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Does HBS Ruin Marriages?

Rumor has it that HBS is a veritable hotbed of extracurricular marital activity. Gossip abounds about conspicuous hook-ups of certain prominent spouses. Is this really true? And if so, why?

Sure, HBS is stressful. We have loads of work, no time, and lots of things to keep us busy on campus. We’re being reprogrammed into “business leaders,” and we’re learning how to negotiate, argue, debate and convince. But are our interpersonal skills an unfortunate sacrifice we have to make? Do we not have room for emotional and intellectual depth?

What is it about HBS that promotes infidelity? Is it the temptation of loads of new, interesting, intelligent and sometimes even attractive peers at our doorsteps? Does getting the chance to take a break from the all-encompassing nature of former jobs to reassess our goals, hopes, and dreams expose incompatibility? Do we change ourselves too much so that we don’t even fit with our partners?

Maybe some of these factors are to blame. Or maybe the infidelity rate at HBS is no higher than in the world at large. Those of us “singletons” (as Bridget Jones would say) might delude ourselves into thinking that once married, we won’t be cheated on or abandoned. Certainly not with all the new linen and china! But, with one out of every two marriages ending in divorce, are we just blissfully ignorant?

In Negotiation class, we learned from Social Psychology lore that those of us who see the world realistically tend to be depressed, whereas only those who perceive the world to be better than it is tend to be happy. Does the same hold true for marriage? Would we girls fawn over Tiffany wedding rings if we knew half of us would end up giving them to our best friends to hoc for a new apartment like Charlotte did to Carrie on “Sex and the City”? And does the fact that we attend HBS make us any more doomed than average?

Of course, correlation does not imply causation. But maybe our high GMAT scores do correlate with infidelity. Maybe leading an organization does correlate with a high divorce rate. And perhaps an MBA in general correlates with multiple marriages.

If so, what should we do about it? Well, for one, we could be more aware. We could add the deterioration of our relationships to our NPV assessments of whether or not to attend business school. We could alert our partners to the possibility of an increased likelihood of separation. Or we could plow ahead, willing to sacrifice in order to get what we need for ourselves.

Perhaps as we learn what we truly have to give in order to succeed, we should all tread a little more carefully in the waters of matrimony.

February 25, 2002
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