What Makes a Happy Marriage? Lust, Laughter and Loyalty

I came across an article on the BBC by Adam Gopnik called “Is there a secret to a happy marriage?” and naturally I was curious. Now, I’m not married, but I think you can substitute “marriage” with “relationship” and the advice would still hold.

Gopnik starts off by saying that “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.” But while reading Charles Darwin’s list of pros and cons on the idea of marriage, Gopnick thought about his own years of married life and came to a formula for a happy marriage.

You can find an excellent summary of Darwin’s thought process on Brain Pickings, but some of his reasons against marriage were:

  1. Limited Means. Feel duty to work for money.
  2. Freedom to go where one liked.
  3. Travel. Europe, yes? America????
  4. Not forced to visit relatives, & to bend in every trifle.
  5. Anxiety & responsibility.

His reasons for marriage included:

  1. Children.
  2. Constant companion, (& friend in old age) who will feel interested in one.
  3. Charms of music & female chit-chat.
  4. Object to be beloved & played with.
  5. Better than a dog anyhow.
  6. Home & someone to take care of house.

Clearly Darwin was clear on his priorities, particularly on how a wife is better than a dog. In the end, he decided to indeed marry his cousin Emma Wedgewood, and as Gopnik writes, they had a great 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.'”

After considering marriage, Gopnick says:

Marriages are made of lust, laughter and loyalty – but the three have to be kept in constant passage, transitively, back and forth, so that as one subsides for a time, the others rise….The trick is that marriage is played upon a tilted field, and everything flows downhill towards loyalty.


Lust and laughter need no explanation. You have to physically want your partner, be attracted to them. And you should enjoy your time with them. They need to be someone you can laugh with, even during the bad moments.

Loyalty is the interesting element. Gopnik says, “Marriages from which lust fled decades ago, and laughter became hollow back in the 1990s, but which continue to run on loyalty alone….Loyalty alone can sustain a marriage, but not happily, and not for long.” Loyalty is the absolute necessity that no marriage can do with out, but it is not sufficient for a happy marriage.

Several people commented on this article, and one noted the absence of love in Gopnik’s happy marriage formula. However, I think that romantic love is strongly implied. What differentiate my feelings for my significant other from friends, family, acquaintances and strangers are that all three elements are present: lust, laughter and loyalty. I am loyal to my friends and family and have a lot of good times, but clearly there is the absence of lust (as there very well should be where family is concerned!). I can have a lot of laughs with, and possibly even lust for, acquaintances and strangers I just met, but I would be lying if I said I felt any loyalty to them. My boyfriend is the only person I can say I have lust for, laugh with and am loyal to, and coincidentally, I’d also say I love him.

So…while Gopnick doesn’t specifically mention love as the secret to a happy marriage, I think it has a strong presence in his equation. What do you think?

African Pygmy Hedgehog(LOVE this! And I want! )


The Odds of Finding Your Soul Mate

To get away from the serious and the philosophical dimensions of love,  here is an intriguing video on the math of love found on one of my all-time favorite websites, Brain Pickings. Using two mathematical principles (the Fermi paradox and the Drake equation) , Joe Hanson calculates the odds of finding your soul mate and tells you why there are roughly 871 special someones for you out there. That is, 871 if you are a young female looking for a young gentleman in New York City.

Now, obviously, this number doesn’t apply to everyone since Hanson presented one specific case, but is the overall idea that you can calculate your odds of finding your soul mate valid? Can you create a formula and plug in what you are looking for to see how many individuals fit that description?

I think no. To extrapolate from some of Badiou’s views discussed earlier, love involves risk and the unknown. Putting it simply, most people don’t know what they are looking for, so they probably wouldn’t know what variables to plug into an equation to calculate how many people in this world are for them. While everyone can conjure up a list of desired qualities in their theoretical significant other, I’m not quite sure people have an accurate understanding on what qualities actually matter to them.

Contrary to most blogs, I don’t really want to get into my life experiences, but in this case I will share a bit. If someone had asked me what I was looking for in a guy before I met my current boyfriend, I would have said someone who: works at a job rather than owns a business, is politically and socially aware, is an avid reader and has a thirst for knowledge, loves to travel, is emotionally intelligent, and can communicate and discuss issues.

I’m not saying that my boyfriend doesn’t have some  of these qualities or that these are the most important traits I was looking for because clearly being a good, kind, gentle, loving, family-oriented, ambitious, driven person are all crucial on almost everyone’s list. Rather, I’m pointing out that if I was asked about what interests matter to me in addition to these key foundational qualities, I would not have aligned with my boyfriend. If I had seen him on a dating site, I would have thought he was attractive but after looking at his interests and his description, I would have dismissed him on the basis of incompatibility.

Therefore, I am very glad I met him in person and got to know him, and that we are together. In my experience, having common interests or the lack of common interests do not make or break a relationship. Those are plus points, but not essential. The items we are looking for in the ideal significant other do not often correspond to person we find ourselves in love with and wanting to be with.

I also have an issue with the idea of a soul mate, “the one”, etc. as I was telling a friend earlier today. I don’t believe that there is one person out there for you and that destiny will help you meet him/her….but that is for another post.

So, do you buy Hanson’s argument? Why? Or…why not?