It must be said, blog sparrows, from every hill and dale: my bride and I are celebrating 35 years of continuous, uninterrupted, matrimonious existence together this July, (next month for the calendar challenged). Let it be written; let it be done. In our present day and age it’s approaching the nearly unimaginable that ordinary married people can survive the institution of marriage for three and a half decades. Consider this: Jimmy Carter was president in 1979 when we wed. For political junkies that’s pre-Reagan 1 & 2, Bush the first solo, Clinton 1 & 2, Bush the second 1 & 2, and Obama 1 & 1/2. Over these decades our fearless leaders told us, “Just say no.” “Just don’t ask.” “Just don’t ask me. Ask Dick Cheney or my dad.” “Just do it but don’t tell me about it.” But along our private path my wife and I had three kids. Two and a half foreign exchange students. A mortgage, refinanced three times. Two undergraduate degrees and two masters degrees. Four distinctly different jobs. Hair loss. Weight gain. Ten cars. Two dogs, two cats, a pile of lizards, a clutch of birds, fish, bunnies, guinea pigs, and an albino frog. Yes, what a long, strange trip it’s been.
It has not been easy. Anyone who has tried to just be a sibling or a friend for most of a life can tell you that. But add on marriage partner and parent to that load, and it’s entirely in another league, like flying a jet off an aircraft carrier is to flying a kite from a sandy beach. Complicated, scary, dangerous, thrilling, burdensome, rewarding, and much more. But we have plodded along the slow and steady path of delayed gratification. Yep. We have read books on communication and marriage, purpose and meaning, novels, psych books, and spiritual books together. We’ve listened to speakers on the radio and cd’s. Went to church together and prayed together. Did small groups together. We did a marriage retreat or two.
Counseling helped also when it didn’t suck. Mostly it sucked, which is how I got into the business. I think my bride told me once, “You could do a better job than that.” Hey, ringing endorsement or not; I ran with it into my second career. Now that I think about it, my wife’s advice also started me in my first career of teaching. She told me I was a people person not a paper person back when I was a proofreader for a Big 8 accounting firm in D.C. She saved my eternal soul if not my mortal life. I quit the proofreading job that very day and left this note behind…
“How do you get a one-armed proofreader out of a tree? Wave at him. Goodbye.” I was home before the rush hour, unemployed but invigorated. Rather than setting up like concrete, Life became an adventure again.
Over our forty year relationship we have argued and resolved hundreds of issues. Okay, my wife has and I later agreed with her wisdom. But it comes out to the same thing a few years down the road if you don’t overanalyze everything, alright? I have learned how not to pack a suitcase. How not to do laundry. How not to eat. As a single guy I could just throw my wrinkled clothes into any old bag and be on my way. Likewise I could wash shirts, gym shorts, socks and sneakers in the same load. No worries there. I could also wolf, gobble, slurp, gorge, smack, lick whatever I chose. Life was simple if crude, like a coyote in its natural habitat eating feral cats. Now I am more like a collie dog who occasionally sleeps on the couch but gets wheat free, all natural dog food twice daily. Domestication is not so bad. Shed no tears for me. I could be this homeless guy living on the street. Single and desperate.
I am a fairly classic extrovert married, of course, to a fairly classic introvert. I used to think this was a good thing until I recently read Quiet, by Susan Cain, which elevates the tortoise introverts to hallowed heroes and deflates extroverted hares like me to zeroes. The problem I have with her book is that it’s true and resonates through me on every page. I look over my shoulder now as I shower. It’s creepy how she seems to know my faults. Slow, methodical approaches to problems win the day in science or buying and selling stocks, she asserts. Extroverts are impatient risk takers. Okay, true. More scholars and researchers are introverts, which makes sense, but it does not make for much of a party. Remember the Far Side cartoon scientists? There’s a dormant party looking to go viral. Just add fun and personality. I would take offense to her claim that the 1% sexy extroverts get credit for the efforts of the 99% hard working introverts, except I have no ground to stand on there. Dang it!
My bride and I met 40 years ago. I was instantly attracted to her, but that alone is not unusual for 18 year old males who are just larger versions of mosquitoes, I’m afraid, seeking pleasing females doused in clouds of cloying pheromones. What was unusual was that she was attracted to me. My record with attracting girls was pretty weak to that point, and then I retired from that field early on. We struggled in our dating. We struggled as married partners. We struggled as parents. And somehow we survived it all. We are not 51% married and 49% other. It’s not like that. Overall, victory has its share of losses and failures. Ours is not a fantasy marriage. She still hates how I drive and I can’t stand how she drives. She has gotten better at making coffee, however.
No matter the exposition of flaws and disappointments in one another. That is just negative space that enhances all the good and great qualities that remain, like a statue that is exquisitely carved from a clumsy block of stone. I know my wife thoroughly yet still incompletely after 40 years of intimate life. I like the wonder of love that is never exhausted or fully known. Joy-filled summer breezes still blow through our relationship, scented with honeysuckle and lilacs, roses and peonies, and promises of more years ahead. All my loving… I will give to you.