It's very hard to be married. This is no headline. But the Sunday New York Times on December 13th carried a piece by David Sarasohn; a meditation on marriage, moving from the first lines: "I have been married forever. Well, not since the Big Bang but since the Nixon administration — 35 years — a stretch long enough to startle new acquaintances or make talk-show audiences applaud" to the last.
As you may deduce from the hair, we too married during the Nixon years, and we too are still together. We were married on September 12, 1971 and have survived more than 38 years of complicated marriage about which I've written before. So why now?
Well, first of all because my husband asked me to write it. Just to see what came out, I think. How did we do it? How are we still doing it? Oh - and why have we bothered? We've seen friends split over much less than what we've faced, so what was different?
Here's Mr. Sarasohn's theory:
I am somewhat better with words than my wife is; she is infinitely better with people. In different ways, we translate each other to the rest of the world, and admire each other’s contrasting language skills. Being married to someone you respect for being somehow better than you keeps affection alive. That this impressive person chooses you year after year makes you more pleased with yourself, fueling the kind of mutual self-esteem that can get you through decades.
Not bad. I know we've been all over the world and I would never have had the nerve with out him; he is the one who was probably an airplane in a previous life. And that we met an extraordinary number of wonderful people because of the work he chose to do. And that he pushed me to write my book and never expected me to be anything but a working mom. And among psychoanalysts in Manhattan in the 70s and 80s that was pretty amazing. OH and he shoved and pushed and pulled me to spend money on myself once in a while, which was very hard for a girl from a Depression-scarred background. I know he's got his own list for me as well.
Of course we've faced plenty of though stuff too. His chronic illness is a rotten burden and one that has colored much of our time together. And we've had professional and financial crises, and moved from Washington to Palo Alto to New York to another apartment in New York to Los Angeles to another house in Los Angeles to Washington and another house in Washington. We've had some challenges as parents and as partners, other health issues including open-heart surgery, loss of our parents and very tough moments even now. But leaving - that was never an option. We have many young friends who wonder at the fact that we are still together and it's one of the few times I feel a distance from them. I'm so aware that it's something you know more than you say, despite the beauty and wisdom of the Sarasohn piece and despite my efforts here.
Once my dad told me that he was sure we'd never be divorced; we were both too stubborn. I guess that's true too, but it takes more than that. We are never ever bored with each other. We share basic values that we've been able to pass on to our kids even though we may have differed on the details. We trust each other. We have fun - and now, day-by-day, we share a history.
A collected set of joint memories is not a small thing. I always say it's like quitting smoking - every day you accumulate increases the value of the commitment. Just this morning, listening to the blizzard weather predictions, I recalled an orange outfit we had bought our toddler in Paris more than thirty years ago. " Remember the orange snowsuit we bought Josh in au Printemps?" I asked him. He smiled in fond recollection and said "Yeah, but it was Galeries Lafayette." There are a lifetime of those moments.
That was, by the way, the same trip where Josh stared up at the Winged Victory of Samothrace towering at the top of the main staircase in the Louvre and said "pigeon."
I'm telling you these small memories for a reason. The big things are cool too - watching a son get married, fancy parties with high-profile people, trips around the country and around the world. But within and surrounding the gigantic are those moments that make a marriage, tiny and still; a quiet loving word from a son, or the sharing of a meal he has prepared, the deck of a beach house while the sun goes down, wonder at a great performance or a great meal shared. For the two of us, 38 years of those trump the aggravation and the stressful moments.
Frighteningly, I'm about to turn the age I always thought a subject for humor - after all, there is even a song.
When I get older, losing my hair,
Many years from now.
Will you still be sending me a valentine
Birthday greetings bottle of wine?
If I'd been out till quarter to three
Would you lock the door?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I'm sixty-four.
We knew each other when this song was still part of FM rotation – when we counted our ages in fewer than half those years. Between then and now, more has happened than I can describe – both in the “outside world” and in our home. And I know the answer to the question. Yes - from me and from him. When we're sixty-four and, God willng, long after that.