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As has happened many times in the past, the NYTimes published an article last Sunday that can be applied to this show. (I first learned about it from Santa, and I thank her for bringing it to my attention. I rarely miss articles in the Sunday Review of the NYT because there are often so many good ones. I’m glad I’ve taken this long to publish this post because the Sunday NYTimes from this week contains several letters in reaction to the article.) Anyway, the article was written by Alain de Botton, a Swiss-born, British-based philosopher who has been elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature (FRSL), which appears to be quite an honor. He has been writing novels based on the philosophy of love and marriage for some time. This particular article precedes his forthcoming novel The Course of Love and is titled “Why You Will Marry The Wrong Person.” He has some singular ways of viewing marriage.
Botton covers several pertinent issues related to what we’ve seen going on between Martin and Louisa that I want to take on individually. (This article will also give me a chance to reference several of my previous posts and I hope it won’t appear presumptuous if I call your attention to those whenever it seems appropriate.)
The first thing that jumped out at me was his use of the adjective “normal.” To quote him: “We seem normal only to those who don’t know us very well.” I’m pretty sure his use of “normal” here is the common usage that each of us goes about the day fitting into society. And it is generally true that most of us aren’t walking around muttering to ourselves or making strange gestures in public. But, as a philosopher, Botton must be aware that the word “normal” is loaded, as Dr. Timoney says. [As you probably remember, I wrote a post on what the term “normal” means on Jan. 12, 2016 named “Normal Is A Loaded Word.”]
Nevertheless his concluding paragraph begins with: “Romanticism has been unhelpful to us; it is a harsh philosophy. It has made a lot of what we go through in marriage seem exceptional and appalling. We end up and convinced that our union, with its imperfections, is not ‘normal.’” In this case Botton is using the term to connote some form of happiness that comes from an idealized notion of how a marriage should look. [ I wrote a post on 11-04-2013 called “Marriage As An Institution” in which I looked at all the reasons why Martin and Louisa would want to marry as well as some of the reasons they might have problems being married. In some ways that post is a companion piece to this one and you may want to read it. I’ve also written 6 posts on “Happiness.” After the subject of change and all of its manifestations, I’d say the topic of happiness is the next most frequent that comes up in the show.]
Although I think that when most people fall in love, they can’t help being blinded to some of the faults in their lovers, and it’s nice to have that period of time when love is blissful, lately we are becoming less likely to rush into marriage. Once you’ve been around your intended for a year or so, it would be surprising if you didn’t pick up on a few of their idiosyncrasies. We still make mistakes, of course, and sometimes that can be due to being a bit starry eyed; nevertheless, I think couples generally don’t miss those foibles in each other; they just believe they can overlook them or overcome them. In Martin and Louisa’s case, they have known each other and lived with each other over a fairly extended period of time. By the time they decide to marry they have had plenty of occasions that should have given them enough opportunities to recognize the potential areas of conflict. Despite all of these moments, we are supposed to believe that Louisa doesn’t realize yet that Martin is inclined to be unwilling/unable to share his innermost thoughts and fears with her. (Interestingly, one letter to the NYTimes notes that “marrying the right person…requires the strength to lower your walls. All of your walls, all the way down.” Apparently there are many people who erect walls and have to find a way to lower them.) We’re also supposed to believe that Martin continues to have trouble knowing what makes Louisa happy. She has explicitly told him at the end of S5 that she wants to hear him say “nice” things to her, and she has been pretty clear that it matters to her that he join her in some school activities. Moreover, they have both stated they plan to do their best to prevent James Henry from becoming as introverted as his father (if we remember what Martin says to Louisa during that conversation at the end of S5, and what Louisa says to Martin when she asks him to take JH to the music group).
Botton’s title for the essay refers to marrying the “wrong” person. What he really means is that people may have an idealized notion of what marriage should be like, and how a marriage should unfold. Botton relates our tendency to have false expectations to the circumstances we experienced during childhood, which definitely plays a role in how Doc Martin has been constructed. Botton asserts “we marry the wrong people because we don’t associate being loved with feeling happy.” This takes place if we have had troubled childhoods in which we’ve experienced feelings of “wanting to help an adult who was out of control, [or] of being deprived of a parent’s warmth or scared of his anger, of not feeling secure enough to communicate our wishes.” In Doc Martin Louisa has had to deal with parents who are out of control in the sense that her father’s gambling led to debts and possibly to problems between him and her mother. Martin has definitely been deprived of any warmth from his parents and on the receiving end of unjustified anger. He must have felt insecure. Thus, there is a sort of disconnect between the notion of love and that of happiness.
If Martin has no idea why it’s so important for people to be happy, and why he thinks happiness is overrated, it could be because he has never really known actual happiness. Now when he has brief flashes of happiness, they don’t seem to last, and Botton would consider this expected. Yet Martin is aware that Louisa finds being happy important, and we know that Louisa has had moments of happiness in her childhood (e.g. when her father took her for ice cream). Somewhere buried in Louisa, according to Botton, is that good sensation of happiness during her childhood that she wants to recreate.
But Botton is reassuring. He goes on to say “the good news is that it doesn’t matter if we find we have married the wrong person…We need to swap the Romantic view for a tragic (and at points comedic) awareness that every human will frustrate, anger, annoy, madden and disappoint us — and we will (without any malice) do the same to them. There can be no end to our sense of emptiness and incompleteness. But none of this is unusual or grounds for divorce. Choosing whom to commit ourselves to is merely a case of identifying which particular variety of suffering we would most like to sacrifice ourselves for.” And we can make a case for this point of view using the show as a guide. As a dramedy, Doc Martin uses both the tragic and comic aspects of marriage and shows us that some of the tensions arise out of situations we can laugh about. So when Martin wants Louisa to keep the baby quiet during his workday or when Louisa keeps the house less tidy than Martin would like, it’s amusing and these are very common problems.
By the end of S7, we have arrived at something akin to Botton’s view that “rather than some notional idea of perfect complementarity, it is the capacity to tolerate differences with generosity” that is the key to making a marriage work. Martin is willing to endure more noise and mess while Louisa has decided that she can accept Martin’s quirks. Botton concludes that “we should learn to accommodate ourselves to ‘wrongness,’ striving always to adopt a more forgiving, humorous and kindly perspective on its multiple examples in ourselves and in our partners” and believes that “compatibility is an achievement of love; it must not be its precondition.”
If we agree with Botton, then we can drop any difficulties we might have with whether Martin and Louisa are compatible, and should be married, and recognize that now they have reached a nexus point. Hallelujah!
[Some quotes from Alain de Botton:
“We fall in love because we long to escape from ourselves with someone as beautiful, intelligent, and witty as we are ugly, stupid, and dull. But what if such a perfect being should one day turn around and decide they will love us back? We can only be somewhat shocked-how can they be as wonderful as we had hoped when they have the bad taste to approve of someone like us?”
― Alain de Botton, On Love
“If cynicism and love lie at opposite ends of a spectrum, do we not sometimes fall in love in order to escape the debilitating cynicism to which we are prone? Is there not in every coup de foudre a certain willful exaggeration of the qualities of the beloved, an exaggeration which distracts us from our habitual pessimism and focuses our energies on someone in whom we can believe in a way we have never believed in ourselves?”
― Alain de Botton, On Love
Do you love me enough that I may be weak with you? Everyone loves strength, but do you love me for my weakness? That is the real test.
Originally posted 2016-06-05 18:01:51.