Notes inspired by The House of Mirth


Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does a bunch of other stuff.

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36 Responses

  1. Avatar NewDealer says:

    “Is marriage an unsolvable problem?”


    Every now and then I hear someone toss around a factoid along the lines of “arranged marriages are just as likely to succeed as love-marriages” I am not sure what the point seems to be beyond stating that there was perhaps some wisdom in the olden days when the parents would decide on a match (perhaps with the help of a matchmaker) for their children. Or they make a comment about how marrying “for love” is relatively new.

    Perhaps in the grand scope of human history it is a relatively new thing but my grandparents married for love, my parents married for love, so even if it is a new thing it is still the most common form of marriage in my country for well-before I was born. Also you can read plenty of really old literature where the marriage for love was idealized for the marriage for family power. Romeo and Juliet being a prime example.

    I’ve seen ads around for matchmakers. It is a little more modern. They seem to be largely women with Master of Social Work degrees who decided to set up a business and use their education that way but the modern part of me balks at the idea of going to a matchmaker. It seems to be the antithesis of everything I learned about love from my culture. Mainly that now it seems kind of sad and pathetic to spend thousands of dollars to find a husband or wife.Report

    • “They seem to be largely women with Master of Social Work degrees…”

      Am I mis-remembering, or hasn’t Rufus mentioned being married to a Social Worker?Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. says:

        Heh heh. Yeah, she’s got an MSW. I get the feeling it means something a bit different here from what it means in the states. I’ll ask her if they have matchmakers up here. I’d imagine her college wouldn’t allow it, but who knows.Report

        • Avatar NewDealer says:

          Are Canadian universities allowed to dictate what graduates do with their degrees?

          That seems odd.

          This is an example of what I was talking about:

          Of course she is Jewish. We still seem to have Yenta in us.Report

          • I assumed by “the college” Rufus meant a licensing board (like the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons), which could be an independant, private industry organization. I can see there being some rules about what you’re allowed to do under the guise of being a “Social Worker”.Report

            • Avatar NewDealer says:

              Got it. Yeah, it is almost certainly more laize-faire in the United States.Report

            • Avatar Rufus F. says:

              Yeah, I also get the feeling ‘social worker’ has a somewhat different connotation in the states. My wife’s a psychotherapist, which I think probably comes under the heading there too but family members back home seem to think more of community organizers when she says she’s got a social work degree.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                *nods* social work degrees mean something different here. psychotherapy is something you get a psych phd for.Report

              • Huh. I never knew there was a difference.

                Knowledge Is Power!Report

              • Avatar NewDealer says:

                You can be a psychotherapist in some states with an MSW degree.

                MSW seems to cover a broad range of jobs. But I think the traditional image people have in their head when they hear social worker is someone who works with victims of abuse, people with disabilities, and possibly convicts on parole to help them get back on their feet and function in everyday society.Report

          • Avatar Rufus F. says:

            Oh, I mean her professional college- she has to renew her license regularly and there are lots of things they can remove her license for- could be why I’ve never heard of MSW matchmakers, or maybe I’m just sheltered!Report

            • Avatar NewDealer says:

              I don’t know whether Social Workers are licensed in the U.S. or not. My guess is probably but people are allowed to use their MSWs for a variety of things.

              In this case, I imagine she is also doing a bit of date coaching using her MSW and various techniques she learned at school. I know some states allow people with MSWs to work as therapists in solo settings.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      If you were spending thousands of dollars to find a soulmate? Totally worth it.
      1 in a thousand, one in a million people actually fit together that well. Most people settle for someone who is “good enough” (or someone who doesn’t fit at all,b ut who gets them… ahem… off)Report

  2. Avatar Jaybird says:

    A society that sees marriage as a (more or less) religious obligation with the intention of raising a family is quite likely to outbreed a society that sees marriage as primarily a romantic pairing that exists for the purpose of personal fulfillment on the part of the people involved in it.

    There are a lot more Mormons than Shakers (to use an extreme example), after all.

