March 30, 2014

"Merger marriages are what you tend to see on the weddings pages of the Sunday New York Times..."

"... highly educated couples in their 30s, both people well on their way to success. Lots of things can be said in favor of merger marriages... But let me put in a word for startup marriages, in which the success of the partners isn't yet assured...."

Writes Charles Murray in The Wall Street Journal, dispensing 5 rules for a happy life, beginning with "Consider Marrying Young." Just consider, note. There are, of course, also many reasons to consider not marrying your college sweetheart. For one thing, marriage entails only 2 parties, is intended to last for a human lifetime and tends to include children. So it's not like mergers and startups, which can last for short or long periods of time — whatever works — and involve multiple entities coming and going as suits the needs of whoever wields more economic power. It's a really bad analogy.

Anyway, Murray doesn't much draw on the analogy when he says what might be good about marrying young:
[Y]ou will both have memories of your life together when it was all still up in the air. You'll have fun remembering the years when you went from being scared newcomers to the point at which you realized you were going to make it.
Well, only if you do make it! And what if you're less likely to make it? What if you didn't pay enough attention to each other because you had to work so hard trying to make it? What if one took a more supportive role toward the other, boosted his/her success, then found herself/himself rejected by a high-flying spouse who thinks she/he isn't interesting or glamorous enough for him/her anymore? There are so many possible scenarios. It's naive to pick one and say that sounds fun. It might not be fun at all. (That doesn't mean that not marrying will be fun.)

Murray seems to go on to concede that the young-marrying couple might not make it economically, but he still won't mention that you might not make it emotionally:
Even more important, you and your spouse will have made your way together. Whatever happens, you will have shared the experience. And each of you will know that you wouldn't have become the person you are without the other.
Whatever you've shared is always sinking into the past, and not everyone stays together for the value of being able to share the memories. There might be some painful memories. Poverty and struggle may be satisfying in shared memory form, but what about the interpersonal cruelties and slights? What about all he/she did for him and how little she/he did for him/her? And if she/he is what she/he is because of him/her, what if she/he is unhappy with what she/he is? She/he might decide it's time to cash out and reinvest.


Meade said...

"She/he might decide it's time to cash out and reinvest."

Yeah, like reinvest in a little therapy. Pick a gender, Ms. She/he.

Wince said...

At minimum, early marriage is for two people who are both sentimental and loyal to a fault, yet redeemed by those very qualities.

Gabriel Hanna said...

I think that as people get older they "harden up", so to speak, become more themselves, get less flexible.

A marriage that starts too late may not survive long if the personalities involved are "set" too firmly. The hardest thing I had to learn in my marriage was to adjust myself to accommodate someone else.

John Borell said...

I've been sitting here since yesterday, with my own very happy merger marriage, waiting for Ann's inevitable (and correct) snark. Well said, Ann, sell said.

Bob Ellison said...

Bitter dreams, Professor.

Murray is correct. Marriage is always difficult. People 22 years are told they're too young to understand; people 50 are told...don't know what they're told; they don't listen anyway.

Build a life together. I'm still working on that.

Ann Althouse said...

"Bitter dreams, Professor."

What's that supposed to mean? Dreams refer to the future. Did you mean memories?

I'm just looking at the whole scope of possibility.

What are you trying to say?

JimB said...

I vote for early marriage. My first wife (dead now for 13 years...I miss her greatly) and I married when she was 18 and I , 21. We had our first child a little over ten months later. (Chuckle...good timing) We were in love 'til the day she died, after 48 years together. I am so glad we didn't wait!


Bob Ellison said...

I was thinking of Gordon Lightfoot's Bitter Greens.

I'm trying to say that your post sounds bitter. Murray was trying to make a pretty simple point: that it's easier to grow together, in marriage, than to wait for the perfect person to come along.

Why would I "mean memories"?

George M. Spencer said...

Things I've Learned...

1) It's all about shared values and common interests.
2) Your mate should be your best friend.
3) It's work, but it should be fun. Really.
4) Honesty, honesty, honesty...
5) Listen.
6) Forgive.
7) Sex is good. It's heaven when it's with one you love.
8) Go for it.
9) "Recognize your brothers—Everyone you meet. Why in the world we here? Surely not to live in pain and fear." — John Lennon
10) Have faith. Try.

