Sunday, December 31, 2006

How Can I Use the Equity Principle to Find Love?

You Really Don't Want to Marry the Handsome Prince or the Beautiful Princess Practically every young American girl of my generation tucked the covers daintily around herself every night dreaming of the handsome prince who was someday going to come riding by on his white horse. He would, of course, fall madly in love with her and scoop her up, and they would live happily ever after. The prince didn't always have to be a handsome Prince. He could be a rich Prince, a wonderfully kind Prince, or a strong and sensitive Prince. Perhaps, we dreamed, our prince would be a poet, or an artist, or maybe a famous actor Prince. As we grew older, our dream didn't change. We simply expanded the definition of prince. He could be an internationally esteemed doctor, a brilliant CEO , a Silicon Valley sage, or a state governor. But, whatever role we cast him in, he was the prince. Huntresses, maybe even now you still believe that someday your prince will come. Well, guess what? He may come. But, when you see the results of the studies on love, you'll realize you don't want to him to come! Women, if it's happiness you seek, you don't want to marry the handsome prince. Men, you don't want to marry the beautiful princess. Sour grapes? Not at all. Unless you were born in a royal crib—unless you are equally beautiful, equally rich, equally accomplished—life with a prince or princess would be inequitable. Therefore, you would be miserable. "No," you may protest. "If I married someone better looking, richer, more accomplished—for simplicity let's just say better—if I married someone better than me, I'd be thrilled." Yes, the studies tell us, but not for long. The equity theory proves you'd soon be unhappy. The more superior your partner is to you, the quicker you'd both feel wretched. When there is an imbalance in a relationship, both partners sense the inequity and try to restore balance. In other words, they try to even the score. "Why Don't I Want to Marry Up?" It's easy to understand why, in an inequitable relationship, the superior partner might be dissatisfied. After the first blush of love wears off, he or she looks around and feels deserving of a much better deal. But what about the inferior partner? Shouldn't he or she feel darn lucky to have bagged such a great mate? Supposedly, yes, but in reality, the inferior partner will wind up worried, insecure, and always afraid of not measuring up. This is true not only in marriages. Researchers interviewed 500 dating couples at the University of Wisconsin to determine whether their partners brought more, less, or equal assets to the relationship. 40 The more equitable the partner's assets, the happier the couples were. If one of the partners was much richer or more attractive, there was an imbalance, and discontent soon set in. Insidious things start happening and the inequality monster starts eating away the love. In inequitable marriages, partners start taking advantage of the relationship to even the score. The ''superior'' partner might start to make subtle demands, like feeling entitled to conversation whenever he or she wants it or solitude whenever the mood strikes. A superior wife might get lazy with verbal expressions of love and affection or withhold sex. If she is already giving more than her husband, she figures subconsciously, "Why should I work harder to make his sex life fulfilling?" A superior husband might even feel justified embarking on an extramarital affair. After all, he tells himself, "I deserve more." The poor inferior in the relationship is doomed to living a life of insecurity about their love or having to "swallow it" whenever the partner decides to take advantage of the relationship. The happiness at having bagged such a great mate soon turns into the day-to-day reality of always being number two. It's no fun being number two and spending your life trying harder. Princess Di and Charles certainly did their bit to destroy the myth of the joy of marrying the prince. And in Hollywood, where one's market value changes daily like the NASDAQ , divorce is practically as common as marriage. Let's say you're an American princess with lots of money and good looks. You fall in love with the handsome, sensitive plumber who comes to fix the pipes on Daddy's yacht. Because you believe in true love, you marry him. Now, obviously you call the shots in the relationship, like choosing where to vacation and what kind of car to buy. At first you both consider it fair for you to make the decision because, after all, Daddy's money is paying for it. But Sensitive Plumber has pride. As time goes by, his ego can't take it. Even though he felt lucky when he married you, the love affair ends in bitter divorce. You really didn't do anything wrong. He didn't, either. He's a nice guy. You played fair. It's just that the inequity overwhelmed the two of you. He winds up much happier with the waitress from the coffee shop. "What Happens if Inequity Strikes After We're Married?" Sometimes couples start out balanced, and inequity strikes after the marriage. If one of the partners, through no fault of his or her own, slips even a few notches, problems can arise. I have a friend Laura, a TV reporter, who was thrilled when she found the man of her dreams. He was a kind and intelligent gentleman who happened to be a big maker and shaker in international business. They married, and Laura was happy giving up her New York job and moving to California with him. About once a year, Laura visited me in New York. Every evening Bob would call. She always sounded so loving and deferential to him on the phone. Two years ago, through a series of bad deals, Bob lost practically all his money. Laura still visits me (when they can afford the airfare). Bob still calls. But, sadly, I hear a different tone in her voice. Now she sounds snippy and domineering when she talks to him. Laura is starting to bemoan the great job she gave up when she married Bob, and she is now looking into TV opportunities in New York. She says transferring back would be no problem. I don't place any bets on Laura and Bob being together same time next year. I have another friend, Sally, whom I met in college. Everyone liked Sally because she was what we used to call the archetypical dizzy blonde. Sally was not impressively bright, but she was strikingly beautiful. She married a sportive and very accomplished man named Jim. Sally was blissful in her marriage until recently, when she gained a lot of weight. Sally complains, "I can't understand it. Jim treats me so differently now. He's not running around, but he's moody. He doesn't do as many chores around the house. He doesn't talk to me anymore. Our sex life is sagging, and it's as though he's just not sensitive to my feelings." This would not surprise proponents of the equity principle. They would say Jim is subconsciously restoring the balance. Researchers analyzing their changing relationship would say, "When Sally and Jim got married, she brought physical beauty to the relationship. He brought a good nature. These are tangible assets. If her beauty wanes, so does the asset he brought to the table." Jim is certainly not kicking Sally out. He still loves her, of course. Subconsciously Jim is simply balancing the score by letting down on some of his pleasing habits. Inequity can also occur when one of the partners messes up. If one is caught in an extramarital affair, the other might go into a well of frosty silence and stay in that funk until the partner who messed up commits enough loving acts to make up for it. That can take years. Studies cite dramatic examples of one partner's coming into a huge inheritance or, conversely losing his or her job or even being tragically disfigured in an accident. That destroys the balance of the relationship. The subjects in these studies were not mean, heartless people who left their partners. They simply subconsciously evened the score in a myriad of small ways such as withholding expressions of affection, letting down on their physical appearance, or becoming reluctant to make self-sacrifices for their partner's benefit. The superior partner might refuse to do chores, take a stronger stand on which parents to visit for the holidays, or suggest separate vacations. Small reactions lead to big misery in relationships that become unequal. Hunters, Huntresses, if after all these warnings about how you don't want to marry up, you're still thinking, "Well, maybe finding a partner just a little higher on that vulgar inventory of assets would be OK," come with me. You can't really change your looks, your bank account, or your breeding to match the Quarry you want to bag, but you can change their opinion of your assets. Let's start with the one that's the toughest to manipulate. It's number one on the love assets list: physical appearance.

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