07 August 2008

Love & the Fallacy of Economics

Bernard let out a sigh as I approached the table.

“How are you doing,” I ask rhetorically.

“Maddie is explaining to me again why my marriages have failed.”

“There is no sense in it,” Maddie said disgustedly. “In his relationships, Bernie always starts out as a romantic and ends up as an accountant.”

“I don’t even know what that means,” Bernie said.

“And that’s part of the problem,” Maddie said. To my surprise, she turned to me and said, “Didn’t you get a degree in economics, Ron?”

“Yes,” I said. “Two of them.”

“You have a PhD?” she asked.

“No, just a BA and MA,” I said.

“So explain economics to Bernie,” she crisply requested as she bit into her salad.

“Uh, okay,” I stumbled. “I guess the idea behind economics is one of opportunity costs, of tradeoffs at the margin. You can spend more money on guns or spend it on butter, and depending on which way you go, you’ll either create more or less happiness.”

“Ha!” Maddie said. “See, Bernie! That’s what you try to do.”

“What?” I asked.

“You can't make choices at the margin in a relationship,” Maddie spit out. “You either choose to be in it or not. And you do that, Bernie, at the start. You choose the woman.”

“Well, yeah,” Bernie said, obviously as confused as me. “I guess. I mean, if she’s interested.”

“But after that you turn into an accountant, Bernie. You want reciprocity at every turn. It’s like you’ve turned a relationship into a series of transactions.” And then Maddie did something really remarkable. She spoke in a full paragraph, obviously inspired by our confusion on this topic.

“This economics fallacy might be why men are so good at business and economics and so bad at relationships. You have this tendency to turn relationships into a series of transactions, doing your marginal analysis at every turn, looking for some way to get the most for the least.” She leaned into Bernard’s face and said, “Bernie, relationships are not like that. Shouldn’t be like that. If you want a real relationship, you play a different game, you work out a different equation. You give as much as you can because you realize that you want your life to be as much as it can be. You are never more than your relationships, Bernie. Don’t turn into an accountant once you find yourself in love. Love is not about cost cutting.”

I couldn’t really think of a response. Apparently, neither could Bernard.

At this point, Bernard and Maddie’s grandnephew spoke up. Delbert is about 19, as near as I can tell, but that facial jewelry and body piercing make me a little squeamish. I could not be sure about his age because I’ve never looked at Delbert for long.

“Yeah, but I think that the marginal thing is right,” he said.

“You do?” Maddie said icily.

“Yeah,” he continued, deaf to her tone. “I mean, think about kissing or making love to a woman.”

“As if you do anything else with your imagination at that age,” Bernard muttered.

“You kiss her once, say, and it’s wonderful. You kiss her the tenth time and it is nice. You kiss her a hundred times and it’s almost tiresome.”

I could not help myself, staring at the bolt that went through his lip. “Some woman has kissed you a hundred times?”

“Dude,” Delbert said disgustedly. “I’m just saying. It’s a marginal thing. Love, kisses, they are a marginal thing. After awhile, you put more in but you don't get that much more out.”

I did not want to admit it aloud, but I thought the kid made a fairly decent point.

“No,” Bernard said wearily. “She’s right. Even a kiss is not a marginal thing.”

“No?” Delbert raised his eyebrows.

“A kiss might be like a meal. Sure you get full at one setting, but you get hungry again. And a favorite food is a favorite food. You long for it even more when you can recollect enjoying it in the past, when it becomes the part of layered memories. The food becomes something you love for its own sake and also for the memories it now has wrapped up in it. A kiss is like that only more so.”

“But you got tired of kissing the same woman, Uncle Bernie. Eventually it doesn’t have the same oomph, right? For a kiss to wake you up, it needs to be new woman, no? Some new technique?”

