Sunday, December 9, 2007

Rationality in marriage

In his new book, The Bridge of Sighs, Richard Russo has a terrific passage that skewers two assumptions at the core of the rational model of marriage, namely, that people can identify the actual costs and benefits and that their preferences remain stable over time.
Matrimony, she explained, was based on two fallacies, both real doozies. The first was the ridiculous notion that people knew what they wanted. There was no evidence in support of this contention and never had been, but they seemed to enjoy believing it anyway, blinded as they were by love and lust and hope, only the last of which sprang eternal. The second fallacy, built on the shifting sands of the first, was equally seductive and even more idiotic--that what people thought they wanted today was what they'd want tomorrow. Sarah's mother filed this under the general heading of "Failures of Imagination," which was probably the biggest category in the entire history of categories, its origin almost certainly divine... Divorce, she maintained, made a better sacrament than marriage, if you had to have one. It signaled that at least one person and probably two had come to his or her senses and taken a long hard look at not only their spouse but the institution that had encouraged such irrational behavior.

Compared to Russo's character, family economists almost seem to be quaint romantics.