Wednesday, May 9, 2012

When Love Dies

Is marriage a contract or a romance?

Commenter Anna asked the question recently, and it deserves an extended response.

First, marriage is a contract. It is always a contract. It has always been so.

Second, throughout the course of human history the vast majority of marriages have been social and economic arrangements.

Third, we are all happy when marriage includes romantic love, but the notion that it must is very recent in human history.

Fourth, marriage is not the ultimate expression of love. Romantic love is consummated in what we call making love. Making love is not the same as marriage.

Fifth, marriage is a social institution. It has been designed to produce and to raise new members of the community and the species. It need not necessarily produce children but it must include the single act that makes reproduction possible.

Sixth, a contract implies duties and obligations. Romantic love involves spontaneity and surprise.

So far, so good… or bad, depending on your perspective.

But, what happens to a contemporary marriage when love dies? Does it mean that the marriage has to end? If love has been banished from you marriage, can it ever return?

When it happens the experience is radical and soul-wrenching.

Shanae Hall describes such a moment in a recent post:

The person that used to give you butterflies at the slightest touch now makes you sick to your stomach. Their jokes are no longer funny, their cologne/perfume makes you want to vomit and you would rather pull out your own wisdom tooth with a pair of tweezers than to make love to them.

She continues:

Six years into our marriage, I pulled into the driveway of our beautiful, 6,500 sq. ft home and sat still in the driver’s seat of my Lexus SUV, realizing that I was no longer in love with the man I said "I do" to. It was one of the saddest days of my life. How did I get here? Who should I talk to? Why do I feel like this? How will my kids deal with this? By that point, too much damage had been done behind the wrought iron fence. The crushing e-mails and sexy text messages from other women that I had seen over the course of our 13-year relationship had become too much. I had cried enough over the years -- my body wouldn't even produce another tear drop. The end was here and I had to face the music head on.

Hall’s marriage had been deteriorating for a number of years. She fell out of love when she said to herself that she could no longer invest in a losing cause. It was a tipping point, one that is best understood in terms of investment.

When Hall cannot shed one more tear, she means that she is no longer going to throw, as economists say, good money after bad. It’s called Gresham’s Law.

But, how did Hall manage to see all of the “crushing emails and sext text messages from other women?”

In last week’s Wall Street Journal story Lori Rothrock found out one day that her husband had been conducting an intense online flirtation. My post here.

Hall, however, has been continuously informed about her husband’s extramarital flirtations… assuming that they were merely flirtations.

Hall’s husband was a serial virtual adulterer… at the least.

I do not know the answer to this question, but I will speculate that Hall and her husband might have had an agreement that valued openness and honesty. Perhaps they thought that sharing everything made them closer. Perhaps she was willing to look the other way as long as the virtual affairs did not become real.

This is one of the ways people get in trouble with openness and honesty. It is bad to countenance disrespectful and demeaning behaviors because the other person is being open and honest about it.

If there was an agreement, neither party seemed to recognize that sharing such information was corroding their marriage.

If the traditional marriage vow involves loving and honoring one’s spouse, conducting serial virtual affairs and sharing them with one’s wife denies her both love and honor. It constitutes a breach of contract.

Love does not just die one day for no reason. As Hall points out, it does not happen all at once.

Years of abuse or arguments or disrespect reach a tipping point where love dies, or better, where the marriage dies.
Or else, constant drama and bickering become too taxing, and one or both parties conclude, as Hall did, that the marriage is no longer worth the investment of time, energy, and emotional resources.

Those who want to avoid the constant drama, should work on developing discretion and tact and consideration. That means, not sharing every thought or feeling you might have for a third person. That also means not engaging in a love affair, virtual or real, with a third person.

Otherwise, the best way to avoid drama is to create routines, well defined-roles, and daily obligations. Fulfilling these duties makes a household and a marriage run efficiently and effectively.

Some people consider that domestication kills romance. Done well, it might sustain romance.

A couple that spends its energy arguing over who is going to make dinner or who is going to do the shopping is going to end up killing their love.

If marriage is a contract, then it cannot survive when a man is constantly texting sexy messages to other women and showing them to his wife.

