How I Know I Love My Wife

A year ago, my wife said to me, “I need you to do me a favor.”  I knew that was bad news. A charity she is heavily involved with, Half the Sky, was planning an event in Chicago and she had volunteered me to be the speaker.

In principle, this was no big deal. I speak in front of groups all the time.  I can talk about Freakonomics, SuperFreakonomics, and my academic research in my sleep.

I knew immediately, however, that this speech would be completely different.  Although I often tell stories about myself and my life, they are never stories about emotions. I am one of the most closed off people you’ll ever find when it comes to emotional topics. I have never learned, or really even tried to learn how to express emotions. I’m not proud of this, it just is the truth.

There was no way, however, that I could speak at a Half the Sky event without opening up my emotions. Half the Sky is an amazing charity – perhaps one of the world’s best – doing incredible work with Chinese orphanages. The only events that ever fully penetrated my emotional wall were the death of my son Andrew and the subsequent, deeply moving process of adopting a daughter (eventually two daughters) from China. More than a decade later, the emotions associated with these two events remain shockingly raw, hiding just below the surface.

I know I love my wife because there is nothing I would rather do less than stand in front of a crowd talking about these things. But I also knew that there was nothing in the world that would mean more to her than my doing it. Not primarily because it would help Half the Sky, but rather, because she rightfully wishes I weren’t such an emotional invalid. For once, I decided not to be selfish.

You can see the speech here, and also watch it below. I can think of few other things in my life that I am more glad to have done, after the fact.  All the same, I don’t plan on doing anything like it again for a long, long time.

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  1. robyn ann goldstein says:

    Thank you.

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  2. Joshua Northey says:

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  3. Ben says:

    Thanks so much for sharing your story… deeply moving. While I have a lot of respect for your work as an economist, this is so much more important and impacting. Please, don’t wait for ‘a long long time’ to share it again. It’s a gift to all of us…

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  4. Gail Hounslea says:

    What a really heartfelt speech from Steven Levitt about orphanages in China.Clearly he loves his wife and his daughters.

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  5. robyn ann goldstein says:

    Great story. I can relate. My husband has been asking me to “get the book done” for —- a very, very long time. My daughter finished her version on stage (8th grade). I will for them alone.

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  6. Laurie says:

    Thank you for doing this. I just saw your video through a Facebook friend’s post. I watched it because I am very interested in the topic of adoption. As a result, I now know about Half the Sky, something I probably wouldn’t have found if not for your video.

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  7. Steve W. says:

    “I am one of the most closed off people you’ll ever find . . . I have never learned . . . how to express emotions.”

    You’ve finally emerged from the shadow that hangs over all MIT graduates!

    I should be fair. Some of that is a selection effect: MIT attracts people who have emotional problems. But at least some of it has to do with the culture. (MIT and Harvard attract similar students but 76% of MIT students have an “emotional problem that affects [them] on a daily basis” while at Harvard the most comparable statistic is 45%.)

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  8. MDonahue says:

    Thank you for posting this. I’m a proud Mom to my Chenzhou boy, and we’re so very grateful for the work HTS does. My son would not be the loving, smart, healthy boy that he is without Half The Sky.

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