50 years is a long time to do anything, right? Especially to
stay married. I was talking to a friend the other day about a party we had recently for my parents whose 50th anniversary is on Sunday. There is a lot to consider about marriage. To feel loved and to endure and to be who you are inside that marriage for a lifetime is hard work. I think, even greater than raising children, continuing to come back to the partner you smiled at unknowingly however many years ago is challenging.
When you read interviews from couples who have stayed married for a long time, distilling the "secret" to marriage longevity, choosing that person again and again every morning of your life, making yourself happy so that you can make the other happy, laughing together, making time for each other, putting the other before yourself. On paper, it seems clear. In practice, it is another thing entirely.
It seems the world can conspire against you if you let it. I picture Big Man and myself floating down a river on a log. We hit some bumps and fall off but hold on to the log and keep on moving until we hit some rapids. We hold tighter knowing it would be much easier to just let go. But there we are staring at each other, grasping at the log while facing each other knowing that we have to stay focused on coming out the other end together. Marriage can feel like that....the rapids of work and money and kids and simple communications gone awry. His interests, your interests, time doing so much that prevents you from the time you need to be with each other to remind yourselves of how this whole thing got started in the first place. I don't think the world, for all it's talk of family values, sets people up for success when it comes to marriage.
I know one thing that affects my views on marriage is the company I keep. We happen to be blessed with friends who feel similar to us in how we see marriage. It is helpful and encouraging to be around people who aren't bemoaning their spouses. It can be easy to go down the rabbit hole of what is wrong in a spouse or a marriage, but seeing how others work and watching others stay connected is inspiring. This is not to say we lie about what I call the "rosiness" factor. There are some who never have a bad word to say and I find that to be just as suspicious as constantly complaining. But griping and honest conversation are different things entirely. It is helpful to be with and around people who understand that.
My parents set this example and have life-long friends. The couples I grew up with are still very much a part of their lives.
Before I continue, I need to say that I am well aware that divorce happens and for good reason. It happens because it is so freaking hard. And it happens because there are awful things like abuse and neglect. And to say you stayed married doesn't exactly mean you should get some award. How happy are you? How satisfied do you feel? How much of that has to do with you? With her? With him? It is complex and no one can ever really know the core of someone else's marriage.
But I was watching my parents dance (yes, they danced!) and I was thinking of all the obstacles, all the dangerous rapids in their life and marveling at their smiles to each other. It has not been easy.
But they held on. They kept turning toward each other when it could have been so much easier to let go.
Marriage is not for kids though they were kids, really, when they got married. My mom was 18. She was telling Thing 1 that it was a different time then. She didn't dwell, though. And I think that is another component to happiness in marriage. You can't look back for too long, to dwell on the what-ifs and should-haves. My parents are moving forward.
I can't pretend to know all the details, to understand how they have made it work or why. What I do know is that there is absolutely nothing they need to leave to their children after they are gone. Their greatest gift to us has been honoring their commitment to each other in a way, that 50 years later, finds them able and willing to dance and laugh and plan together. I hope with all my heart that Big Man and I will do the same.
Congratulations mom and dad.
And thank you.