The Devil is not in the details

Dear Dissonance,

Thank you for sharing the heartwarming news that your Patient and her fiance had a blow out argument over the quantity of water in Atlanta and whether further growth should be encouraged or discouraged because of the potential for draught even though neither one has lived there nor has plans to move there! The fact that it ended up with her telling him she would never vote for him if he ran for office is even better!

You need to keep encouraging her to think that theoretical issues are of the utmost importance to their shared future. To be certain, it’s a lot easier to help one member of a couple demonize (pun intended!) the other when each holds different political views. Abortion, gun control, and gay marriage are all issues perfect for exploiting in that regard, for example, because either side holds such passionate views that they often consider opponents subhuman — and happily for us, beneath prayer or understanding. Differences like those often quickly derail relationships or prevent them in the first place, though – so those aren’t ones that will take up most of your time.

As you note, your Patient and her husband are unfortunately mostly aligned in their worldview. But that does not mean you cannot encourage your Patient to dismiss her husband’s views and elevate topics to high importance that will only matter to them as much as “Jeopardy!” questions matter to mastering everyday life. Right now, for example, your Patient thinks her soon to be husband is a reader because she found a book review on Amazon from him, something she had on her mental checklist of requirements for all potential mates on the belief that intellectuals must pair off with other intellectuals! In her opinion, non readers are “the other” who exist in a lower sphere of being and the love between such a mismatch could only be a lesser kind of love, more like  the affection for a pet than a true melding of souls. She knows deep down it would be impossible to understand her, for example, without first understanding Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s explanation of free will in “The Brothers Karamazov.”

Lucky for him he has tricked her thus far, but it will be a brief honeymoon when she realizes that quoting “The Simpsons” and “Death to Smoochy” is about as literary as he gets. You must do your best to make her think less of him because he would rather watch ESPN or “Top Gear” than read “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” – and to label that difference a glaring fault instead of a dissimilarity.

You don’t want her to focus on the traits in him that matter most to their everyday harmony like the fact that he can fix almost anything or teach himself to  –and willingly does so, that he expertly diffuses arguments with dumb jokes that make her laugh and doesn’t get angry when she scratches the car. These are things central to their happiness, but you can’t let her realize it. Being passionate about one political candidate or cause or another may attract people to one another, but how a spouse votes will not keep a couple together any more than a shared obsession for Apple products or love of slow-cooked scrambled eggs. Voting for the right candidate, for example, does not make a spouse capable of forgiveness or willing to get up in the middle of the night to change a diaper without prompting.

But she does not realize this yet and you want her to keep assessing him based on the things she considers big and important. If she focuses on the details outlined above, the Enemy wins – which is why I always wondered why humans say “the devil is in the details,” when it is really quite the opposite.

Why so many humans are blind to the fact that the small things matter most is a mystery to me, but a happy one.

Your affectionate aunt,


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