Way back in the late 80s my late wife Lilian got a good chuckle over a quip she heard when she was studying psychology with the goal of becoming a marriage counselor. It went like this…
“Marriage is like the cat: those who are in, want out; those who are out, want in.”
Over all these years I’ve never forgotten that clever little simile as I’ve watched the passing parade of friends, young and old, single or widowed, married for a long time, or newly weds. I’ve also watched myself, especially during the years when I was a widower, tempted a few times to go down a path I know I would have regretted.
So despite some perspective gained from a relatively long and happy life, I still have to rub my eyes in amazement that today I share a life with Jody, a most amazing woman, in a marriage that is fast approaching its fourteenth anniversary.
As we slip into yet another new year, we took the time the other day to reevaluate our lives together, comment on the little peeks we have into the routines of others we know, and to speculate on what brings out the fun in those we only admire from afar. It’s a great game to wonder what makes any of us tick, even when we’re doing our own thing.
When you hitch up with someone else, there’s always the chance of that “thing” going downhill and not staying on the straight and narrow. Just imagine your average single guy who has trouble getting from point A to point B by himself. Now increase that difficulty ten fold by putting him up there in the driver’s seat with a co-pilot who has different ideas about destination, route and speed. It’s a marvel most of us can keep from slipping off the road and into the ditch.
One short warning list I saw when we first discussed getting married and shuddered at what might put the kabosh to our long-term plans included the following three problem areas:
With a little tongue in cheek, we all know that children–young ones, adolescents, or “adults”–hardly ever pose any problems. All you need to do is be patient and logical. And problems are never multiplied when you have several children to play the mommy and daddy off one another. As Bill Cosby once said, “You people out there with only one child don’t deserve to be called parents.”
We’ve been fortunate with our kids, although it took some effort on all our parts for Jody’s adolescent boys and me to feel comfortable with one another. I couldn’t put up with the general slovenliness or misbehavior, but I did cut them some slack about what I perceived to be their quiet resentment that some old guy other than their biological father was sleeping with their mother. Luckily for all of us, they got over it, though, especially as they grew into young men with a growing appreciation of life’s finer enjoyments.
Following up on this theme, we now have two grandchildren – our 6-year old Lia, daughter of my daughter Geraldine, and baby Liam, son of Jody’s son Sean and Corin, who live in Australia. We are all forming new lives and are having the opportunity to incorporate adult children and grandchildren into our extended families. Unlike a box of chocolates, “mine, yours and ours” is a bowl of mashed potatoes that’s sometimes a bit of a challenge to get the lumps out of. And I don’t even want to think of the withering crossfire that might have smoked us all had I not patched up differences with the boys. Fortunately, my daughter never resented me finding a new life with Jody. What a relief not to have to console spouses or pacify daughters or sons.
We have been luckier than some, and we recognize that the job can be more of a challenge than the one the current speaker of the House of Representative has in herding his pride of rabid cats. In an alternate universe, all bets would have been off on which one of us, masquerading as a cat, would have clawed his/her way through the door first to get the hell out of that doghouse.
Then there’s the money issue. Fortunately, we are secure and are not forced to sell the seed corn for victuals. But some of our contemporaries as well as many young marrieds we know of are strapped pretty tight. Try as hard as they can, they still seem destined to always be running hard just to stay behind. Of course, lack of education and budgetary skills combined with spendthrift ways don’t always help the situation.
The ultimate fear, of course, for most of us in our 60s is that the kids will come back to the roost to live with us, especially when they pitch the proposition as a “temporary” fix. We’ve seen some parents who have agreed to this request and then quickly rued the day. Others have chosen to invest their own hard-earned and scant savings to keep some of their children afloat, but definitely under a separate roof. Unemployment, horrific health problems, the abyss of substance abuse, the unmentionable world of neglected and abused kids all take unimaginable tolls and call out out for big-time help. Sadly, most solutions seem to be nothing more than a kind of a small-scale stimulus program, all too often with low expectations of real improvement.
The modern definition of guilt, I’m beginning to believe, is doing what you can for those in need while faulting yourself for not pitching in more.
All this is more than enough to put a few strains on even the best of marriages.
And finally there is sex. Luckily, we still have the spark of enjoying one another’s presence. We might not be in the mood every night to rut like wild weasels or caterwaul in the alleys to the light of the moon, but we’re still tootin’ our horns together to a melody that’s pleasing to our ears. And those are the only ears we care about.
So how do you keep any marriage – long, short and somewhere in-between – alive and smokin’? That’s the great mystery of all time that you won’t find an answer to here. Best we can do is to quote Monty Python, when pondering the meaning of life: “C’est le sens de la vie.” That’s life.
Of course, for those of us who appreciate a more practical answer, it might have come from one friend who married a few years ago. A woman who had experienced some extremes in what life can offer, she decided to celebrate her first anniversary as though it were her 50th, since she knew that at 60-something she’d never see her Golden Jubilee. Plus, the presents are better at the 50th than the first, which is paper, of all things. Who covets an 8×11 lined tablet, even if it is nicely wrapped and complete with a bow, when they could get some sparkly golden bling?
If that’s not enough, I leave you with a quote from Ogden Nash, who reportedly didn’t even like cats:
“To keep your marriage brimming, with love in the wedding cup, whenever you’re wrong, admit it; whenever you’re right, shut up.”