I deleted a very nasty comment earlier today — luckily it was caught in the spam trap and not out there for all the world to see. The comment wasn’t about me. Rather, it was about one of the happy couples whose story and picture I put up on the blog days, months, or years ago. It made me feel cynical and sad, and when I feel cynical and sad I usually spend a little time looking for something that will made me feel good in equal measure. Balance, and all that.
What I found was an old essay by Herbert Stein, published in 1997 in Slate. Entitled ‘Watching the couples go by,’ it really touched my heart, so I thought I’d share some of it here.
I am concentrating on the married couples. How do I know that those men and women walking two-by-two up to the Kennedy Center are married to each other? Well, 75 percent of all men between the ages of 30 and 75 are married, so if you see a man in that age group walking with a woman to the Kennedy Center—which is not exactly Club Med—it’s a good bet that the two are married, and almost certainly to each other.
I look particularly at the women in those couples. They are not glamorous. There are no Marlene Dietrichs, Marilyn Monroes, or Vivien Leighs among them. (It is a sign of my age that I can’t think of the name of a single living glamorous movie actress.) Some of them are pretty, but many would be considered plain. Since they are on their way to the Kennedy Center, presumably to attend a play, an opera, or a concert, one may assume that they are somewhat above average in cultural literacy. But in other respects one must assume that they are, like most people, average.
But to the man whose hand or arm she is holding, she is not “average.” She is the whole world to him. They may argue occasionally, or even frequently. He may have an eye for the cute intern in his office. But that is superficial. Fundamentally, she is the most valuable thing in his life.
So this “ordinary” woman—one like about 50 million others in America—has this great value to this man she is going to the theater with. He surely does not make a calculation—doesn’t mark her to market. He probably never says how much he values her, to himself or to her. But he acts as if he knows it.
I see that I have written these views entirely from the point of view of the man. That is only natural for me. But I don’t for a minute think that the relationship I have been trying to describe is one-sided. On the contrary, I am sure it is reciprocal.
I can hear you saying: “How do you know all this? You are only an economist, practitioner of the dismal science. You aren’t Ann Landers.” That is all true. But my wife and I walked up that hill to the Kennedy Center many times.
Isn’t that sweet?