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Like Should Marry Like

Edward Burne Jones, "Cupid and Pysche," detail, 1867

1,740 words

In the choice of a mate, one of the first questions that arises is, shall my mate be like me or unlike? . . .

What do we actually find lovers doing when they first wish to convince each other that they love, without, however, uttering the fatal words? Do they not subject each other to a most searching examination regarding all their habits of mind and body, from the literature each favors to the kind of food each prefers?

‘Oh, you like that? So do I!’ This is the incessant joyous refrain of the first ardent conversations, when each is secretly longing to tell the other that love has already been kindled.

‘How funny that you should like eating the rind of oranges! So do I! How strange! You like the Sankhayana-Brahmanas? So do I! How funny that you should always have stood up for vulgar old Clacton-on-Sea! I have always loved it!’ Etc.

We have all held such conversations. We have all lied unscrupulously in trying to keep the two tastes absolutely identical. And we have all glowed when, at the end of the catechism, it became abundantly clear to both that there was not a single point, except perhaps the best material for knickers, on which we differed.

What does this mean? It is very deep and very unconscious, because everybody does it. Even those do it who consciously protest that they believe in marrying one’s opposite. Does it mean that there is a primitive instinct in men, as there is in animals, to choose their like and to rejoice when their like has been found? And does not all this catechiz­ing about tastes indicate that there is also a desire to make certain that the instinct has been gratified?

Readers may object that it is a matter of pure caution to determine the tastes of a person with whom you may have to live. But it is much more than that. It is not an examination for discovering the tastes of the prospective partner. This is merely incidental. It is the expression of a desire to demonstrate that, no matter what the prospective partner’s tastes are, one shares them with him or her. It is not an inquiry in which tastes are approved or disapproved, but in which the similarity of tastes alone is approved. It is the outcome of an unconscious, not a conscious, motive. Because very often, I repeat, he who indulges in such a fire of cross-questioning will in the next breath consciously and foolishly declare that he disbelieves in the desirability of similar tastes in spouses, and thinks life would be very dull if everybody thought alike, and so on—in fact, the customary twaddle of democratic, disputatious and restless social conditions.

I take it that this fire of cross-questioning, with the joy that follows every proof of similarity, is an indication that beneath the unhealthy democratic veneer there is a natural impulse, which we possess in common with the animals, to pursue our like. And that, even when we have been misguided enough to choose a mate that is unlike, we try, at least in the spirit, to establish identity of tastes and a common matrix. (The Choice of a Mate, pp. 43–4)

* * *

What is the innermost conviction of a man or girl who says that one must choose one’s opposite?

If the statement is deliberate, and not said for a joke, or by way of thoughtlessly repeating a popular tag, does it not indicate a desire for correction? I mean, for the correction of one’s stock or individual qualities, whether physical or psychological? And where there is a desire for correction, may there not be self-contempt, inferiority feelings—in fact, doubts as to one’s general desirability?

A creature proud of his stock’s desirable acquired characteristics does not seek an opposite, a correction, which in his children would nullify or adulterate the object of his pride. Why should he? In fact, as we shall soon see, there appears to be an instinct implanted in all sound animals and races of men to segregate and hold themselves aloof the moment they have distinguished themselves from the rest by acquisition.

Only the unsound, the self-despising, have the instinct to seek correction or modification in marriage. Hence, possibly, the popularity of the idea of dissimilars mating in degenerate times. Those people, too, who feel that they are much removed from the mean of their stock or their nation, and are conscious of being odd, will tend to look for means of modifying their eccentricities in their children by the choice of a mate who displays characteristics unlike their own.

The sound, average person, however, tends to seek his like and to shun his opposite, not merely out of instinct but consciously, out of a desire to preserve his stock’s achievements in quality. He seeks his like, moreover, because, if he is an intelligent observer of his fellows, he knows that there are reasons enough for discord in marriage without multiplying them unduly by the selection of a mate who, by morphology and temperament (which means, by insuperable and unmodifiable fundamentals), must disagree with him in hundreds of things.

Those who, in this connection, argue that life is made interesting by disagreements are romantics without any knowledge of the fierce light which intimacy sheds on the smallest divergence from the life-partner, and of the exasperation that such divergences are wont to cause.

