Is There a Secret to a Happy Marriage?

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A Point of View: Is there a secret to a happy marriage?

Nobody can explain the secret to a happy marriage, says Adam Gopnik, but it doesn't stop people trying. Anyone who tells you their rules for a happy marriage doesn't have one. There's a truth universally acknowledged, or one that ought to be anyway. Just as the people who write books about good sex are never people you would want to sleep with, and the academics who write articles about the disappearance of civility always sound ferociously angry, the people who write about the way to sustain a good marriage are usually on their third. Nonetheless (you knew there was a nonetheless on its way) although I don't have rules, I do have an observation after many years of marriage (I've promised not to say exactly how many, though the name "Jimmy Carter" might hold a clue). This principle, or formula, came to me when I was thinking about something else entirely - usually a good sign, lateral thinking being generally saner than the logical kind. It dawned on me when I was brooding on the marriage of Charles Darwin and Emma Wedgwood, his cousin, for a book I was writing that was in part about the Darwins. In 1838, when Darwin was first thinking of marriage, he made an irresistible series of notes on the subject - a scientific-seeming list of marriage pros and cons. Against the idea, he listed "the expense and anxiety of children" and the odd truth that a married man could never "go up in a balloon". In favour of marriage, he included the acquisition of a "constant companion and friend in old age" and, memorably and conclusively, decided that a wife would be "better than a dog, anyhow". And the Darwins went on to have something close to an ideal marriage. As he lay dying in 1882, the distinguished scientist, who had irrevocably altered the consciousness of the world, and knew it, said simply: "My love, my precious love." What made it work? My theory is that happy marriages, from the Darwins on down, are made up of...
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