A couple well into their nineties are in front of a judge to get final confirmation on their appeal for a divorce. When asked by the judge why, after seventy years of marriage, they were divorcing now, the couple said: “We wanted to wait until after the children were dead.”
Okay, that’s pretty dark, and I’m sure it says something about my husband and me that it never fails to amuse us, but as I approach the 24th anniversary of the day I met him, I thought I’d wrench myself away from the endless unpacking, writing and equally endless rewriting long enough to share a few thoughts on marriage survival. I guess it’s an obvious no-brainer that with the average divorce rate hovering at 50%, pulling off a long marriage is a tricky wicket taking immense amounts of hard work and commitment, in addition to love. Like everyone else, my husband and I have had our share of ups and downs and in some ways nobody is more surprised than I am to find myself with twenty-three years of marriage under my belt.
The fact is, I married late (I was 37) and while I’m convinced I stumbled into “soul-mate” territory when I finally met my husband, I have to say I’ll encourage my own son to find his mate a whole lot sooner than I did. So along those lines, I’ve compiled a helpful little list to aid him. (He’s always so pleased when I do stuff like this—isn’t your teenager?) Fortunately for him, I’m taking most of the list not from personal experience but from a very sensible, albeit unmarried, expert in the matter, Father Pat Connor—an 80-year old Catholic priest who spent his entire celibate life, including nine years as a missionary in India, working with young people on how to find and have a happy marriage. I have to say there are more points than the six I’ve listed here, so if you want the whole nine yards, check out Father Connor’s book Whom Not to Marry: Time-Tested Advice from a Higher Authority. Meanwhile, my own culled list for my son includes:
- Never marry someone who has no friends. When you think about it, it’s what they say about practically every sociopath who’s ever murdered and eaten his neighbors—“he was a loner,” “he kept to himself.” So maybe some people have to be told not to date obvious serial killers but I think Father Connor’s underlying point here is that a person without a few close friends is probably incapable of the intimacy that marriage demands.
- Does your intended partner use money responsibly? Most marriages that founder do so because of money. He’s thrifty, she’s on her tenth credit card. Personally, that seems like a nice balance to me, but all the books say not.
- Is he overly attached to his mother? Okay, now as the doting mother of an only son, I didn’t know this was really possible, but this priest (did I mention he never had kids?) says it’s a factor so it’s on the list.
- Does he or she have a sense of humor? If your partner makes you laugh, you win. If you make him or her laugh, you win. If you’re laughing because he’s dressing up in your underwear…well, at least you’re laughing. (BTW: why the heck are you laughing?)
Speaking of laughing, and prefacing #5, that reminds me of a joke:
An Amish boy and his father are at a mall. They’re amazed by everything they see but especially by two shiny silver walls that move apart and back together again by themselves. The lad asks his dad: “What is that?” The father, having never seen an elevator before, says: “I have no idea.” While the boy and his father were watching, wide-eyed, an old lady in a wheelchair rolls up to the moving walls and presses a button. The walls open and she rolls into a small room behind the doors. The doors close and the boy and his father watch as small circles light up above them. Within seconds, the doors open again and a beautiful young woman walks out. The father looks at his son anxiously and says: “Go get your mother.”
Which brings us to…
5. Don’t marry someone thinking you will change him. I remember asking a friend of mine who was on the brink of her divorce many years ago and who was complaining graphically about how hard she tried to change her awful and soon-to-be-ex during their marriage. When I asked if she succeeded in changing him at all, she thought about it and said, yes, he got worse.
6. Unreal expectations. Self-explanatory but here’s something to drive it home:
One day, a magic fairy visits a lonely spinster and offers her three wishes.
“I wish I was 21 again!” The wish is instantly granted.
“I wish I had a million dollars!” The wish is granted.
“I wish my cat here was the most handsome guy in the world and was madly in love with me.” The wish is granted. The young babe and her guy go inside and start to cuddle and the man looks at her and says: “Now aren’t you sorry you had me fixed?” (This is also known as the “be careful what you wish for” syndrome.)
Bottom line, unless you’re an unmarried priest, (just kidding, Father!) marriage is not easy. In fact, I think I’ll probably skip all the Huffington post ten-steps-to-finding-a-perfect-mate type advice for my son and just opt for a more time-tested parcel of advice in the immortal words of the Apostle Paul (he was married, right?)
“In all your dealings with one another, speak the truth to one another in love that you may grow up.”
Come to think of it, that’s pretty good advice for all of us.
So, what do you think? Got a maxim you live by to better live together? Love to hear it!