Arranged marriages were once common in the West. Today things are very different, of course; most of us would say for the better. But do personal ads represent a desperate search for perfection? Dalrymple reviews Paul Hollander’s new book, Extravagant Expectations, in New English Review and wonders, “Is the individual search for happiness enough of a philosophical foundation for the good life?”
At the root of the problem is our belief in the perfectibility of life, that it is possible in principle for all desiderata to be satisfied without remainder, and that anything less than perfection, including in relationships, not only is, but ought to be, rejected by us. We cannot accept that we might at some point have to forego the delirium of passion for the consolation of companionship, that Romeo and Juliet is fine as catharsis but not very realistic as a guide to married life at the age of 56. We cannot have it all.We are in revolt against what Hollander calls ‘the limitations imposed by our mortality, genes, social and physical environment, and chance,’ as Satan was in revolt against God. Extravagant Expectations is an excellent illustration of how the examination of a seemingly minor social phenomenon can soon lead to the deepest questions of human existence.