Thursday 27 October 2016

Marry in haste ... or read at your leisure

John Masterson

Published 13/06/2016 | 02:30

Alain de Botton. Photo: Julien Behal
Alain de Botton. Photo: Julien Behal

We only ever see marriages, other than one's own, from the outside. The glue that keeps people together, or the banana skins that put the couple under pressure, mostly take place in private. We have all seen close relationships and wonder how they ever stay together. And we have all been witness to break-ups that we did not see coming. It does seem to be much easier to fall in love than it is to stay together long term.

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While pre-marriage courses may lift some of the blinkers from lovebirds' eyes, I suspect they do little to identify the long-term difficulties the couple will face in trying to mesh their lives together. Sure, they may discover that they have wildly different ways of handling money. They may differ on education and religion and it is no harm to discuss these things in advance. But the real meat of what our individual personalities require in a long-term trusting relationship, remains hidden. The things that will eventually drive us to distraction are not on view during the early stages of romance. They have been absorbed in our childhood years. They are very strong but buried deep.

We do not really know how we will deal with the close friendship our partner enjoys at work. Or how they will cope with our need for holidays with the entire extended family in tow, with our differing standards on disciplining children, with each other's friends, even with time spent on Facebook and Twitter.

Drama, from the close to the bone Who Is Afraid of Virginia Wolff to the slushy Love Story, lets us behind the closed doors of love and living together. Currently, I am Netflix-absorbed in Season 4 of House of Cards, and I just do not know what I would do with Claire Underwood, though nudging her into the path of the 48A bus seems like an idea. I am also going through every emotion of Grace & Frankie as the wives come to terms with Robert and Saul coming out and getting married.

I have just read The Course of Love by Alain de Botton. After many philosophy books, this is his first novel for years. It is a somewhat odd novel in that the story is interspersed with psychological observations to help us understand why the couple are behaving and feeling as they do. De Botton points out that we often ask couples how they met. Couples enjoy retelling the story. But the interesting stuff all happens later, and we do not ask about that. We are not good at examining the cracks. Whether we learn to live together well is often a matter of chance as much as design.

Anyone who is, has been, or would ever like to be, in a satisfying, successful, very close relationship, would do well to read De Botton. A brave couple might even read it together.

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