Anonymous said...

Murray made the merger analogy intending to imply a mercenary, calculating quality, with a negative connotation. "As soon as you don't fit my personal branding, I'm gone." That doesn't describe a lot of high-powered professionals getting married in their early 30s, but it does fit some.

I think his advice to consider marrying early is sound. For the right people (secure, mature for their age, well-grounded by a loving, stable family) it can be a great choice. Those of us not so favored should probably wait a bit, though only a bit (and now we bring on Princeton mom Susan Patton to nag women about their increasingly unfresh eggs!)

Bob Ellison said...

"Merger marriage". He's right about that. Something Paltrow recently transported her marriage into the non-merger universe. Kould Kardashian has used marriage as both a money machine and some strange way to even greater fame.

Same-sex marriers want to think that marriage is some kind of guaranteed acceptance into the fly-over society.

Unknown said...

I've always seen the Clinton marriage as a "merger", and one element of that merger is Bill's freedom to pursue his inherent "interests".

Richard Dolan said...

An interesting, and to me, unexpected meditation from the author of Coming Apart. Marriage has traditionally served so many social functions that, sometimes, they have overwhelmed the personal commitment at its core. In his many books, Murray has focused on those social functions much more than the personal or romantic aspects of marriage.

Murray's work has shown that traditional attitudes towards marriage and religion have contributed greatly to the stability over time of the new upper class in America -- and those attitudes have emphasized the economic and child-rearing functions of marriage as a large part of the success of the new upper class, just as the abandonment of them chacterizes the permanent lower class. At times his descriptions of how marriage has contributed to the enduring social success of the new upper class sounds distinctly aristocratic.

His thesis has come in for lots of criticism, but it's core has held up despite that. His advice to consider marrying young, and his evident fondness for the idea of start-up marriages over merger ones, doesn't quite fit with his descriptions of the practices that make for the new upper class's enduring success in Coming Apart.

Robert Cook said...

"Merger marriages," so-called are not new; in fact, throughout history marriage has been seen as an act of merging resources. What else are arranged marriages but merger marriages? One marries off one's child to another family's child for many reasons, and the question of whether the children are in love with each other or not (usually "not," I would guess), is not taken into consideration in the arrangements.

Donald Douglas said...

The "he/shes" here are killing me, lol.

Anonymous said...

Afterthought: Murray's recommendation of Bill Murray's movie Groundhog Day is right on. I've never seen a better description of how to become a fully realized human being.

cubanbob said...

I've been sitting here since yesterday, with my own very happy merger marriage, waiting for Ann's inevitable (and correct) snark. Well said, Ann, sell said."

There is nothing correct about Ann's snark. While obviously not true for everyone generally speaking the older you are when getting married the more set you are in your ways and the harder it is too compromise. Raising kids especially more than one takes energy and starting in your late thirties and finishing in your mid to late fifties is tougher than starting in your twenties and finishing in your mid to late forties.

PB said...

What? The topic is "merger marriages" and nowhere is mention of merger (prenuptual) agreements?

Ann Althouse said...

"I'm trying to say that your post sounds bitter."

I'm not and it's not. Read it again and think: Realism.

Ann Althouse said...

"Murray was trying to make a pretty simple point: that it's easier to grow together, in marriage, than to wait for the perfect person to come along."

No, he's saying it might be better to marry at a younger age. Those who wait until they are a little older are not necessarily delaying out of a fantasy of achieving perfection. They might be delaying because they have other things they want to do before committing to one person, such as having short experiences with many partners and concentrating on study and starting a career. They might want to travel or engage in some artistic or sports or political pursuit that would be hampered by needing to produce a family income. Some people do a stint in the military or the Peace Corp or missionary work. There are a lot of things that might make you put off starting a family that have nothing to do with being overly picky about who would be suitable.

And one might simply want to see more about how you turn out before deciding that another person (equally unformed) is right for you. That's not about perfection but about wanting to see yourself and your partner are going to be like as more mature adults before deciding you belong together for life.

I'm saying this as someone who married a 21-year-old man when I was 22. And I didn't think of myself as being that young. My sister married when she was a teenager.

JimT Utah said...

