Most people express some surprise upon learning how long we have been married. Apparently, at 46 years and counting, we are to be considered somewhat of an oddity these days. Of the comments I have heard, two stand out; “That’s quite an accomplishment” and, in a similar vein, “That’s a long time, you must be proud.” Both comments strike me as odd as marriage is not so much of an accomplishment as a commitment. Also, it’s not a long time and happy, not proud, would be a better sentiment. Well, I am proud, but not of the accomplishment but of the individual who has stayed beside me these many years.
Growing up in the 50s in a small rural community, the prevailing notion was that marriage was permanent. Divorce was not unknown, of course, but it was rare and those who divorced, especially the women, were tainted. There were whispers of impropriety and the subject was rarely discussed in front of the children. The ideal, whether or not it was realistic for everyone, was permanence. The local paper often carried pictures of couples who were celebrating their 50th anniversaries. The dour faces staring back at you from the page, stem and unsmiling, were pictures of couples who could have posed for American Gothic. At best, the impression they gave was that they had endured. There were exceptions, of course, as the occasional smiling faces testified. Yet, in at least one instance, I knew that those smiles concealed severe difficulties.
We entered marriage blind. No instructions, only the imperfect models of parents, relatives and friends. Except for our parents, we rarely saw behind the public facade of others’ marriages. We never saw how the alcoholism which returned to haunt one marriage affected it. We only saw how it caused the slow disintegration of the alcoholic. As we saw, we made mental notes. Not us, we thought, not us.
The 60s were a tumultuous time. All of the old rules seemed to be passe. As some rebelled against the old order, their behavior became more bizarre as they became enslaved to chaos. We watched from the outside, a new family, and continued in the old ways. We grew together, fitfully as first one, then the other, gained new experiences, new insights. We rarely argued seriously. When we did, the arguments would become self consuming as the original point of the argument was lost and we argued because we were too proud to make up.
It was in the 60s, also, when marriage seems to have gone out of vogue. To a greater degree, unmarried couples were living together openly. The fact that they were having sexual relations was also well known and readily admitted to; a radical change from earlier generations when such personal aspects of ones’ private lives were not the subject of public discussion. Young women announcing their pregnancy did so in an embarrassed manner as if, in admitting their pregnancy, they also publicly admitted to actually having sexual relations with their husbands. It was a long time until I understood the knowing looks that came with the mention of a rabbit dying.
As marriages go, ours was not far out of the main stream. Comprising three children, a house in the suburbs and the occasional dog, there was little to differentiate if from others. In comparison to some, ours was relatively trouble free. We were far from being the Nelson family, yet the children were well behaved, polite and did well in school and they grew into excellent adults.
Now we are two again; two who have managed to expand into rooms once occupied by the children. In doing so, the rooms ceased being “the boys’ room” or “Megan’s room.” They took on new names and new functions. A room was added and others remodeled. It remains a place considered as home, a place where one wants to return at the end of a long day. Wanting to return, not so much to the house, but to the one I know is waiting there for me. Truth to tell, after 46 years, I get the same thrill when I see her smile and my heart still skips a beat. More than my wife, she is my true friend. I can’t imagine returning to a house without her there, my Mona Lisa in the blue sweater.