Friday, 22 August 1997:

Romance and Reality

At this point I'm pretty much an embittered cynic on the subjects of love, romance, relationships, intimacy, and so forth. I imagine this is the case for many single people who have a desire to be not-single. (I'm not a cynic about women, though; I don't see it as any sort of gender-war thing.) So from time to time I may decide to rant about this subject. The impetus for this installment is the new, "romance" issue of The New Yorker, which has a couple of interesting articles:

Prenuptial Agreements:

Author Julie Salamon writes about this relatively modern innovation to the marriage process, and how difficult it can be on marriages. The basic point is that it makes one partner feel a bit railroaded, and makes the marriage feel very uneven. One partner wants the agreement to have a sense of security, but the other feels it's a violation of trust.

I've only once had the prospect of marriage stare me square in the face. I turned it down, because I felt - and feel - that it wasn't the right thing for me in that case, so the matter of prenuptial agreements never came up. On reading this article, it struck me that such an agreement is a little like some of the difficult questions that come up (or, in my opinion, should come up) before a couple first has sex: What about birth control? What if the woman gets pregnant? These are hard questions, but they're a hell of a lot harder after the fact than before!

The big difference, though, is that prenuptial agreements have the weight of law, at least partially. (The article explains that usually the only elements of an agreement that hold up in court have to do with division of property and payment of alimony.) It's unromantic, and rather fatalistic.

The basic dilemma is this: A perceived need for a prenuptial agreement might lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy: The perceived lack of trust inherent in the agreement might lead to the failure of the marriage. On the other hand, no matter how much trust you have, the marriage might always fail for other reasons. I personally am not of the opinion that marriages must be saved at all costs; some things can't be saved (though certainly I think being married entails a responsibility to try).

I don't think there's an easy solution here. I think the best approach is for the couple to work out something that's fair and reasonably simple; don't try to cover every single base, and avoid the legal boilerplate. Salamon's article often describes agreements that were drawn up by the man's lawyer and presented to the woman for signing, and that just doesn't fly, it seems to me.

I don't really know what I'd do, or, more precisely, what I'd want to do; after all, it wouldn't be up to just me.

On-Line Romances:

Meghan Dawm describes how she became embroiled in an on-line romance, how she met the guy, and it didn't work out. There just wasn't anything there off-line. She talks about the anonymity, the lessened inhibitions, and all the other things that people talk about when they discuss such romances.

I've had my share of intense conversations with women over the Internet, dating back to my days on BITNET back in 1989 (during which I sometimes spent hours in real-time chat with a lady in Mexico) to some flirtations on MUDs in the early '90s. I only once had anything that could reasonably be called a "romance".

It was during grad school, circa 1992. Somehow I'd started corresponding with a woman in grad school in Ohio. I was feeling pretty miserable, having broken up with my first girlfriend when I left college, being burned out due to school, and generally feeling like I didn't fit in. Sheila was a nice, bright, cheerful person which was basically what my emotional sink-hole needed at the time. Eventually, of course, I drove out to meet her.

There was never really much there. We got along fine, and continued to correspond for some months afterwards. However, she was a fairly committed Christian (as I've written before, I rate a zero on the spirituality scale), and another of her correspondents had gradually become her boyfriend, and he was basically around the whole time I was visiting. It was a drag, although not a terrible experience. But it did cure me of the impulse to ever do that again.

I basically have zero interest in a long-distance relationship. To paraphrase something my first girlfriend said to me at the end of a nasty period we went through, proximity is 90% of the romance. It can be fun to flirt over the net, but to me it's pointless to expect it to lead anywhere.

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