“No. The woman is everything. Technique is vastly over-rated. A new pair of lips is not the point. A kiss at its best is an expression so thick with meaning, appreciation so keen that it can never be expressed in a mere handshake or simple hug. A kiss is inevitable once you feel a particular way towards her. The mouth,” Bernard’s eyes clouded over as he stared at his drink, “the mouth is the place from which we breathe, taste the world, and express ourselves. If you’ve fallen in love with a woman, how could you not want to melt into her at that very spot, this small opening into her being? How could you not want to kiss her?”

He paused and took a sip. “You don’t manufacture this feeling by starting with a fresh pair of lips. If you simply kiss a woman – no matter how good your technique – there is no guarantee that you’ll feel this kind of adoration and desire, this pleasure of getting to be one with her, this realization of what it means to be a part of someone so splendid. She’s right, Delbert. It’s a whole thing, not a marginal thing. That is, if you want to feel whole.”

“Oh Bernie,” Maddie touched her brother’s shoulder. “There might be hope for you yet, honey.”

“You don’t think it’s too late,” asked Bernie, his big eyes and old face looking so vulnerable.

“No,” Maddie said kindly. “It’s never too late to learn how to love.”


This month, I’ll celebrate my 25th wedding anniversary with Sandi. It was 26 years ago that I first kissed her in, of all places, a Denny’s parking lot.

There has never been anything marginal about a single one of your kisses, Sandi. Thank you for loving me.


slouching mom said...

sigh. this was beautiful. you are definitely one of the good guys, ron. happy anniversary to you and sandi.

Jennifer H said...

Slouching beat me to the sigh...that was my first word, too.

Bernard said some lovely things. That Bernard.

Happy Anniversary!

Suzanne said...

Ron, you don't look old enough to have a 25th anniversary unless you got married REALLY early.

That said, I'm joining the girls in a great big sigh, your words are what every girl longs to hear....after 25 years of marriage or even one. Your lovely wife is a very lucky woman!

Ron Davison said...

s-mom, Jennifer, and Suzanne
thank you for that. I'm glad that it resonated with you and I value the compliments even more because they are from you three.

Also, Suzanne, I'm aging much faster than my pictures. I'm tempted to say that we were wed in junior high, but I posted the one in the falls because it was from my last BIG anniversary - our 10th. That was 15 years ago and the hair is thinner, the face more lined ... well, you'll see soon enough when the photos from the 25th trip come in.

Gypsy at Heart said...

Your beautiful tribute to Sandi put me in mind of this quote - I had to go and look for it because I didn't remember it exactly mind you -

"When you are older you will understand how precious little things, seemingly of no value in themselves, can be loved and prized above all price when they convey the love and thoughtfulness of a good heart."

Like SM said Ron, you ARE one of the good guys. It comes of having a good heart. How wonderful that 25 years down the road you recognize ever more the value of what you and Sandi share. May it always be so. Congratulations to you both on the anniversary. Milena

Gypsy at Heart said...

P.S. I forgot to credit the quote. It is by Edwin Booth.

exskindiver said...

what a great picture and a sweet tribute.
you are both lucky to have each other.
happy 25th anniversary.

Ron Davison said...

Thanks for the quote and I guess one of the things about being with Sandi for 25 years, is that I'm beginning to trust that this is not just a passing fancy for her, which enables me to be more expressive.

Thanks. I am lucky. Very.

LSD said...


Happy Anniversary cousin! I hope you and your loved ones enjoy your special anniversary trip.

With regard to the 25 years, I think you are safe in your assumption that Sandi likes you.


Kale Roseen said...

Ron, you are the man. Happy 25th to you and Sandi!

Lifehiker said...

Happy 25th! I can't wait for August 25th, which will be 42! This year the kisses have been especially sweet.

Ron Davison said...

Have I ever before provoked a sigh from you? Other than in exasperation?

Thank you, sir, for joining with me in the celebration.

Our anniversaries are only one day apart (well, one day and 17 years). I wonder if that means that our anniversaries have the same sign?