“Marriage is made of lies, kind ones mostly, omissions. If you give voice to the things you think every day about your spouse you’d crush them to paste.” This is the crux of Lauren Groff’s best-selling novel Fates and Furies, which intriguingly Barack Obama chose as his favorite book in 2015. It would be too easy to dismiss this clever novel about the marriage of Lotto, a college god, and Mathilde, his glamorous but enigmatic wife, as having nothing to say about marriage in general. However, Fates and Furies, as the name suggests, borders on the philosophical. Groff seems to be saying that marriage requires us to keep some secrets from our partner, to keep our inner sanctum sealed from even our most intimate of acquaintances.
It’s obvious to most people that friends and in particular lifetime partners, are to be treated with the utmost respect, entailing the highest standard of truth telling. Why then did Marcel Proust, perhaps the greatest novelist of the 20th century, think that friendships were too important to jeopardize them with veracity? Famously, Proust refused to tell a friend that his book was terrible, even though that same friend had said some cruel things about Proust’s own masterpiece. Think about your own close friends, and perhaps especially, your lifetime partner. We have thoughts about them which, if expressed, could be perceived as unkind and hurtful, perhaps so much so, that the relationship might be irreparably damaged. Is it not better to be selective about what we tell a friend, perhaps even deceptive, to preserve a relationship of great value? Sure, close relationships are often defined by the exchange of intimate thoughts, but, according to Proust, conversation is a very limited medium compared, say, to the written word, which can be endlessly revised.
Esther Perel in Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence, argues that maintaining sexual desire within a long term relationship requires each partner to recognize that they have a dark, mysterious side, which must always remain shrouded in secrecy. The need for security which propels us toward committed relationships is, she argues convincingly, incompatible with the need for adventure and excitement, without which eroticism is impossible.
“Eroticism requires separateness. In other words, eroticism thrives in the space between the self and the other. In order to commune with the one we love, we must be able to tolerate this void and its pall of uncertainties.”
I have always believed that, although we all follow our own illusions, they are probably the best thing about us. It’s also true that that some of these illusions are best kept to ourselves.