Married life is not parliamentary life. It is not an institution for diverting the nation with its quarrels. Debates and differences of opinion, especially those based on psychophysical differences, do not as a rule lead to much entertainment or jollity in married life. It is important, therefore, apart from any biological reasons which may be adduced hereafter, and merely for the sake of peace and the durability of the mutual affection, to choose one’s like in mating, unpopular though the doctrine may seem in these anarchical and democratic days. (The Choice of a Mate, pp. 45–6)

* * *

. . . I find a priori that culture—in so far as it is social harmony and order, healthy and enduring—must be the product of an ordered, harmonious, healthy man. And if I turn my eyes from the social chaos of today back to the origins of the most harmonious and healthiest cultures, I suspect without inquiry that the people who created these cul­tures must have been unlike us at least in this: that they were harmoni­ously constituted and vigorously healthy. They were beautiful, harmo­nious and wholesome: consequently, their creations could not help be­ing beautiful, harmonious and wholesome.

Turning now from these a priori conclusions to facts, what do we find? We find not only that these early cultures were actually very harmonious but also that their vigour and power must have been very great, for our culture owes what little beauty, harmony and health it possesses entirely to them.

A further interesting fact is that all these cultures arose in naturally or artificially confined areas, where broadmindedness, the universal brotherhood of mankind, internationalism, the love of one’s neighbor, and other forms of claptrap were quite unknown. We find these cultures originally in islands like Crete and Japan; peninsulas like India, Greece and Italy; naturally enclosed areas like Peru, Mesopotamia and Egypt, and artificially enclosed areas like China and ancient Palestine.

Furthermore, we know that where intercourse with the outside world, with the neighbor, is checked, the secluded people are condemned to inbreeding and very often close inbreeding—that is to say, at any rate, to a form of mating which brings like to like. In the only cultures that have left a permanent mark on the world, we find, how­ever, not merely inbreeding but also a strong conscious tendency to keep apart, to segregate. And this caused, in addition to a frontier of prejudice and suspicion between the secluded nation and the world outside, a series of frontiers within the nation itself, dividing off classes and castes. So that within the inbred mass smaller inbred classes were formed.

This was so among the Egyptians, the Jews, the Hindus and the Peruvians. In all these cases it was an unconscious instinct to separate, or a conscious pride of race and caste, that caused the segregation. The same seems to have been true of the ancient inhabitants of these islands [the British isles] and their Germanic invaders . . . Among the peoples principally responsible for our civilization—the Egyptians, the Jews, the Greeks and the Saxons—the abhorrence of the stranger was so great that in some cases their very word for stranger was a word of opprobrium. And each of these peoples was not only inbred but also incestuous. (The Choice of a Mate, pp. 51–5)

* * *

Those who claim that races which are the result of a cross, or of several crosses, are usually superior belong also to that section of the modern world which, obsessed with the error that inbreeding is per se deleterious, imprudently assume that out- or mixed-breeding must necessarily be advantageous.

Truth to tell, however, . . . there is no essential virtue about out- or mixed-breeding. Those desirable qualities not already present in the parental stocks are not likely to be created by any amount of crossing or re-crossing, while those that are there are only likely to be attenuated and diluted. Even when heterosis produces favorable qualities, we must remember that these are not spontaneously created by the mere act of crossing two inbred stocks alone. They are but intensifications of pre-existing qualities.

Nobody would claim that the incessant crossing between innumerable races that has been going on in the Levant or in South America, ever since the ancient Greeks and the ancient Peruvians ceased to exist, has produced stocks anything like as desirable as these two inbred peo­ples. Nobody would claim that modern North America, with its hotchpotch of races, is superior to ancient inbred Egypt. Nor would anybody in his senses ever expect anything like the greatness from the United States that Egypt is known to have achieved.

There cannot, therefore, be any virtue in crossing per se, and those who claim that there is speak without authority and in contradiction of the assembled facts. (The Choice of a Mate, p. 118)

From The Lost Philosopher: The Best of Anthony M. Ludovici, ed. John V. Day (Berkeley, Cal.: ETSF, 2003), available for purchase here.

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