The night we met, my wife-to-be called her mother and said, "I found him." We were engaged after three months and married after six. We were both twenty-one. Fifty-nine years, five children, fifteen grandchildren, and seventeen great-grandchildren later we're still in love. In a couple of months we will be off on a new adventure as full-time missionaries for our church.

We married for love, but committed for life. It hasn't always been easy, but it has been wonderful.

JRoberts said...

This may be a bit OT, but I find myself thinking of an anniversary trip my wife and I made to Savannah two years ago. While site seeing, we met some newlyweds on their honeymoon. When they asked how long we had been married, I told them 30 years. They both replied, "Wow!".

I replied, "It's a good start".

You see, my yardstick is my wife's parent's marriage of 68 years (and counting).

RigelDog said...

I could have used this advice when I was in my early and mid-twenties. I literally refused to consider marriage, or even engagement, for no reason other than I had the idea that it was "too early;" I was supposed to go forge a glamorous life and career first. Dumped a great man so that I could be footloose, and when I was nearing 30 and decided it was time to find another great guy, there were none to be found. God is good; I wandered in the desert for several years and was humbled--then the best husband ever came along. But I firmly believe that I could have also made a great marriage with the earlier boyfriend. What if I'd never found another great guy because I was following some half-baked feminist notion that age 25 was too early to settle down?

Carol said...

I wonder if it wouldn't be a little different now, Ann. Couples our age who married young ran right into a whirlwind in the late 60s and 70s..everyone was breaking up, men running off with hippie chicks half their age, women running away to find themselves. The answer to every marital problem was Divorce.
It was really going around.

jimbino said...

It's apparent that what this country needs is a whole lot more divorce parties and fewer wedding celebrations.

I'm only a scientist, but I have noticed that there are some common concepts and practices that are almost totally independent:


and so on. Indeed, much of great literature treats having one, but none of the others. And in real life, consider Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Ernest Shackleton, Hugh Hefner, Jack Kennedy and many others.

Besides having no model whatsoever in the Bible or history before the fictitious Romeo and Juliet, modern Amerikan marriage is without foundation in reason or common sense. Its only support comes by way of the perverse Tax Code.

Bob Ellison said...

You misunderstood Murray's central point.

Bob Ellison said...

Wow. Windy.

Building Magic said...

One of the biggest advantages of marrying earlier: starting marriage with a shorter list of prior sex partners.

Why was that not mentioned in the article?

Ken_L said...

I wondered why Charles Murray's advice about how to live deserved any more attention than, oh my barber's or the taxi driver's. I couldn't think of a reason, so skipped his article. Your post suggests I was wise.

tim in vermont said...

It is still unbelievable to me this dystopia that has been created for both men and women. But hey, the old system wasn't fair, right?

The denial of basic biological realities in service of ideological certitudes was always a great idea. There is no way back for us or our children, but hopefully some generation will come along that sees the hell that has been created here.

I fucking hate baby boomers.

The Godfather said...

When I was young, shortly after the dinosaurs went extinct, people tended to get married when they became more or less self-supporting. For blue collars, that was around 17-20, and for white collars, around 21-25. Everyone wanted to be a grown-up, and being married was what grown-ups did. There were, of course, a few who went out and explored the world, or just wandered around in it, and we either envied or pitied them, but they weren't typical.

Now, as I look around, I see what seems to be a delayed maturation -- or an extended puberty -- among many of the young. If you are living in your parents' house (or basement), if you are being kept on their health insurance plan, if you haven't learned how to tie a necktie or dance backwards in high heels, if you go to job interviews dressed the way you went to class in high school, then you aren't yet a grown-up, and you apparently don't want to be one. If that's so, then for God's sake don't get married, you aren't ready for it. Marriage is hard -- rewarding if you're a grown-up, but only if you're a grown-up. Screw all you want to, but use a rubber or the pill or whatever, but please don't bring a child into the world, or into the trash, until you and the love of the moment are ready to try being the love of your lives.

Danno said...

In reading Murray's article earlier today, I didn't read anything that wasn't opinion on why he thinks marrying early is the way to go.

Freeman Hunt said...

Later marriage might work out well for a man. Doesn't work out well as often for a woman.

acm said...

By "young" he means 25 or 27. Eesh, I must live in a bubble, because those are perfectly reasonable ages around here. A young couple would be more like 17-22.

