a man might complain that he is afraid to lie down on the living room couch or to drop a crumb in the floor. At the opposite end is a man married to a woman who is totally unconcerned about cleanliness or neatness. He may long for a neat home. The same applies to husbands as applies to wives.

Considering the infinite number of possible problems, it amazes me that most marriages do last for as long as they do. Many even last until death.

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