Thursday, 1 September 2011

Till ennui us do part?

Infidelity, which formerly topped the list of reasons for marriage breakdown, has been surpassed by couples saying they no longer felt in love and had "grown apart".

As a sign of the times, this appears depressing beyond words. Can we really have reached the stage where an erstwhile commitment to love and to cherish until death do us part has come down to so casual and seemingly frivolous a reason for walking out on the union, and quite possibly children, too?
- Angela Neustatter in the Telegraph, quoted by Norm.

Norm disagrees:-
To get to the crux of the thing, there are going to be marriages which people should walk away from: not to do so may be life-wrecking and the lives wrecked may include the childen's. Some indicative guidelines there may well be, but staying the course won't always be worth the effort, and indeed it may be hellish. Isn't it obvious that it's all a matter of the specifics?
But actually there's a more fundamental shared assumption. Norm reckons if you've grown apart it's probably not worth the bother of trying to grow back together; Ms Neustatter wants to make the case that the rewards can justify the effort. In both cases the bottom line is a hedonistic calculation of self-interest - how much time and effort is it worth investing in this person? At least in Ms Neustatter's case I sense that she sees this as the only kind of argument that will cut any ice with those she hopes to persuade.

What happened to the notion that we ought to keep our promises? How does it impact on the kind of society we live in if we all decide we are fee to make promises and break them as soon as that is to our advantage? And is there no inherent merit in the specific kind of promise made in marriage? Is the work of growing back together not a good in itself?

If Norm really wants to say that marriage vows are a mug's game, well, fair enough, we know where we are. The Germans have coined the cynical term Lebensabschnittspartnerschaft, literally "life segment partnership", and perhaps Norm would wish to see marriage formally re-invented on those terms. Better to revalue the currency than to turn marriage into a kind of Zimbabwean billion dollar bill - "I promise to pay the bearer,,, well, nothing much worth having, actually."

Much better still, though, to stick to the gold standard. Those committed to doing so may, perhaps, be more inclined to make sure they marry someone fascinating in the first place. It does help. As Iris Murdoch is supposed to have said:-
Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.
Time to stop before I get intolerably smug.

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