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The Concorde Fallacy of Staying in a Miserable Marriage

Dear Robin:

I am 53, married, with two children, the youngest of whom is going to college in September. I have been married since my early 20s and it was good for a while, until I realized not only does my wife not love me, she doesn’t like me.

My wife has made it clear she wants us to remain together but have separate lives.  I’m pretty sure she has had boyfriends and she wouldn’t care if I got a mistress.  Essentially, we live in a state of detente after a couple years of all-out war.

I’ve brought up the idea of divorce and she always fights me on it.  I think she likes the way things are, but as I get older I have to believe there is more to life than this. Last week when we brushed upon the topic, she said for the umpteenth time,

“We’ve put 30 years into this marriage, why give up now?”

I’ve read enough of your writing to have a good idea of what you’ll say but I need to hear it anyway.  What’s your advice for a middle-aged guy afraid to start over who has built a pretty impressive life and doesn’t want to tear it apart if there is no guarantee of happiness on the other side?

Too Old for Change?

Dear Nice Man Who is NOT Too Old for Change:

Before I regale you with the best free advice on the Internet (that’s worth every penny!), please click on my legal disclaimer in which I assure you I am not acting as your lawyer, paralegal, therapist or acupuncturist:

CLICK ME!  CLICK ME NOW!

Failure to click that link does not create an attorney-client relationship, but does indicate an unwillingness to do as I ask of you.  

I don’t like that.

Welcome to the “Concorde Fallacy,” otherwise known as “Sunk Costs are Bullshit.”

My name is Robin, and I’ll be your flight attendant today.

The Concorde Fallacy relies on this observation by evolutionary biologists:

Adult humans are driven by fear of loss, much more so than they are driven by optimism for success.  

We are wired this way – it’s in the brain and one of many reasons our species has evolved and survived since we wiggled out of the primordial ooze and hopped on the backs of dinosaurs for a canter around the Garden of Eden.

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In some ways, the risk of loss aversion is obviously very beneficial to mankind.  

“I probably shouldn’t dangle my baby from this hotel balcony,” thinks everyone except the late Michael Jackson, “because I could drop the little fucker and then I’d miss him and possibly go to jail.  So I won’t.”

However, there is a dark side to our avoidance of loss:

Humans are prone to doggedly persevere with a tragically unsuccessful course of action simply because they have already invested so much in it: be it time, money, effort, human life, and the like.  Despite evidence that defense of the losing position costs more than abandonment and seeking another alternative, they keep at it.

This concept is well-illustrated by tragic-comedies like the Vietnam and Iraq wars, the Concorde Project, and your sad, limp excuse of a marriage.

Sorry.  Was that insensitive?  I’m supposed to be working on that. I’m hoping if I am extremely direct with you I can save you from what I see as a very unhappy future.

Never forget: It’s All About Me!

Mr. Patience and Understanding and I fell into this trap a few years ago when we decided to build a house.

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We purchased a lot during the recession at a smoking-hot price and proceeded to hire the #1 most douche-baggy architect in Portland.  In his own mind, he was a genius!  

In reality, not so much.

After months and months of paying him exorbitant fees that never produced useable building plans, we bailed.  It wasn’t easy because we perseverated for weeks over the money we had already poured into the project.  

During those weeks of worrying about the sunk costs v. tanking the disaster, we paid even more to this jackalope for his mood-swings-turned-design-changes.

Happily, reason prevailed and we fired him and sold the lot.  

This displeased him to no end, and he sent us a nasty letter in which he referred to himself as the “BMW and Jaguar of Portland architects” while he was working out of his home, mind you, and told us we’d be better suited with a Ford.

I think he is currently designing yurts and pop-up retail spaces.  

Sorry for the tangent:

Back to you!

You and I have spoken several times, my friend, and during our conversations I came to believe a few things:

  • Your wife will leave you within a few months of your child going to college.  Trust me on this and prepare for it.
  • If she doesn’t, and you stay in the marriage, you will die young.  There are all sorts of stressors in life but living with someone who dislikes you is a biggie.
  • The “impressive life” you mentioned centers around your stuff: two nice homes, fancy cars, expensive trips, etc.  That’s not “an impressive life.” That’s stuff.
  • You have modeled an unfortunate partnership paradigm for your children but it’s never too late to change that.  You could fall in love again with a wonderful woman and have your kids witness true affection and devotion, rather than silent seething and ignoring one another.
  • There are no guarantees in life, but you are smart, handsome, successful, young, and funny.  There is a lovely lid for your pot.

You have no idea how much pussy is going to be thrown at you once you leave this marriage – it will be raining from the sky like manna from heaven so don’t you worry about being lonely.  I have some friends who would kill for a guy like you.  

In fact, they will probably email me today and ask for your contact information.

I’m going to give it to them.

I’ll reuse a simple test I devised a while back to help you make your decision:

How to Decide Whether to Divorce

(patent pending)

Ask yourself this simple question:

If you could see into the future and know you only had one year left to live, would you spend it with your wife?

If the answer is no, get a divorce and find yourself someone to love and who will love you back.

And like you, too.  That’s really important and you deserve it.

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This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Got out

    I was miserable for years with a frigid woman whose aversions to sex and exercise were matched only by her ability to spend money faster than I could make it. I lived thorough 26 years of misery because I was afraid to leave and face either loneliness or financial disaster. When I finally left, it was like living life in color after seeing only black and white. I wish you had written this about 20 years ago when my marriage was failing and I decided to stay.

  2. tamsen

    Completely agree Robin. It may be scary, but this guy should get out and live life a little. There is nothing that will make you feel more dead inside than living in a dead marriage. Conversely, there is nothing that will make you feel more alive than realizing you’re not actually dead inside, and that life can be full of fun, love, friendship and so much more, even at his age. Trust me, I’ve been there.

    1. A Loyal Fan

      Wow – good for you. Who ever he is, he is lucky to have found you!

  3. Keith Stone

    If only I could have know this precise information 15 years ago….

    KS

  4. SKHSUX

    This comment is off-topic but I had to leave it here since I don’t want to post this on Facebook:

    Everyone in the office knows she wrote that letter to your husband. Most people think it is really weird, even as much as you have come after her. This place is a hellhole of really bad morale and you are making it worse so stop already!

    haha just kidding. Anyway, she wrote the letter and once I get out of here I’ll reach out and tell you that this latest stunt isn’t even the half of what’s going on in this place right now. She’s losing it.

    1. Robin DesCamp

      A proffer of proof would prove productive and precious so please produce pronto!

      I don’t need it, mind you. The strangled syntax and grade-school level triangulation is as good as her leaving her Cheetos-stained fat fingerprints all over it. I’d wager good money on this one.

  5. Jacqueline Winters

    Great advice (as usual!)…..

  6. George Markoff

    Similar situation, same advice? Wife has affairs without apology, but is suspicious and accusing if husband has any friendship with a woman (example: “why are you and her friends on Facebook?” about spouse of one of husband’s customers). No arguments at home for years, but no common interests or activities either, and no common friends. Last child about to leave home.

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