In his latest book Beyond Order, Jordan Peterson dedicated an entire chapter to marriage: Rule X: Plan and Work Diligently to Maintain The Romance in Your Relationship.
Not everything in this chapter is to throw away, but Peterson made several mistakes that surprised me given the breadth of his knowledge about human nature — and relationships.
Here’s what he says, and here’s where he’s wrong.
1. Get Married Young
Peterson explains that as people age, they become more and more complex.
This is true.
Consider two five-year-olds. They have pretty much the same life which is why they become “best friends” so fast.
Now imagine one of them becomes a chef in a restaurant in Brazil, while the other becomes an engineer in a European Formula 1 team.
Will they be just as friends at 35 as they were at five?
As you age, you make choices and gain experience that makes you more unique. It is hence increasingly complicated to find people to share your past, experience, or hobbies with.
This is why Peterson tells you to get married young. It’s easier to find someone you’ll hit it up with when you’re young than when you’re old.
But it’s also much more dangerous, for two reasons.
A. People change
Peterson seems to ignore that people change — likely because he hasn’t changed since he was 30.
After all, he has a course on “understanding your personality”, so it is not surprising.
There is no such thing as “understanding your personality”.
Personality isn’t a fixed thing. Personality is a by-product of both your environment and your goals. As both constantly change, your personality changes as well.
When you get married young, you get married to someone who is how they are at that moment. But that person will have changed ten years later — and so will you.
Who says they’ll be the same? Who says they’ll still like you? Who says you’ll still like them?
I once heard an interesting analogy. A marriage is like a trip. As long as you are on the same road, everything’s ok. But when you and your partner take different paths, splitting becomes a must…unless one of you is willing to sacrifice their own path.
But sacrifice isn’t good. In the long term, it creates resentment.
In the long term, one of you will say “after everything I’ve sacrificed for you, you…”.
You don’t want this to happen. You don’t want to sacrifice your life, and you definitely don’t want someone else to sacrifice it for you.
B. People don’t know what they want
Ironically, get married young contradicts another piece of Peterson’s advice which is “know what you want in a relationship”.
But isn’t this contradictory?
Doesn’t knowing what you want come with maturity and experience? And aren’t maturity and experience coming only with age?
Peterson has several times said “at twenty, you know nothing”.
So why would you go make what’s likely the most important decision of your life, namely linking your entire future to that of someone else’s, so young?
At twenty, you know nothing. Peterson is right.
So don’t go get married.
2. Give Up on the Exit Door
Marriage is a strange institution.
You get married “for your entire life”…but you still benefit from a “break-the-glass-in-case-of-emergency” card: divorce.
Don’t think about divorce, Peterson tells you.
He explains that marriage isn’t a promise. It isn’t a vow. It’s not “I will never leave you”.
Marriage is a threat. It’s a message that says “we are not getting rid of each other, so we must make it work”.
“When you get married, you’re telling your partner we must stay together whatever happens, even if we must suffer. We must negotiate and do everything that we can to make it work…even if we hate each other.”
Why can’t you just split from someone you used to love but simply aren’t compatible with anymore?
“Because marriage is a forcing function to a transformation. Without that forcing function, you can’t transform.”
Which transformation are we talking about? And why? What about the “harder path”? What about the “call to adventure”? Aren’t these supposed to be the catalyst to the transformation?
JBP doesn’t answer these questions, so we don’t really know.
All we know is that giving up on marriage and going out of it through a divorce will “ruin your life” and prevent that mysterious transformation from happening.
A marriage where both partners keep the idea in mind that they can divorce cannot work, according to Peterson, as they inevitably will.
But he is wrong.
It’s the opposite.
If divorce wasn’t possible, people wouldn’t take the risk to get married.
Divorce doesn’t prevent the marriage from working. It enables it.
Divorce is insurance. It’s a second chance. It’s saying “try, and if it doesn’t work, you can always get out of it”.
Would you take a boat knowing there aren’t any safety canoes if it sinks?
So why would you sign a lease for your entire life with a party (namely your spouse) outside of your control?
We can go further.
The fact that a marriage needs the absence of divorce in order to work, that is, that the only way for marriage to work is to take choice and freedom away from the couple, means marriage is completely unnatural.
If two people stay together because they’re forced to, then they shouldn’t be together.
You don’t date someone because of something you signed. You date them because you like them!
So the argument that marriage can only work if choice is taken away from the equation is contradictory by nature.
Because if something needs to be forced in order for it to happen…it shouldn’t happen at all.
3. Plan Every Single Thing
Marriage is difficult. You will suffer, you will be betrayed, you will be hurt (yes Jordan, we got it).
If you want to minimize the pain, you should get the basics right — so you can make time for romance (understand: sex.)
Nothing bad here.
Peterson explains that you should decide every single mundane thing upon getting married, such as:
- Who makes the bed?
- Who cleans?
- Whose career is a priority?
- Who educates the children?
- Who shops for groceries?
- How are the bank accounts managed?
- Who pays the taxes?
Then you should spend 90 minutes a week talking about purely practical things with your partner.
Only when everything is as clear as possible can you then have time for romance.
These times should be planned.
You cannot be spontaneous in a marriage, you don’t have time. Between both of you working, the kids, etc…you cannot be spontaneous.
So you should decide a day and time during the week when you’re having a bit of fun.
Eg: every Tuesday at 21h.
Talk about setting up the mood…
This is ridiculous. But why?
First, routine has a debilitating effect on the brain.
