The Anti-Valentine’s Day Story, from an Armchair Biologist

“Soul mates,” goose culture, and other topics not to ponder on Valentine’s Day

My wife has been complaining lately about bursitis in her shoulder. My knees hurt, and it takes me a good mile to warm into any sort of jog.

Over coffee this morning, after exchanging Valentine’s Day pleasantries and inventorying our latest pains, I suggested that we both might be better off with younger, more physically fit, companions. She looked into her mug, then walked to the sink and rinsed it out.

I love my wife more every year. We’ve been married for 24 years this September. You’d think, after all that time, that I’d know when to share my observations and when to keep them to myself. Instead, I tried another angle.

“How does it make sense from an evolutionary perspective that we’d grow old at the same rate? Wouldn’t it make more sense to protect the wisdom gained through all our years by mating with someone more capable of protection and finding food and shelter. Even better at reproducing?”

She looked out the window at the slumping front porch posts—the ones I promised to shore up before the ground froze last fall—the way a chef looks at a hot dog. Then my mind flashed to all those old men I’ve seen at Safari Club conventions, with young ladies hanging on their arms. I tried to recover.

“I’m not saying that we should make any changes, I’m just saying that mating for life maybe isn’t all that smart. Take a Canada goose. Wouldn’t it make more sense for an older mate to have a younger mate to show them the best nesting sites and migration routes? That would be a better way to pass essential knowledge on to the next generation. Why does it make sense for all that accumulated knowledge to end with your mate dying at the same time you do?”

Valentine's day
The author and his objectively superior mate. Andrew McKean

Maybe it’s not biological she said. Maybe mating for life is cultural. She twisted the ring on her finger. Maybe it’s a choice, not a requirement.

“Are you saying that geese have a culture?” It was meant to be funny, but then it hit me. In any objective reckoning of our relative fitness, my wife has always had the edge. Given the freedom of choice, she might not pick me.

You need to call your mom, my wife reminded me as she headed for the laundry room. Wish her Happy Valentine’s Day.