Thursday, February 13, 2014

Lessons In Love

“[A] misconception: that to make a marriage work, you have to find the right person. The fact is, you have to be the right person,” [Professor Alexandra] Solomon declares. “Our message is countercultural: Our focus is on whether you are the right person.”
The First Lesson of Marriage 101: There Are No Soul Mates
I don't remember when I first came across this concept, which I always articulated as “It's not about finding the right partner, it's about being the right partner,” but I find it interesting that it's now being taught in a college course. I don't know that it would have done me much good when I was that age - it's one thing to be okay with the idea that you're not the right person when you're forty-something - it was quite a different story when I was young. (Of course, even then I was notoriously un-romantic, and well aware of it, so maybe I'm being too hard on my younger self.)

For me, the central takeaway from this was that a lot of understanding was needed. You have to understand yourself, and know the person that you are. You have to understand the kind of person who would be a compatible partner for you - even though you couldn't count on simply bumping into them one day, you still have to know them. Because you also need to understand who the right person for them is. In other words, to be able to successfully recognize and invite in a compatible partner takes more than simply knowing who you're looking for. But, as Professor Solomon noted, that's not the cultural message that most of us are raised with.

In a sense, I think that her way is easier. When people would say to me that: “You just need to find the right girl,” I was often openly skeptical. Even in 1990, the world's population was some 5+ billion people. Narrowing that down to women in my age cohort, that still left some 250+ million people. That’s an awful lot of rocks to look under, hoping to find a treasure.* No matter how much work it may be to understand yourself, a potential partner and the right person for them, it seems less labor-intensive than scouring the globe. But it also seems less romantic, and I understand that the pull of romantic notions of someone who just “gets you” with no effort needed is fairly strong.

But in the end, I think, it also sets people up for failure. Whether or not Northwestern University’s Marriage 101 class will do any better remains to be seen. But I suspect that it's a promising start.

*When people assured me that “the One” was going to be someone with whom my path would cross at some random point in life, I wisecracked that it was just as likely that she was living in China, and, having given up on ever meeting Mr. Right, had married a Communist Party official, lived in a nice house and drove a Mercedes. It was funnier at the time.

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