Really, I don't like any advice about what age (assuming we're talking about people over the age of consent) is good for marriage. Circumstance and individual maturity are what matters. I haven't seen any evidence, in my own life or from a study, that older newlyweds are any less willing to compromise and work together. In fact, I've seen the opposite---younger, less experienced people tend to think they know more than they do, to be more stubborn about compromise, and to have more unrealistic expectations. There are advantages to marrying young, of course, but "easy compromise" is not one of them (for any young people I know, anyway).

All the other advice is perfectly sound, reasonable advice.

MayBee said...

Considering marrying young is indeed sound advice.

The best advice is to not let a good partner go because you think it's the wrong time. Whether that good partner comes later or earlier, that advice holds up. Don't turn good matches away for some future that may not happen.

Birches said...

Murray's right. Twenty five should not be considered too young to marry. He's not advocating high school engagements, he's advocating growing together before you've already grown.

My spouse and I married younger than that over a decade ago. We have discussed time after time how we have become more than the sum of our parts. That's only possible because of our early marriage. I don't think either of us would have done anything remarkable in our mid and later twenties that we didn't plan and do together. We probably just would have spent a lot more money on dining out, concerts and such. We never would have purchased a home, or saved as much for retirement. Marriage changes you and forces you to look forward to beyond Friday night.

Paddy O said...

Ann @2:55. Well said!

Paddy O said...

"That's only possible because of our early marriage."

My wife and I say the same thing about being more the sum of our parts, and we got married 5 years ago and I was 34, she was 30.

So, it may have worked for you to marry early, but I don't think that it was only possible because of an early marriage.

We all like to universalize our experiences which are never quite universal.

Paddy O said...

Oops, she was 31.

Birches said...

@ Patrick O

I agree that great marriages can come at any age. I was talking more about the financial benefits to marrying young. We started with nothing, but because we were married we focused more on our long term goals instead of blowing all of our disposable income on cruises, movies, fancy food, and cool new gadgets. We are better off because we started thinking of someone other than ourselves at a younger age.

I know there are plenty of people who have the discipline to save for retirement and whatnot without a spouse. But for me, that would not have happened without a spouse to ground me into looking beyond the next day. I have a few friends in similar single situations (who are now in their 30s). Financially, they're just kind of sitting idle.

chickelit said...

What about all he/she did for him and how little she/he did for him/her? And if she/he is what she/he is because of him/her, what if she/he is unhappy with what she/he is? She/he might decide it's time to cash out and reinvest.

What a divisive prose style. I suspect it was intentional, but I find it disturbing -- like a slasher flick.

Skeptical Voter said...

Well if you're lucky, marrying relatively young is a good thing. I was 21--my wife was 22--and 49 years later, we're still happily working away at building a life together.

But it's luck of the draw--most of my college fraternity brothers have been divorced at least once--the "champ" in that regard is working on his fourth marriage. Or should I say "chump".

I will say that along the way I've seen some great second marriages--or even third marriages among my friends and acquaintances.

Murray's advice is mostly conventional wisdom--but there's a reason why "conventional wisdom" is conventional. That's because it works most of the time.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

I have one sister who married at 23, another who married at 33. They both have great marriages. The first has two kids, the second has one.

I think you can wait too long. I've never been married, and probably won't. There are a lot of great life possibilities besides a long happy marriage.

Anonymous said...

" marriage entails only 2 parties, is intended to last for a human lifetime and tends to include children."

Oh, how quaint!

Not too long ago you could have said it entails a man and a woman, also.

Don't hold too tightly to your far right wing sensibilities, Ann. That whole #2 thing is so last millennium.

David said...

You could call these NYT described merger marriages.

I look at a lot of them as just shownin' off.

David said...

There are marriages which are not difficult.

It takes some effort, but that's not the same as difficulty. Effort is what makes the seemingly difficult successful.

Carl Pham said...

I find the proposition that people are substantially better at choosing mates at age 35 (or 55) than 25 approximately as laughable as the proposition that it is easier to predict what your candidate will be like in 10 years than 50.

jr565 said...

Patrick O wrote:
"Oops, she was 31."
Uh, oh... I hope she doesn't read Althouse's blog.