Social researcher Hugh Mackay on his upbringing, career, marriages, and the problem with online dating | #bumble | #tinder | #pof | #onlinedating | romancescams | #scams


I fell madly in love with a girl called Val when I was 16. My first kiss happened on the footpath outside her house. I was so stunned we’d actually kissed that I ran away afterwards.

My father worked in advertising. He’d become aware of an emerging industry called market research, and realised that it could fit my personality. In the way things happened in 1955, he arranged an appointment for me at a company called McNair [now A.C. Nielsen], and attended my interview. I got the job, loved it, and have been in that profession ever since.

My first wife, Barbara, was my first proper girlfriend. We met at a church camp and hit it off. She lived interstate, but eventually moved to Sydney. I was 23 when we married and she was 20. It lasted 14 years and we had two sons and a daughter. But we grew apart and our break-up was painful.

“We need the meeting of minds before the collision of groins.”

Looking back, we were too young and unformed. Premarital sex was frowned on in that era, therefore sexual energy was a powerful driver for young marriages.

My second wife, Adele, came to work for me. Her marriage was faltering when we met and we fell in love. Our marriage lasted nearly 25 years and we had two sons. But if you ask me why that marriage ended, I cannot tell you – it was her decision to leave.

I was determined never to marry again, but at a dinner at Brisbane’s Government House in 2004 I was seated next to Sheila, this engaging, charming, Irish doctor. We talked non-stop and had dinner the next night. Meeting her was a pleasant shock, and our union has turned into a beautiful marriage.


Dating protocols have changed enormously. I can see that online dating and apps are an efficient way to clear out unsuitable people, as you can sort out religious, sexual, relationship and political differences efficiently. But none of that ensures the magic.

Physical intimacy is a beautiful expression of emotional intimacy that is achieved through attraction, and getting to know and feel you love someone. If you start with sexual intimacy, there’s almost an obligation to the other person that might be an unrealistic expectation of how things may evolve into being good friends, soul mates or lovers.

We need the meeting of minds before the collision of groins. If the collision precedes the minds, they may never meet in that same way.

The Kindness Revolution (Allen & Unwin) by Hugh Mackay is out now.

This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale June 13. To read more from Sunday Life, visit The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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