Retrospective Cold Feet

Andrew Sullivan has been blogging this quote about people who know that they're marrying the wrong guy even as they walk down the aisle:


According to recent research conducted by Jennifer Gauvain, a therapist in Denver, 30 percent of now-divorced women say they knew in their gut they were making a mistake as they walked down the aisle -- and kept walking anyway. Only a handful backed out. The obvious question: If you know you're marrying the wrong guy, why do it?
I'm a little skeptical of this.  People's memories change--as Lori Gottlieb points out in Marry Him, scientists who interviewed couples in their first year of marriage, and then again seven years later, found that the happy couples had retroactively rewritten their meeting story to be more positive (love at first sight!) while the people who were having trouble, or divorced, now spoke about their meeting in much less positive terms.  This isn't necessarily fabrication; it's just that we pick and choose what we recall, and those who are happy will selectively recall the best parts, while those who are unhappy will accentuate the negative.

I've been at various weddings where bride or groom freaked out beforehand, and the degree of the freak out was not necessarily related to the happiness of the relationship.  You should be thinking hard about the decision to love someone and care for them no matter what happens--Peter and I have been talking about things like retirement planning and long-term care insurance, and frankly, it's still terrifying to think about all of the ways in which one person's illness could nearly destroy the other person's life. Nonetheless, I'm very happy that we got married.

But of course if things go wrong, you'll naturally look back and think, "I wish I'd taken counsel of my fears!"
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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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