Christina Patterson: There's a lot to be said for the practical approach to marriage

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The Independent Online

Was it love at first sight? Was it, when the 29-year-old Chinese American met the 66-year-old Australian American, one of those meetings when you suddenly feel your heart flip over, and your cheeks go hot? Was it one of those moments when you look up and into someone's eyes and feel that what you're seeing is their soul? And that what you now need to do, more than anything else in the world, is climb into their arms?

And was it like that when the Chinese American, who was then Chinese, and not American, and still a teenager, met an American businessman? One who was 30 years older than her, and married to someone else? And when she went to stay with him and his family in the US? And when she ran off with him, and married him?

Perhaps it was. Perhaps when Wendi Deng met a Californian businessman called Jake Cherry, what she felt was that her heart wouldn't stop thumping, and her body wouldn't stop tingling, and that she couldn't eat and couldn't sleep. And perhaps when Wendi Deng met Rupert Murdoch, at a party in Hong Kong, what she felt was her spirits rise and her heart sing, and a flush creeping up her cheeks. And perhaps none of this had anything to do with student visas, or green cards, or money.

But whatever Wendi Deng felt when she met, and moved in with, and married, Jake Cherry, and whatever she felt when she met, and moved in with, and married, Rupert Murdoch, one thing is clear. It was clear to a room full of people, and a nation, and a world. It was clear in a smile, and a tender touch, and in a mean right hook. It was thumpingly, thrillingly, and, yes, touchingly, clear that Wendi Deng's marriage to Rupert Murdoch works extremely well.

You wouldn't necessarily expect it. You wouldn't necessarily expect a young, beautiful woman to be strongly attracted to an old man with a pouchy face. Or to like the same books, and the same films, and the same jokes. Maybe Wendi Deng did. Maybe when she met Rupert Murdoch, she thought she had, at last, found the man who would giggle over Sex and the City with her, and cry over The Bridges of Madison County with her, and who would touch her in a way that made every nerve in her body rejoice. Or maybe she thought that giggling, and crying, and screaming out with joy in bed, weren't all that important. Maybe she thought marriage was what, throughout most of history, it has been, and still, in a lot of the world, is: two people in a practical arrangement which suits them both.

Most of us, or at least most of us in the West, don't think that marriage is a practical arrangement. We think it's about falling in love, and having lovely sex, and doing lovely things together, and having lovely babies together, and finding one person who will share your passions, and your hopes, and your dreams. Or at least we think this until we do it. When we do it, or when quite a lot of us do it, we start to think that maybe it's about lying in bed with someone and thinking that they're not really all that attractive, and going on holiday with them and thinking that they're not really all that interesting, or all that funny, or all that helpful, or all that nice.

Perhaps this is why nearly half of the marriages in this country end in divorce, and perhaps this is why nearly half of the adult population of this country is single, and perhaps this is why nearly a third of the adult population of this country lives on their own. And perhaps this is why an awful lot of the five million or so people in this country who are looking for love online don't seem to be doing all that well.

Anyone who's had a go at internet dating will tell you that it's all about a shopping list. You tap in the age you want, and the interests you want, and the profession you want, and the salary you want, and the height you want, and the colouring you want, and then you get a list of options. And then you do some weeding, and then you send some emails, and then you set up some interviews, or perhaps I mean some dates.

And then you meet the person, who doesn't look very like their photo, and isn't quite as charming as they sounded in their profile, and maybe you meet them a few more times, and maybe you even spend a few weekends with them, but after a while you decide that even though you started off with a shopping list what you wanted, and didn't get, was a thumping heart.

And so the merry-go-round goes on. You look. You taste. You think there's something better. You don't want to be on your own. You don't want to be found, rotting in your flat, by neighbours worried by the smell. But what you wanted was the sun and the stars. What you wanted was fireworks, and laughter, and love. What you wanted was champagne, but what you kept getting was warm beer.

Marriage, according to all the studies, makes you happier, and healthier. It's better for your children. It's better for your purse. And it seems, as Wendi Deng might teach us, to have a better chance of working if you hack back that shopping list, drop the sun (but not The Sun) and perhaps the stars, and perhaps the fireworks, limit your goals, and go for gold.

Some of us, of course, still prefer romance. But that's probably why we're single.

Fathers should be seen and not heard

There was a time when men in power kept their children safely tucked away. You knew they had them and maybe even sometimes said goodnight to them, but you also knew you probably wouldn't hear anything much about them until the time had come to pass the power on.

That now seems like a very, very, very long time ago. Now, you can't be prime minister of this country without posting a little home movie of yourself calming down a toddler while doing the washing-up. You can't be deputy prime minister of this country without your wife giving interviews about how you "kill yourself" to do the school run. And you can't be shadow chancellor of this country, without posting photos of cakes you've baked on Twitter. Cakes that look very much like a giant rabbit but which are, apparently, a "Moshe Monster". It is, I'm sure, all very touching that the power mongers of this country are such doting "dads". But what do they want? A medal? Even Stalin loved what he no doubt insisted on calling his "kids".

A phone call that might have been worth hacking

In a week when it has been hard to believe there's anything going on in the world anywhere that doesn't have to do with phone hacking, here's a reminder that there is. It comes from a play called Loyalty, by Sarah Helm, the wife of Tony Blair's former chief of staff, about the lead-up to the Iraq war. The play includes a phone call between a British premier and a US president, based, apparently, on a transcript of a call between Bush and Blair – and one that didn't even need to be hacked. Bush is, he says, "ready to kick ass". Blair should, he says, have "no doubts". Blair must, he says, have "cojones". And what Tony Blair says in response is "Great stuff". At least in the News of the World phone-hacking saga, nobody actually died.