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Ahh, True Love

September 22, 2002

Imagine you're a Martian Margaret Mead dispatched to Earth to study social customs like the courting and marriage relationships of humans. You watch these people closely--how they dress to attract others, and the perfumes, dances, flirting and kissing as they fall hopelessly, intoxicatingly, head over heels in love with each other, at least for a while.

Then, as a thorough sociologist, you read a new biography of Russia's chief executive and new court documents about General Electric's former chief executive that open revealing windows into at least two of these intimate relationships.

Vladimir is a Russian who meets an airline flight attendant named Lyudmila. On dates he often leaves her near tears waiting up to 90 minutes on barren subway platforms, according to "Vladimir Putin: The Road to Power." She waits anyway. He loves her so much he lies about his profession, like the spy he is. Once married, he's chronically late for dinner, expresses no apology or appreciation for her patient care but when asked says the now-overcooked meat is dry. When their first daughter is born, he's out of town. She grabs a cab to the maternity ward, where he arrives a day late announcing the girl will be named for his mom. Vladimir Putin is held in such high esteem he's running the country.

Then there's Jack Welch, an executive hotshot who dumps the mother of his four children after 28 years, mentioning the divorce in only two paragraphs of his autobiography. Soon he's remarried, to a savvy corporate lawyer named Jane who, before their wedding, agrees to a property settlement in the event of divorce but, clever woman, stipulates an expiration date. Three years after that date passes and shortly after public disclosure of Jack's affair with a writer profiling him for a once- respected business magazine, the wife files for divorce. In so doing, she claims living expenses of $126,820 to $634,487 a month.

To enhance her leverage, Jane details for the court and waiting worlds the generous provisions of Jack's retirement from a grateful GE. That employer so appreciated his ruthless management and boosting of stock values by more than $450 billion that it provided jets, maids, furniture, foods, flowers, sports tickets and toilet paper for his several homes. Jack Welch was held in such high esteem that in his last year of running the company he was paid $1,906 an hour, day and night. That's as much each hour, by the way, as the Russian president earns each month.

So now, everyone obviously knows that the typical human marriage is either a convenient spy cover gone homey or a corporate merger inevitably destined for divestiture.

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