Tuesday, May 29, 2018

For better...for worse...for always...

I'm not sure when I wrote this, but our 30th wedding anniversary was in 2001, so somewhere along in there. It's been around the publishing block a few times, its last incarnation being in The Saturday Evening Post. As of today, we've been married 47 years. When I read through this before using it again, I asked myself if anything had changed since then--other than my hair color and his golf score and how many grandkids we have.

Not much. I still think of Peggy Lee's song sometimes and I'm sure Duane does, too. We still have days we wonder what in the world we're doing here. We're still not in love every day. But even then, when sadness is like a veil or anger a disruptive rattle in the cadence of the day, we know (and say) that we love each other. And we do.

“A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.” – Mignon McLaughlin

What’s it like, you ask, being married to the same person for over 30 years? How do you do it?

Well, it’s like this.

You know every word of his body language, can identify every freckle that dances across his shoulders when he walks into the sun, can buy him a year’s wardrobe in 15 minutes flat counting the time you spend writing the check and asking the store clerk how her kids are doing. You know better than to cook tuna casserole even if you like it, that a sure way to get him to talk to you is to start reading a book, that if you’re not feeling well, he’s most certainly feeling worse.

You’ve learned by now that there’s no possible way you can be in love every day.

Sometimes, let’s come right out and say it, he’s just a jerk. Sometimes, since we’re not holding back, you’re a pain in the neck. On those days, you look at each other with glazed eyes and wonder which lawyer to call. Then you go to bed, mumble “I love you” with doubtful sincerity, and lie in the dark and mentally parcel out the furniture, the dishes, and the retirement accounts until sleep overtakes you.

There are days, indeed, when Peggy Lee’s voice echoes in your mind, Is that all there is? In the time when you had a flat stomach and naturally glowing skin and hair that was …well, a different color than it is now, this isn’t what you counted on, was it? Once you got the kids raised, you were going to travel, wear expensive clothes, dance the night away. You were going to have fun.

Okay, you say, if it’s that bad, why do you stay married?

Well, because, that’s why.

Because he can tell by the set of your chin if you’ve had a bad day, because he’ll bring home takeout food just when you’re positive you can’t cook one more meal in this lifetime, because he tells you he thinks you’re really cute and means it even if you’re not wearing any makeup and you haven’t sucked your stomach in.

He still takes the street side on sidewalks because that’s the way he was taught, tells your daughter she’s almost as pretty as you are, and never reminds you you’re getting more like your mother every day. He knows the words to the same songs you do and he doesn’t mind that you can’t carry a tune in a bushel basket. He doesn’t laugh when you can’t finish singing Puff, the Magic Dragon because you are in tears you can’t explain. He just tucks his arm around you and hands you a tissue and kisses the top of your head where the roots are starting to show a bit.

Well, fine, you say, but isn’t it boring?

Oh, I suppose, once in a while.

But a long marriage is like the sun. It’s there every day and night, sometimes hidden by dense and sulky cloud covers, sometimes blazing red and vital and exciting. During cold spaces in your life—and life offers a lot of those—marriage wraps itself around you and keeps you warm.

The other side of that is that long marriages are uncomfortable now and then, like when you and your spouse disagree on matters of fundamental importance, such as values, religion, politics, money, and thermostat settings. And you do disagree about these things even though you think you never will. This is when you look at him and think, Why am I still married to this person who is so wrong about everything?

Maybe because, when you get right down to it, the marriage isn’t boring, but a definition of fun you never imagined. And then there’s the irrefutable fact that when the world is out to get you, it has to go through him first. Or, trite as it sounds, perhaps it’s glued by those promises you made when he was just safely home from Vietnam and you were a size five, the ones about loving and cherishing and sickness and health...you know the ones I mean.

Or maybe because, like the sun, marriage is different most every day. Those differences are what have landscape painters and photographers lying in wait for sunrise and sunset. Some days they go inside in disappointment because the cloud cover hangs low and dismal over the show, but on other mornings and evenings they sit spellbound and work as fast as they can, holding onto the light for every precious second.

And there you go. There’s the answer to the questions, What’s it like, being married to the same person for over 30 years? How do you do it?

You just hold onto the light.


  1. Yes to everything you've said...and Happy anniversary!

  2. This was just plain beautiful. Happy anniversary!

  3. YES to all, here lately question all the things he is doing - both his Mom and her dad passed from Alzheimers - so afraid of the trend I am seeing and where my life is going!