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This two-year-old article from the Atlantic came across my social media radar today: Masters of Love. It describes research in which the body language and communication patterns of married partners correlated with the quality of their relationship. The conclusion of the research echoes common sense when it declares, “Science says lasting relationships come down to—you guessed it—kindness and generosity.”
More surprising, however, are the terms used to describe the results. The research subjects fell into two categories, we’re told: ‘Masters’ and ‘Disasters.’ Masters are kind and generous to one another while Disasters are not. Masters have successful, happy and fulfilling marriages while Disasters do not. I didn’t read carefully enough to examine the actual data results, but I take it for granted that both researchers and journalist spun this dramatic and polarising story out of data that was perhaps not so clear-cut as all that.
I can imagine the reaction of my friend Sue: her eyebrows raised, a wry guffaw from the bottom of her belly. I know which category she would put herself into, with a smartass aside while she was at it. Sue worked with lone parents and she was one herself, divorced like me – one of the Disasters. I suspect that she would agree with me that the painful truth of ended relationships is far, far more complex than that binary categorisation of good guys and bad guys, successes and failures.
Sue passed away very suddenly, and her funeral was yesterday. She left the legacy of a messy, unhappy divorce (Disaster!) but that’s not all she left. She left two lovely daughters and three beautiful grandchildren. She left decades of hard graft in the precarious charity sector. She left countless memories with good friends who enjoyed her wit; her fine taste in food, drink, music, film and travel; her thoughtfulness and kindness; her drive for social justice. She left an indelible mark of perseverance and faith – taking one step after the other, carrying on whether it felt easy or not. With all due respect to the so-called research, I will remember my friend Sue as a Master.