I interviewed my husband about how he made the decision to propose to me. I figured there was probably some game theory behind it, and that there must be some logic or mathematics involved. Turns out I was right.
Me: “Do you believe there’s a One?”
Him: “One what?”
Me: “One true partner. A soul mate.”
[I already knew this but I keep wondering if he’ll change his mind]
Me: “Hypothetically speaking, if you believe there are many possible options, how do you choose one person and settle down?”
It goes a little something like this. There’s a bar, and a certain number of people are above the bar. Choosing one person automatically adds value to that choice. The person you choose + the commitment that you make > any random person who happens to be above the bar.
Me: “But if you choose a 9, how you can you be satisfied that there won’t be a 10 further down the road?”
Him: “How do you know it is a 10? It’s like you were saying earlier, it’s catalogue shopping. Those other people are mannequins.”
What he’s saying is that our ratings are arbitrary and will change over time. Also, you can’t compare someone you don’t know to someone you do know. The attractive stranger has unknown flaws, unknown deal breakers, and a total lack of history with you. If you know you have a 9, it’s a poor gamble to trade for an unknown person who looks like a 10 who might, for you, turn out to be a 2 or 3.
Choosing one person has value in itself. The choice adds a dimension to the relationship. Then, every year that goes by makes the relationship more valuable. A known person + commitment + time > any random person starting from zero.
All of this is, when you think about it, almost impossibly romantic. My in-laws and my parents are two sets of people who married young, stayed married, and were never married to anyone else. My in-laws made it “till death do you part.” My parents are currently debating where to retire. Even though my husband and I are both in our second marriage, what he’s telling me is that he believes that marriage is intrinsically valuable and that nobody in the world could ever replace me, to a mathematical certainty.
We’re both Rational types, and we’re both ENTs. I love that he’s made this decision based on logic. It means he’s convinced.
He’s also right. I’m a solid gamble. That’s for three reasons: 1. I take being a wife seriously, as a job with regular performance evaluations; 2. I’m the marrying kind; and 3. I’m also convinced that he’s the one for me. I’ve made it my business to give him a happy life.
While I know we only met due to a random fluke, I’m convinced there is nobody on earth who would be a better fit for me. My “math” was a little different. I knew he was at least in the 99th percentile of available, awesome guys in my age range. For me, he was a 10 in friendship, a 10 in physical chemistry, and a 10 in finance. There’s simply no way I would hope to find someone who was my equal, who was a 10 in those three areas, and also surpassed him in some other way. (Not sure what that would be anyway…?)
About “the bar.” My husband introduced me to the concepts of the deal breaker, the non-starter, and the game changer. These are highly personal policies. For instance, one of his non-starters was dating a smoker and another was dating someone with kids. (He’s already raised his). Only people who meet all the criteria, who have none of the non-starters, get to pass the bar. In this context, there’s no such thing as a universal “perfect 10” because all that matters is whether this person would be a match for your specifications.
Back to engineering logic. “The field narrows” as you get older. At a certain point, you have to ask, “Why is this person single?” The older you get, the more people tend to be paired off. This is part of why elderly people sometimes remarry quickly. They know what they want and they know it when they see it. Also, they know the chances of finding love at their age and mobility level aren’t the same as when they were 21. Out of all the things that bother single people, this is probably the big one. All it means is to place more value on the people you like.
These are the considerations of middle age. We had the luxury of evaluating each other from a 40-mile distance, financially comfortable, in no hurry to repeat the mistakes of our youth, with no illusions about weddings. We knew that the risk of a bad marriage is significantly greater than the chance of a happy marriage. It doesn’t fall from the sky. There’s no magic ray that points at you and makes you perfect for someone. If we were going to be together, we were going into it with our eyes open, deliberately.
Romantic love, at least by pop culture definitions, is pretty much incompatible with marriage. Marriage is a business decision. You’re choosing 1. A lover 2. And roommate so you can 3. Make financial decisions together and 4. Co-own property while 5. Linking your legal reputations and possibly 6. Creating new humans 7. With their own financial, legal, and property interests, and then 8. Merging extended families. Those are a lot of incredibly distinct qualifications and it’s extremely bizarre that we expect one individual person to successfully perform all of those roles. “You started sleeping with your roommate and you’re having an affair with your business partner? And you want to bring them to Thanksgiving? How does that work?”
After eight years of marriage and eleven years as a couple, we’re confirmed in our calculations. Marrying each other was a good idea then and it’s a great idea now. We’re probably more physically attracted to each other now than we were twelve years ago. We’re both also more marriageable now. We might even be out of each other’s leagues! Marriage is an investment, an investment in a person and also in a particular vision of life. It’s not for everyone, just like home ownership or parenthood aren’t for everyone. For those who are the marrying kind, it’s the most efficient path toward happiness.
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I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.