Everybody who gets married expects the marriage to work out. “You don’t ever think you’ll be apart,” Clueless actress Alicia Silverstone explained, after filing for divorce. Otherwise, why get married? As Robert De Niro proclaims in the opening voice-over to Martin Scorsese’s Casino: “When you love someone, you’ve gotta trust them. There’s no other way. You’ve got to give them the key to everything that’s yours. Otherwise, what’s the point?”
We stand in front of family and friends and willingly – eagerly – vow “forever” and mean it. In Casino, De Niro says his piece as he is seen climbing into his 1981 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz, and a car-bomb explodes. But we Americans, who overwhelming marry for love, don’t think our cars will blow up. We are utterly convinced that when problems crop up in our lives and relationships, as they inevitably do, we will be able to work things out.
Meanwhile, those of us who have managed to marry happily and well and to stay married for a long time [raises hand] are far too willing to pat ourselves on the back for it. Luck (or grace, depending upon your disposition) is much more a part of the success equation than any of us would care to admit. With the benefit of 20:20 hindsight, Alain de Botton suggests that a good question to ask one’s intended would be, “And how are you crazy?” However, like contestants on The Bachelor, which pitches a quest for true love amidst a harem of attractive women but has produced only one lasting relationship over 22 seasons, we might be willing to acknowledge that things often don’t work out, but we remain convinced of “forever love” for ourselves. To be fair, the Greshwin brothers are pretty convincing.
We may recognize that divorce is commonplace. But whatever version of the statistical landscape brides and grooms might dutifully be able to recite, we simply don’t think those probabilities are personally applicable. For example, recent research found that study participants thought the average member of the opposite sex has about a 40 percent chance of cheating on his or her partner. But those same participants said their own partner had only a de minimus chance of cheating. When you fall in love, all bets are off. When I fall in love, it will be forever.
Of that we’re sure.
In his fascinating book, On Being Certain, neurologist Robert Burton systematically and convincingly shows that certainty is a mental state, a feeling like anger or pride that can prove useful, but that doesn’t dependably reflect anything like objective truth. One disconcerting finding he describes is that, from a neurocognitive point of view, our feelings of certainty about things we’re right about is largely indistinguishable from our feelings of certainty about things we’re wrong about.
All of which confirms the (usually unspoken) truism about humans – we’re often wrong but never in doubt. We’re as sure of the future of our relationships as we are that 2+2=4. However, mathematics is a closed system. As such, it is subject to deduction (demonstration), which means that we can ascertain the outcome – even when we do very difficult math – correctly and certainly. Deductive reasoning, which happens when one begins with an accepted premise and then moves toward establishing a conclusion based upon the previously “known” information, can offer a definitive conclusion. Continue reading