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This section was my workspace for philosophy essays between July 2006 and April 2008. I call this "Prehistoric Kilroy" because it gave me practice for more disciplined essays in Kilroy Cafe. Also see my philophical blog and Twitter feed.

Issue #32, 11/25/2006

Personality and Romance

By Glenn Campbell
Family Court Philosopher

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Some states still require both a waiting period and a medical exam before two people get married. I support both. Furthermore, I believe the each of the parties should be required to undergo a FULL PSYCHOLOGICAL EVALUATION before a marriage license is issued, with the results being shared with the other.

You wouldn't want to buy a used car without a mechanic looking at it, and you wouldn't buy an old house without inspecting for termites, so why shouldn't you check out your potential marriage partner?

Modern psych exams are fairly scientific. The core of the evaluation is usually the "MMPI" (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory). This is a long and obscure-seeming questionnaire which can reveal such traits as narcissism, paranoia and hysteria. The MMPI can't really tell you if you are compatible with your partner, but it can detect some of the common cads, leeches and hysterics who are bound to cause you grief later on.

I am not claiming that this would be a panacea for misguided marriages. Having a psych report in hand, no matter what it says, is not going to make a wit of difference to most couples. Their "love" is too strong—i.e. their delusional system is insurmountable. Whatever the MMPI says about one, the other is going to say, "No problem. I can work with that."

Still, the evaluation would be useful in giving you a starting point for understanding your partner and helping prepare you for the later divorce. It would also give the government some statistical data for defining JUST HOW CRAZY THESE PEOPLE ARE when they choose to get married. Then clinicians can begin to develop some treatment strategies for this ubiquitous disease.

Most couples are not going to entertain a psych eval willingly. One of the parties may be terrified of being evaluated and will probably use the manipulative strategy of, "What, don't you trust me?" The other party will probably be unwilling to press the issue for fear of offending and turning away the other—who might then ABANDON THEM!

Couples usually have a very delicate fantasy of mutual idealization that they don't want to disrupt. Your partner is a prince or princess, and to avoid dispelling the delusion, no one wants to get too clinical or specific about the other. Once you have started making an investment in a certain path, you want desperately to believe in it. (See A Fork in the Road.) By and large, people get married wearing rose-colored glasses that they don't want to take off.

Personality, or ones unique operating style, is something significant and real. After adolescence, it is pretty much fixed in place, and there is little that anyone can do from the outside to change it. You might think that people would be "logical" in their behavior—for example, that they would not engage in illicit affairs if they wanted to preserve their marriage—but personality is much more powerful than logic. A person's style (or unique mental disorder) is engrained in them by their biology and early life, and it is essentially the same at the beginning of a marriage as it will be at the end.

What changes between the beginning and end of marriage is the editing of ones expression and perception. At the beginning you are more willing to tailor your behavior to the expectations of the other person, while your own perception of them tends to be skewed and selective. Both of these charades tend to dissolve with time. The eventual disintegration of the relationship is often the simple result of people "being themselves" or choosing, finally, to see what was right in front of them all along.

I don't want to sound like a naysayer—that all romance is delusional and that it is doomed before it begins. Romance is delusional, for sure, but not necessarily doomed. Delusion can be both fun and fulfilling sometimes. It is like role-playing games. Some people like to get dressed up as knights and ladies, speak with fake british accents and pretend to be living in the 15th century. (See our Renaissance Festival photos.) Everyone knows it's not real, but that doesn't make it any less meaningful or valuable.

You can play at romance; that's okay. You can pretend to be a damsel in distress, and he can be your knight in shining armor. The danger comes when you take the game too seriously. When you start pinning too much of your dreams and future on it—acting like it's real instead of theatre—that's when you are destined for a crash.

No romantic relationship can possibly live up to the unrealistic expectations that most people lay on it. We all fundamentally must go through life alone. No other person is rightfully going to save us or answer are basic existential questions of "Who am I?" and "What do I do?" To think that any relationship can solve these problems for you is fundamentally flawed.

Male or female isn't really important. We both fell into our bodies by chance. We also fell into our personalities. Each of us is stuck in certain patterns of thinking and experience that we are probably never going to get out of. This is always going to limit our communication with others and the extent to which we can really merge with them.

The earlier you recognize the true personalities of others the better you are going to be able to deal with them. Some people, by virtue of their style interacting with yours, are going to suck everything out of you that you can give them. Others are capable of giving as much as they take—in part because they have the courage, intellect, humor and independence to separate themselves from the game.

Boundaries are the most important thing. People with a healthy sense of where they begin and end and what responsibilities are rightfully theirs are the easiest to get along with. Those who don't know their boundaries are bound to suck you dry, even if they seem compliant in the beginning, mainly because they expect you to solve all their private problems.

It all starts with a psych eval. If you can't do it formally, then work one up on the fly. How does the other person respond to a variety of situations? Most tellingly, how do they respond to stress? What do they do when their ego is bruised or their goals are frustrated? Do they become hysterical, blaming, angry, demanding? Every relationship leads to stress eventually, so whenever it happens early in the game, be sure to pay attention.



Reader Comments

“as a layperson, this essay seems insightful - but I lack the background knowledge to know if the writer is correct in all the expressed (and sometimes powerful) opinions.” — 12/17/06 (rating=3)

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