Michael: I think that expectation is really dangerous. A partnership with all that life throws at you, and even more stuff that gets thrown at you when you have a kid. It's really hard, and you're tired and angry, and if in addition to that you expect the feelings to be positive and loving and warm, you just feel like a horrible loser.
Whereas if you've gone into with more common sense, and a sense that this is really somebody you want to be with, but you’ve also checked them out, and they’re solid, and they’re not using substances, and they want to go the same way you do, and if you want to have kids, that that’s what they want too, and that they're good in a pinch and good in an emergency—in other words, you've thought a bit about the job description, and the values somebody has to really be a good partner in life. Then you're much more likely 10 or 20 years later to really love them.
I've seen people through a lot of divorces. Divorces never seem to be because “I fell out of love with you.” Divorces are much more partnership issues: “I love you but I can't stand the way you've spent us into the poorhouse, or the way you never do your job, or you’re always out at night drinking, or a certain way you never accept me and you never did, I thought you would someday.” It all has to do with partnership issues.
Sarah: People also, over the course of long relationships—their interests change, and their interest in sex changes. If you are with someone that you have vetted in this way, that you know is reliable, that you know you can trust in certain ways, that you have a more substantial connection with, [then] if the sex fades you have less to worry about. Sex and attraction are two more things you really can’t control. Especially when you get older. It's part of your physiology that really isn’t in your hands.
Holding yourself responsible and your relationship responsible for having the same chemistry you once had when you first met in your 20s, and you’re now in your 50s, is really not fair.
Khazan: One thing that surprised me—at one point you say, if you have an asshole parent, that as an adult you shouldn’t worry so much about forgiving them if you were traumatized by your childhood. Could you explain the thinking behind that?
Michael: If you find that your parent is one of those people who is really just a jerk, it's sort of like forgiving a cockroach for being a cockroach, or a snake for being a snake. Forgiveness tends to assume that people had a choice and made a bad choice. Whereas, what I think you run into more often is somebody who didn't really have a choice, they're just bad.
The one you want to forgive is God, for having to live in a world where jerks have as many kids as anyone else. It’s less personal. I think in some ways it frees you up more to realize that [your parent] did what they did because they’re built that way.
Sarah: What people seem to conflate forgiveness with is getting someone to admit what they did, and to beg for forgiveness. When you’re dealing with someone who’s an asshole, that’s never going to happen. Let it go in a way that you don't feel compelled to [wait] for them to have that revelation. Because waiting for that is probably going to be painful or disappointing.