    I’m wondering what society will look like in, oh, a generation or two. (Luckily for the whole “romantic pairing” thing, it’s got one hell of a missionary network to make up for the fecundity gap.)Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      And yet, there’s something stultifying about spending the rest of your life with someone who makes you happy.

      Lifelong happiness has upsides.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:

      The Shakers feel like a pretty bad data point because they are anti-sex in general and practiced celebacy.

      Orthodox Jews v. Reform-Secular Jews are probably a better example of what you were going for.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        They were pro-marriage, however. Just anti-sex.

        Edit: wait, never mind. They were about “neither marrying nor giving in marriage.”

        Huh. I was sure I read stories about married couples in Shaker villages. Alas.

        Fair enough. I should have used your example.Report

  3. Avatar Will Truman says:

    Man, I picked a week to be too busy to participate (much). Great post, and I’ll be missing out on a great conversation.Report

  4. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    The movie was quite good except that (yes, I know how awful this sounds) Gillian Anderson is just not pretty enough to play Lilly Bart.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. says:

      I’m looking forward to seeing it whenever I can track down a copy or go back to Netflix but I would think she’d be a bit old for the part. I read her as still a girl in a lot of ways and Gillian Anderson has always been a woman.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:

      Pistols at Dawn on Lake Merrit, sir!

      I throw my glove down at you!Report

  5. “Her conclusion was that love and marriage are dissimilar and need a higher ideal to motivate them…”

    Though I have a love-marriage, this conclusion is spot on. Allow me to venture from your high-brow literary review, to some low-brow pop culture. It’s a bit of an irritation for the wife and I when we watch TV shows (generally sitcoms) that have their sappy marriage episodes. In those, the characters tend to write their own vows, which are generally along the lines of “I love you thiiiiiiiiiiiiis much”. That is no vow, just an observation.

    Marriage should be about something greater (or perhaps the word you use, “external”, is better) than the two (or more?) people involved. If you’re just married because you love each other (and like being together I guess), once that fades – and sadly it might/will – you’ve got nothing left. Which is basically in line with your comment, Rufus, “If a marriage is founded on freedom and beauty, in spite of the power struggle within every romantic relationship, it seems cruel to expect couples to remain together once that has passed”.

    I don’t know what the answer to your question is, Rufus. You’re closing sentence is probably better than anything I could come up with.Report

  6. Why are we starting from the premise that marriage is a problem?Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. says:

      Well, I started from that question. It’s a bit more provocative than calling it a ‘challenge’ or a ‘balancing act,’ but all romantic/erotic relationships contain desires that are at cross-purposes, often in the same person, but definitely with any two people. So, they’re all going to be difficult. Admittedly, many married couples get around that friction by ending the sexual component of the relationship and focusing on the day-to-day functionality. I’m trying to suggest taking out the difficulties and tensions is like cooking without spices.Report

      • If we start from the concept that all people are inherently flawed (a premise I know Mike agrees with), then I think we can agree that all marriages are inherently flawed. Sure, this doesn’t mean Marriage is inherently flawed or that it is a problem, but I think it’s fair to reach the conclusion that marriage is problematic.Report

  7. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    Just by coincidence, I ran across this in the book I’m currently reading (Smoke, by Donald Westlake)

    The immediate interior impression was of the entry to an Edith Wharton novel. Emotionally constipated people should now come down those carpeted stairs into the flocked-wallpaper entryway, not telling each other the important things.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:

      Even though I really like Edith Wharton, this is pretty funny.

      Though so is Edith Wharton, her description of opera in the Age of Innocence is great satire but very dry sort of humor.Report

  8. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    The ancient Egyptians were by all accounts deeply affectionate people much given to the concept of love marriages, yet they treated marriage and divorce largely as private matters. Fascinating stuff down that link, pointless to summarise it.

