Leading philosopher explains why you will probably marry the wrong person

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  • Alain de Botton says the person we marry probably won't be right for us. Here's why.

    A leading philosopher has claimed we will all probably marry the wrong person.

    Writing for The New York Times, philosopher Alain de Botton has explained that the basis upon which we choose our life partner is inherently flawed. In the last few hundred years, he says, our reasons for marrying have shifted from the practical to the romantic. What used to be a business contract between two families has now (largely) become a union of love. But, de Botton argues, the ‘for love’ part is a lot more complicated than we realise.

    ‘Though we believe ourselves to be seeking happiness in marriage, it isn’t that simple. What we really seek is familiarity — which may well complicate any plans we might have had for happiness. We are looking to recreate, within our adult relationships, the feelings we knew so well in childhood.’

    The trouble with this, he says, is most people’s experience of childhood love is tinged with other, more unpleasant, feelings. ‘In trying to recreate this we’re not necessarily seeking happiness. The love most of us will have tasted early on was often confused with other, more destructive dynamics: feelings of wanting to help an adult who was out of control, of being deprived of a parent’s warmth or scared of his anger, of not feeling secure enough to communicate our wishes. How logical, then, that we should as grown-ups find ourselves rejecting certain candidates for marriage not because they are wrong but because they are too right — too balanced, mature, understanding and reliable — given that in our hearts, such rightness feels foreign.’

    He also argues that most of us build our relationships on romantic foundations (beautiful moonlit walks, dinners out, weekends away) when marriage requires you to weather the tougher, more mundane aspects of life: children, financial hardship, family problems.

    A recent study published by Relate backs up de Botton’s suggestion that the gulf between romanticism and reality is putting a strain on our relationships. The charity’s survey of 21 000 UK couples suggested as many as one in five of these couples were on the verge of breaking up

    So what do we do? Batten down the hatches and accept there is no hope of ever finding The (Right) One? Not exactly, says de Botton. The solution comes not from abandoning your partner in the hope of something better, but abandoning the idea of romanticism itself. It is ‘the philosophy of pessimism’ that will help us have a healthier married life. ‘The failure of one particular partner to save us from our grief and melancholy is not an argument against that person and no sign that a union deserves to fail or be upgraded.

    ‘The person who is best suited to us is not the person who shares our every taste (he or she doesn’t exist), but the person who can negotiate differences in taste intelligently — the person who is good at disagreement.’

    So it’s not necessarily your partner who should change, but your own expectations and romantic viewpoint.

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