We were born free. We were born for adventure, which is what we crave, and what we’re made for.
And JBP knows that!
Ironically, Peterson encourages you throughout the book to seek adventure and to take the hardest path so you can become the best possible version of yourself.
Then he locks you up in a lifetime commitment with the same partner that is going to have sex with you at the same time every week.
No, Jordan. Routine isn’t what saves your sex life.
It’s what kills it.
Without spontaneity, without surprise, you kill the adventure.
I am not sure there is any bigger reason (and cause) for divorce than that.
4. It’s Going to Be Hard, Really Hard, But It’s Better Than Being Single
I won’t spend too much time on this as we’ve already outlined most of the arguments against this claim.
I’ll simply state that:
- If your marriage is “hard, really hard” and all you do is fight and lie to each other, trust me, you’re far better off alone during the day and with a body pillow at night than stuck in a bed with someone that wants to kill you. And I don’t mean this metaphorically. We mostly get killed by our friends and family.
- Being single is much, much better than being in a marriage with physical, emotional, or psychological abuse (which most marriages eventually have). Being lonely can drive you insane. But being abused can drive you to suicide. And while loneliness can easily be fixed with a bunch of friends, abuse in a marriage will leave traces that may never disappear.
- It is noble to take the harder path, but only if it leads to something substantive. Hard work to build a company is worth it because there is money in the end. Hard work to love someone you no longer have desires for isn’t, as there is nothing at the end.
5. Three States: Tyranny, Slavery, and Negotiation
According to Peterson, there are only three relational states in a marriage.
Since tyranny and slavery aren’t positive outcomes, the only one left is negotiation.
That will decrease the chances of disputes.
At heart, this claim is the same as the “no divorce for you” claim.
You’re stuck with someone, so you need to negotiate.
But that’s not true.
There is an actual fourth relational state that Peterson voluntarily omits: the exit.
Did you know that exit was a human right? It’s true.
The article 13.2 of the Declaration of Human Rights says:
Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.
While it is specifically directed at countries, the principle is what matters here.
Whatever you do, you have the right to stop.
You can quit any companies you work for. You can leave any houses you’re renting.
And you can leave anyone you’re dating.
Don’t let them take these rights away from you.
Coming from someone who’s studied The Network Archipelago, Jordan Peterson’s take on marriage is super strange.
I struggle to see how you can condemn locking others up in a gulag while preaching the wisdom of locking yourself up in a relationship.
But I am not so surprised. There is a repetitive pattern in Jordan Peterson’s ideology, a repetitive pattern that concerns freedom and tyranny.
I have long had the intuition that the reason why Peterson is so fascinated by communism is that he emotionally craves the subjugation that such a system imposes on its subjects.
He wants it emotionally, but he knows it to be wrong intellectually.
It’s a deep intellect VS emotions conflict.
So he replaces political subjugation with moral and religious subjugation (as if it was any different).
This is why he is so Christian in the first place: Christianism begins with subjugation.
Consider the first Commandment:
You shall have no other God’s before me.
Now consider the two following statements made by Jordan Peterson:
The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.
A long period of unfreedom is necessary for the development of a free mind.
And we’re not even speaking of the scene where he compels his two-year old son to eat his food (see 12 Rules for Life for that…I like Jordan Peterson, but sometimes, he scares me. )
Do these sound like someone vouching for freedom?
Craving subjugation isn’t bad per se. There are two types of people in society: those that tell what to do, and those who obey.
But it’s slightly intellectually dishonest to position yourself as a defender of societal freedom while preaching individual tyranny.
There is another element pertaining particularly to the issue of marriage.
In all of the things he talks about, Jordan Peterson goes back to the source to outline the context in which said thing developed. He does not hesitate to challenge his own claims to demonstrate their veracity.
Like him or hate him, he has more intellectual honesty than most intellectuals (yes, I know I’ve just said he was intellectually dishonest, but I didn’t say all he said was. The devil is in the detail.)
This is why he says a lot of correct things in the first place.
But sometimes, he doesn’t challenge his claims. Sometimes, he doesn’t justify why we should do X or Y.
This is when an alarm should ring in your head because this is when he’s mistaken.
Jordan Peterson never challenged the existence of marriage in the first place.
He never did any work to understand the roots of marriage.
He’s never considered marriage outside of a religious context.
He’s never considered marriage in his historical context (when you think about it, nothing can be considered outside of its historical context because history is truth).
He’s never investigated the biological and psychological disposition of humans to get married.
He’s never given two seconds to the thought that, hum, well, if so many people cheat and so many get divorced since virtually the dawn of times, maybe we’re not supposed to get married after all?
And this is where appears the Jordan Peterson Paradox.
The Jordan Peterson Paradox outlines how much (but not all) of the psychology of Jordan Peterson cancels itself out.
You need to be old enough to know what you want, but get married young. Sorry, but this cancels itself out.
Abandon ideology, but definitely get married no matter what. Sorry, but this is ideology.
Jordan Peterson’s marriage take is a form of ideology.
It is justified by nothing, backed up by nothing, and — even worse — it goes directly against empirical results, that is, that marriage doesn’t work.
Who, in their right mind, would go and claim that marriage is the best possible alternative when humankind has been splitting up and cheating on each other since we’ve been humans?
Peterson wrote that the human brain can hold two perfectly illogical thoughts at the same time.
He isn’t an exception.
So, when it comes to marriage, take Jordan Peterson’s advice about Jordan Peterson’s advice: Rule VI: Abandon Ideology.
Damn. He should read his own work sometimes.
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