    It’s my contention the English language has put too much freight on the wagon of the word Love. For all its richness, English lacks the necessary words to distinguish among the various sorts of love. All the early romances ended in tragedy: love was then seen as a form of madness. Yet people just ate the romances up: the book Amadis of Gaul furnished plenty of place names in the New World, including California.

    Love is defined by the lovers: as such, it can’t be truly rational. Marriage is a contract between parties. As with politics, where campaigning and courtship are all flags and bunting and sweet promises and good looks and hopeful speeches and songs and suchlike, governing and marriage are the dullest prose, accounting, the quotidian concerns of compromise and deadlines and loyalty and keeping arguments to a minimum and keeping up with the laundry.

    Once, long ago, I took some dancing lessons. The elderly Spanish couple who taught tango were still madly in love with each other. I asked them for the secret to their success. They said “The essence of romance, as with tango, is to keep just a little space between yourselves. For when mystery dies, so does romance.”Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      Mark Steyn (hey, his music criticism is top notch) had a lovely essay on some of the problems we have with romance due to rhyming poetry (here, by the way).

      Essentially, in English, love is something that comes from above, fits like a glove, like you’ve been dreaming of. In Portuguese, heart rhymes with song and guitar, so you give someone your heart while you play them a song on your guitar.

      And goodness only knows what pathologies this will eventually lead to.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        Nice. Steyn’s the name: High Dudgeon is his game. In full harrumph, Mark Steyn is more fun than a fire and brimstone sermon. Those were always my favourites. Yes, I was a perverse child but my Dad and I (who was also a fine preacher) would take notes and dissect particularly good sermons after we’d gotten home and Mom was putting on Sunday dinner.

        There’s a certain sort of music to preaching.

        If you’re Celine Dion, there are far more rhymes for Love. Curve, Swerve, Nerve, Observe, etc.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        RE: Portuguese:

        I love to hear my Brazilian friend speak it; it is a musical language to my ear.

        But she gets frustrated by it; she says it can be very imprecise, and finds it more difficult to communicate specific concepts (she calls it a “pillowy” language) than English.Report

  9. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    Barriers seem to foster romance- some of the most romantic writing comes from the medieval courtly love tradition, in which the beloved generally has the flaw of being married to someone else.

    FYI, three consecutive hyphens converts to an em dash in WordPress—like this.Report

  10. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    Hmm. As I was reading this, I was thinking of that there were tons of happily married principle characters I could think of off the top of my head. And then I realized that almost all of the ones I though of were characters not from literature but television.

    Now I’m going to be thinking all day about what that says about TV vs. books.Report

  11. Avatar Heteromeles says:

    Um, we’ve got lots of words other than love–romance, affection, sympathy, empathy, obsession, attachment, commitment, and so forth. As with snow (where we have almost as many words as the eskimos proverbially do), we simply tend not to use all those other words, because society has told us that “love” is what matters.

    The thing I find amazing here is the unspoken idea that we’re perfectly fine alone, and that there has to be some other reason to be in a relationship. Having been lonely off and on for a good chunk of my life, I can say that, while being alone has its moments, it can be lethal. There’s no one to help you up if you fall, after all, nor care for you if you’re sick. Yes, people may miss you when you’re gone, but they can’t and won’t stop you from leaving.

    The dark secret behind many arranged marriages isn’t the emotional part about the arrangement, it’s that, all too often, two people need to work together to prosper, because neither can do that on their own. Two people can pay for the mortgage and food, for example (or tend the garden and run the farm, or whatever). Marriage isn’t just about emotions and social relationships. In many ways and places, there’s a hard, underlying economic relationship too, built on trust. Getting two people hitched can be the only way they will thrive, especially when times get tough. If they trust each other, that is.

    Amazingly, no one has said that word in the discussion so far: trust. Imagine a lasting relationship without it. After all, love may or may not fade over the long slow days, but love can die very, very quickly if one person gets in trouble and their partner isn’t there for them.

    And just think how romantic it is for a partner to show that he or she is still totally trustworthy, even in remembering the little things along with the big ones.Report

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