Marriage makes the grind worth it

I want to expand on this tweet from Justin Murphy:

While Justin’s analysis is true, here’s another side of the story. I’m probably biased because I know so many ultra-Type A personalities in the SF Bay Area..but I’ve seen people not marrying until they meet someone with their own degree of perfection. The partner has to be uber-educated, ambitious, have a sexy career, and complete 5 triathlons before lunch every day.

This Scott Stanley post quotes some research suggesting my observation is a trend (emphasis added):

Eli Finkel and colleagues have described the changing standards that guide our search for mates: “Throughout American history, the fundamental purpose of marriage has shifted from (a) helping spouses meet their basic economic and political needs to (b) helping them meet their intimacy and passion needs to (c) helping them meet their autonomy and personal-growth needs.”[iii] Finkel and his coauthors argue that this expectation leads to average marriages being less happy while a small number of marriages that can satisfy the expectations for personal fulfillment may be happier than the “best marriages in earlier eras.”

Now I totally get the desire to marry someone who meets your “autonomy and personal-growth needs.” And I’m lucky my wife and I do that for each other. All else being equal, it’s nice to have that.

But there are a couple of problems with how this idea plays out in practice. One is that many people often take it too far. They try to optimize for criteria 3 when they should be trying to–as Justin wants to do for hotness–satisfice it. As long as a potential partner is somewhat supportive of your personal growth and autonomy, she’s probably good enough on that criteria.

But the bigger issue is that optimizing on autonomy/growth leads to, I think, neglecting the mundane, day-to-day parts of marriage (how I interpret Finkel’s “basic economic and political needs”). At some point you’ll get uglier and less athletic. You’ll also hopefully realize your career really isn’t that important. But even after all those realizations, you and your spouse will need to plan your weekly schedule. That’s not going to change.

Daily life can be a drag sometimes. You may end up hating your job. You won’t want to clean the house or wake up to put the blanket on your screaming toddler. It’s marriage that makes it better. It’s marriage that makes something as necessary as planning your schedule worth it.

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