I know by the title, this maybe sounds like it’s going to be an ode to The Quickie, but it’s not. Not a sexy, funny post. Sorry. It’s about lasting marriage.
This month was my parents’ 44th wedding anniversary.
A lot of people in our lives are really impressed by that, because of the number. But my parents are pretty negative, unhappy people. As individuals and as a couple. They don’t show their inner workings to most people (J and I are both pretty pronounced introverts, so I get keeping your private life private, but I mean…), so most people don’t see all the constant bickering about everything in life the way I do. But it’s still there. My parents will have a ‘raised voices’ argument over where to set the bread down at dinner. Really. It goes like this…
Dad: Do you want me to put this bread on the counter or on the table?
Mom: I don’t care.
Dad: <sets bread on counter>
Mom: F, the bread goes on the table. Now there’s no room for the salad.
Dad: You said you didn’t care!
Mom: That’s when I thought you’d do something that made sense!
Bread location is a big deal and not a casual conversation with my parents. And so is everything else. They are never relaxed together. In fact, they try not to be together very often.
My dad retired in the fall of 2016. My mom had retired the previous summer. We went to a restaurant to commemorate Dad’s working life, and J and I sat with my brother and his girlfriend and our son and a couple of the closer extended family members to my parents. My dad has a nephew (my first cousin) that’s only 11 months younger than him (I know…big Catholic families are like that) whom he’s particularly close to. I’d call him my dad’s best friend. And he and his wife are also coming up on their 44th anniversary (they got married about a month after my parents did), and they were obviously attendees at this retirement dinner. My cousin’s wife (who is also good friends with my mom) had this conversation with my mom at the table…
R: What are you and F (my dad) going to do all day in the house together?
Mom: It will be just like weekends. I’ll watch TV or read in the living room, and he’ll watch TV or read in the bedroom, or vice versa.
R: That’s the best way, really. When T (my first cousin…my dad’s ‘best friend’) and I are home at the same time, he’s downstairs and I’m upstairs. That’s what makes a long, happy marriage.
J and I exchanged a look at the table after that, and he could probably sense the building insecurity already. On the drive home, I asked, ‘You LIKE being in the same room with me, don’t you?’ He smiled, and put his hand on my knee and squeezed, and reassured me, like he always does. ‘They’re not us.’
My parents tolerate each other. I get that. There’s a point or two in every long term relationship where your partner aggravates or disappoints or hurts or bores you or all of that, and you tolerate them. It’s a form of love. It really is. I believe that, but that’s for a few moments or days, usually. It shouldn’t be a ‘permanent’ form of love between romantic partners. Neighbors maybe, but not a married couple. My parents have been tolerating each other for at least 37 of their 44 year marriage. Most of my memory. They don’t show each other (or me or my brother) any physical affection. They argue constantly. I’m not saying constant physical affection and routine harmony are necessary for love and happiness, but…I mean I can’t remember EVER seeing that with them. They’ve never seemed happy or in love to me. I told my parents, ‘Happy Anniversary,’ on their day, but I’m not so sure that it’s something to celebrate.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not down on lasting marriage. I’m obviously a big fan of long term commitment. I want that for myself and J…a lasting marriage. But I want a happy one too. I’m greedy that way. And I don’t think I’m being unrealistic, because I’ve seen real lifelong love play out. I wrote about it briefly in my love song post ‘Here To Stay.’ J has some aunts and uncles, and I had an aunt and uncle who were married over 50 years. And my dad’s parents were married for 60 years when my grandmother passed away. I never got to see much first hand how J’s aunts and uncles interacted with one another, but what I did see? They still smiled a lot together. They never argued in front of me. They held hands and hugged and kissed…into their 70s and 80s. The same with my aunt and uncle. And my grandparents. My uncle wrote my aunt love letters that look suspiciously similar to the kind of prose I write about J. I have a copy of one dated after their youngest child (of TWELVE…they had 12 kids! Right?!) was in middle school and they had a couple of grandchildren. He was still so in love with her he was writing her sappy love letters after at least 25 years of marriage and 12 kids going through puberty. Just saying.
And my grandparents were always together. They went everywhere together. They did everything together. Watched the same television programs together. They held hands everywhere they went (unless they were holding MY hand…yeah…that’s me with them in that photo below…I used to be so cute, I made the newspaper once…sure, it was almost 40 years ago, but still…)
J and I flirt and kid each other around every ‘us’ holiday, especially our wedding anniversary that we want to make it to at least 50 years together. But I’m not interested in just reaching some number like I’m putting in time for a prison sentence, which is sometimes what it seems to me like my parents are doing. And I don’t want J to tolerate me for long stretches of time, or be too tired or too apathetic to be happy. I want him to be happy with me. I want to be happy too. I want to be like the real life fairy tale love stories I’ve seen in our own families. Maybe they’re old fashioned. But I see a lot of J and myself in them.
I don’t want our relationship to be arbitrarily considered ‘great’ because we managed to last a certain number of years together, tolerating each other.
I want us to last an impressive, celebrated amount of time because we’re great together.