I believe in happily ever after. I want happily ever after. Is there any wonder why I’m still single? A while back, when I was smitten by a woman I had recently met, I was writing this letter to an old friend. And I described why I liked this girl, and that I hoped things would work out. The paragraph ended, “And they lived happily ever after. The End.”
I’ve told this to a few people, and they’ve uniformly laughed at my naivete. One married man added “More like for better or for worse.” Everyone is right, of course. There is no happily ever after. There is no “ever after”. In the end, maybe 40 or 50 years will pass, but one of the partners will get sick, suffer, and die. Even if I believe in the afterlife, seeing her in the eternal paradise, there’s still the pain, sadness, and loss of this life. Then, there’s doubt, at 4 AM more doubt than other times, still a consequence of faith. And who knows how the New Jerusalem handles these things? Also, there’s no happy forever. Any two people will disagree sometimes; all people are unhappy sometimes. Maybe he wants the toilet paper to unroll from the front, and she wants it from the back. She prefers red bedsheets, he likes blue. Sometimes she has a terrible day at work, or the children act up, or he has the stomach flu, all not happy events. More seriously, a couple might disagree on when to go to bed, or what mutual fund to buy, or how to order their lives. Maintaining love is difficult enough, at least bad enough for roughly half of all lifetime commitments to fall into divorce. Of the remaining half, we likely know marriages that are together for the sake of the children, or two good friends that share a bed, or two roommates that don’t like each other much but remain bound by law and honor. Clearly, statistics are not on my side.
Still, I believe in happily ever after. I’m reminded of an answer from the New York Sun in 1897. The question wasn’t about Happily Ever After, but the answer nevertheless makes perfect sense.
Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a sceptical age. They do not believe except what they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
I investigated some truth and knowledge, like a good student, through a Google search on “Happily Ever After”. There’s a Philadelphia toy shop and multiracial fairy tales and academic fairy tale history and a French film and some romance resources and a lot of other stuff. Most importantly for a statistician like me, there’s a happiness study from NBER which claims that among other things, unmarried people would need $100,000 in additional income each year to be happier than married people. It’s an interesting question, since my income might make that jump next year. Would I be happier married as a grad student, or single as a corporate statistician? Very interesting. To go farther, there’s a book on The Case for Marriage. It states that “the evidence is in, at least for the ways in which marriage is practiced today: Both men and women gain a great deal from marriage.” Even farther, according to this article, I’m already too late.
Is it proper, then, to be “settling”, getting married just to be married? I can’t imagine that. One of my requirements of setting on the search for happily ever after is that I might not find what I’m looking for. I’ve accepted this possibility. I’ve been on my own for nine years now, mostly good. Sure, I want to be wanted, and my lack thereof is a depressing factor, and I fear failure. I have fretted over dying alone, my body decomposing for days or weeks until someone finally came around. The desire to have children is there, but slight, as is the desire to what Aquinas calls “the marital debt”. None of these are overpowering, and they distract from the true call, a suitable partner.
Who is my suitable partner, my life-sharer, my happily ever after? That I can imagine. The characteristics of my dream I revealed through a literary crush, Clarisse McClellan. Intelligence, since the language and imagery I use is academic and complex. Wonder, since my vocation is ordering the mysteries of the world. Whimsy and laughter, since humor is a neglected form of beauty. Courtesy, since goodness demands respect for all souls. Righteousness, since I claim a portion of the values of the fairy tale. Sweetness, since there is no more powerful transformative weapon than love.
It’s nice to make this list of traits. One might even look upon marriage as a market, where each girl has a list of qualities attached, on personality and attractiveness, and I would look down the list and select compatible people. At the same time, boys like me have our own lists; a woman looks for the qualities she desires, and those which I might meet. A good system could measure the validity of claimed truth, institute some sort of physical ranking system, and maybe even match people’s lists automatically. Interestingly enough, this sort of brokered marraige market is available in much of this world, just not America, the land of Kapitalism. That seems a little backwards, even accounting for literal Puritanism. Perhaps the online services serve as modern marriage dealers, though without research or subtlety.
Yet even with efficiency, the traits are not enough. That’s not happily ever after, either. I’ve talked about what type of woman attracts me, why I’m not willing to settle, the research, and what happily ever after is not. But what is Happily Ever After? I was asked that question, once, and the answer I gave was simple. Let me repeat it, slightly expanded, here. I think it’s achievable.
I want a partner, that 25 years from now, I’ll wake up next to her and wonder what she’ll be doing that day, want to hear about her tasks, share the successes and troubles of my life, spend time together, become lost in the beauty of her body and soul, and then fall asleep praising God for the unity we share.
That’s Happily Ever After. And why would anyone want anything less?