David Brooks, Alex Baldwin On Relationships

Who you marry is the most important decision you’ll make in life.

I’d be lying if I said I was a David Brooks fan. It’s not because he signed off from my newsletter, it’s because he’s a conservative. And that sticks in my craw.

Paul Krugman, Brooks’s counterpart on the Opinion page of the “New York Times,” boils it down to this… Democrats believe in a social welfare state, Republicans do not. The government is imperfect, but I like it in between myself and corporations, I like the water and the environment to be safe. There are those moments in foreign countries when you wonder…

Like there’s this chairlift in Portillo. It goes virtually straight up and there’s a tower at the bottom and one at the top and nothing in between and I’m not good with heights to begin with and just as my anxiety starts to subside I realize I’m in CHILE! Are there tramway regulations? Could the cable snap while I’m on it? Could it jump the track?

Kind of like in the Caribbean. Where I found myself panicking as the current took me further asea as I was snorkeling. In the U.S., the proprietor of the snorkeling service would be so scared of liability he’d be looking out for me, scanning the water for people in trouble. Whereas these guys could be back in the boat, smoking cigarettes, telling jokes… Which is exactly what they were up to. When I finally got back and hauled myself aboard they weren’t even paying attention. So I’m not worried when the man from the government says he’s there and he’s planning to help me. The same way I’ve got no sympathy for the small businessman complaining ASCAP and BMI are charging him for music, something they’re allowed to do under the law. These establishments are profiting from the tunes. Why should they get a free ride? Shouldn’t the creators be compensated?

And now I’m so far off point you may not even remember where I started, but what really turned me off on Brooks was his comment that this election was all about the viability of the twentieth century welfare state. Romney wanted to reform it, Obama and the Democrats didn’t care about rising costs. If you think this election is solely about that, you’ve lost my attention. How about the nomination of Supreme Court justices? How about a woman’s right to choose?

And Krugman tore Brooks a new one over the foregoing distillation.

And Brooks flew to Spain to see Springsteen… Which I thought was pretty frivolous, and sort of weird, considering their respective viewpoints, but when Jim Guerinot testified about Brooks’s most recent book despite attending the latest Obama fundraiser I wondered if I’d dismissed him too soon. And that’s when I found his podcast with Alec Baldwin in my iTunes library.

You’ve got to like the guy. He admits he’s a nerd, makes fun of his alma mater, and says he’s a liberal on social issues. He can make fun of himself, which too many right wingers cannot. And he explains his conservatism, by saying that despite good intentions, one cannot predict human behavior, government oftentimes gets it wrong. But what fascinated me most were his thoughts on marriage.

Now let me be clear. Brooks was not pontificating, not getting up on his high horse and letting us all know the truth. He did his best to beg off, but since Alec had just gotten remarried, Brooks quoted a blog post he’d found…

“Brag about your spouse and let them overhear you.”

What did Pete Townshend sing, “I am an animal”? We all are. We all want to feel loved and safe. We want to feel respected. Contrary to conventional wisdom, many things should not be left unsaid. So if you want to keep your relationship going, do the above. It works wonders.

And the next words of wisdom were…

“Sometimes you’ve just got to go to bed.”

I can be the worst offender here. Wanting to stay up all night, digging down deep to uncover the truth. But so many times you wake up the next morning and…it all just doesn’t matter that much.
But after he was through quoting from this mysterious blog, that’s when Brooks made the comment I began with. That who you marry is the most important decision of your life.

“…so I go to colleges and I tell kids if you have a great career and a crappy marriage, you will be miserable. If you have a crappy career and a great marriage, you’ll be happy. So every course you take in college should be about who to marry. So like you should take literature courses, theater courses, science courses. Think hard about this one. They look at me like I’m crazy. But that is absolutely true. So if you want to know what correlates to happiness, money correlates a little but when you hit a certain point, it stops. Age correlates to happiness so people in their 20s are happy and then they go through a shallow, U-shaped curve and the nadir of happiness for the average person is age 47. And that’s called having teenage children. And then the peak happiness is the first 10 years after retirement. But the people who are happy, marriage is equal to double your income; having a good marriage produces the same happiness gain as doubling your income.”

I wish someone had taught me this.

We think we should marry for sexual attraction, or wealth, or compatibility. We’ve got our values all wrong.

First and foremost, does that person show up? Can you count on them? To do the right thing, not only with you but as your representative out in the world?

Fantastic sex won’t mean much if your spouse can’t balance his or her checkbook. If he or she constantly overdraws, incurring thousands of dollars in bank fees every year, never mind angering local merchants and friends.

A great conversation is wonderful, but if your spouse never calls to say he or she is late, never practices common courtesy, you’ll be tearing your hair out.

And if you just got that big promotion at work, had a thrilling victory and your significant other just doesn’t care, you’re going to be very unhappy.

You learn all the foregoing as you age.

If you’re lucky, you make no mistakes. But this is extremely rare, based on the divorce rate, never mind the unhappy couples who stay together.

And speaking of staying together… That’s another trait you want to look for in a spouse, perseverance. Breakups are never mutual. Anybody who tells you otherwise is lying. And it’s one thing if it’s just a fling, but if you’re married, if you got up in front of God and country and said “I do.” you hope your spouse is gonna give it much more than the old college try. You hope the commitment is such that not only will they not step out, but they’ll hang in there through the bad times to get to the good.

And unlike so much of today’s pop music, Brooks’s wisdom stuck with me. I just wanted to pass it on to you.

David Brooks on Here’s The Thing:




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