And it cannot survive when a woman suddenly decides to abrogate her responsibilities in order to live her dream of acting.

And that means Megan Draper and her feminist enablers. I mentioned the other day that Megan Draper was quitting her job and abrogating her marital responsibilities.

I said nothing about feminism at the time, but clearly, as this post makes clear, feminists cheered her initiative and her irresponsibility. 


JP said...

Stuart says: "Sixth, a contract implies duties and obligations. Romantic love involves spontaneity and surprise."

"Duties and obligations" were the furthest thing from my mind when I got married.

I mean, you're in love and everything is fun and exciting.

You kind of feel annoyed when everything stops being fun because that was one of the points of getting married in the first place.

anna said...

Megan is the second wife, she married a man who didn't stick to his first contract, and so there is no reason to suppose he'll stick with her. If she'd agreed to keep working for him as part of her promise, then she broke it, but, she didn't. If he loves her he should be glad to see her seek a different career, for better or worse. That's why we know that Joan married her future doctor husband because they both wanted him to be a rich doctor, and she wanted to be a rich doctor's wife, and not because she was so in love that anything he did would be fine by her.

anna said...

regarding the read emails, it's hard to hide your emails when you use a home computer and live with someone, and while it's possible that she somehow agreed to his hobby, she was crying so he must have known she didn't like it. The women I know who read the emails didn't have permission, they either snooped because they suspected something was up, or the guy left it open, like an unconscious invitation, or they were snoops and got a surprise.

When you want to break a contract, there are always reasons, and when you don't want to you can not see plenty.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Let's say that Don cheated on Betty... and that Betty cheated on Don... I don't see what that has to do with the fact that Megan has decided that she will change the routine of the Draper family life.

In reality, it doesn't matter so much who does or does not love anyone... because the male mind will think to itself that if she loved him she would be home with him, not out every evening.

Of course, if Megan is a member of a work group at SCDP, then she is obligated to fulfill her responsibilities to the group. Her decision, taken unilaterally, will hurt the group and the firm.

The point that interested me about the emails was that Hall had been reading them for years on end... and apparently not keeping her knowledge to herself.

I was more interested in the fact that she did not just come upon them one day and precipitate a crisis, but had been reading and suffering them for years until at a tipping point something broke, never to be recovered.

anna said...

things happen that way, there is always the final straw that 'wakes' the wife and only then she sees retrospectively. Wives manage to ignore or explain all sorts of early hints, often beginning before marriage. And when it's too late, she's then pissed and nothing will make her like him again. With women it's nearly always one thing that tips the balance, when she loses all respect. A couple I knew over the course of many years finally broke up, and he didn't cheat, he never would, but he was always an annoying flirt and once he went too far, with a woman she did not respect, and that was that. They limped along for a few more years, while she complained about him with her female friends, all of whom agreed that he wasn't worth staying with, and one fine day she left. I thought it was sad, he loved her. The men were on his side. Even I was kind of on his side, he'd been an annoying flirt when she married him.

the point about the cheating is the trust issue, Megan may believe that she's different from all the other women he's disappointed, she may think she's the one he'll always want, but we know that's not the way things go. Guys who stay with their wives no matter what have that as a position, they're narcissistically invested in being faithful. The others will cheat if they think they can get away with it, and of course if they have the opportunity.

It looks to me like Don will lose her and then maybe he would love her forever, but even though he's been the one to stop things with his series of women, he's had plenty of disappointment in his life and he's great at denial of his suffering and moving on.

I think this is interesting at least partly because it's a male vs, female point of view. I see no reason why she needs to be home for him, he was never home for Betty and that worked out. It's like the old style, of two people leading one of their lives. Before that Don was one person leading several lives. Megan wants to lead her own life, not Don's.

But he has a chance with her, if he can only admit that she's not him and he can't complete her, and then try to like some of what she likes, so it isn't so one-sided.

Anonymous said...

When we got married, we took the Old Vows: "Love, Honor and Forsake all Others" for me and "Love, Honor and Obey" for her.

Forsake means Forsake and Obey means Obey.

I have, and she has. So far, so very good. I could never dishonor her by flirting. It's shameful, now. It's an Honor and Shame thing, as it should be.