Leo Tolstoy wrote a lovely novella called "Family Happiness," narrated by a young woman who goes out for a walk with a man she loves. They talk about nothing in particular - frogs, actually - but exchange looks and gestures. "He said goodbye as usual and made no special allusion; but I knew that from that day he was mine, and that I should never lose him now."
They are married but grow apart. She likes parties, while he doesn't. Then one day they are sitting at home and her heart suddenly grows light. She looks around and realizes that the courtship phase of their relationship has ended, but it has been replaced by something gentler and deeper:
Brooks could stop here, make some inane comments on the sanctity of marriage, and end up no worse for it. But in true Bobo-esque fashion he isn't content to simply be inane.
Tolstoy's novella came back to me while I was reading, of all things, The Wall Street Journal. The paper's Work and Family columnist, Sue Shellenbarger, had a piece last week reporting that the number of couples who now have separate checking accounts is rising rapidly. Roughly half of all married couples now keep multiple accounts, according to a Raddon Financial Group survey.
I'm not saying that people with separate accounts have marriages that are less healthy than anybody else's. I'm saying we should pause before this becomes the social norm. Private property is the basis for our market democracy. But private property in the home is an altogether trickier proposition.
For one thing, separate accounts can easily turn into secret accounts. A person's status and resources inside the home shouldn't be based on how much he or she is making outside it. A union based on love can easily turn into a merger based on self-interest, where the main criterion for continuing becomes: Am I getting a good return on my investment, psychic or otherwise?
Isn't it just like Brooks to read about separate checking accounts and think about Tolstoy? Isn't it just like him to look for the most innocuous thing upon which to blame the collapse of the average American marriage? Incidentally the use of Tolstoy here is so painfully ham-handed that I can only assume that Brooks is trying to be all big and cool like his pin-up girl Condoleeza Rice. And if he's looking for a literary marriage guru, Tolstoy is probably not the best choice.
Tolstoy himself tried to abide by his new beliefs, simplifying his life, living on his own labor, and giving up material possessions. His wife, however, did not share all of his beliefs, and their marriage suffered under severe strain during their last years together. In November 1910 relations between them had grown so tense that Tolstoy decided to leave home for good. He contracted pneumonia while traveling and died at the small railway station of Astapovo.