Every Friday my column appears in a bunch of papers in Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week I’m sharing about the richness and value gleaned from a long marriage.
The best part of the sixty-fifth birthday party I attended last night, other than the Chinese buffet, was definitely the slide show. Of course black and white pictures of a cherubic-looking boy are always adorable, but it was those late teen years pictures, when a rather familiar looking girl starting showing up, that made me smile.
And so we watched through forty-five years of hilarious photos, with the wedding, the babies, the cottage, and then more weddings and now lots more babies.
It’s a rich life.
When we first moved to our small town Roger became my husband Keith’s mentor, going out for coffee with him every so often and talking about work and parenting and marriage. Roger would, of course, be quick to tell you that the mentorship really went in the other direction. He’s the kind of person who genuinely enjoys and appreciates people.
So there he was last night, with his daughters directing the show (insisting they were being “decisive”, not “bossy”), and his wife grinning from ear to ear, as people praised him and told him about all the seniors’ discounts he could now claim.
Twelve hours later, though, it is still the pictures that keep flashing through my mind.
They show heritage, dedication, and a whole lot of barbecuing. And yet I know that behind all those smiling, laughing faces there were moments when things weren’t as rosy. There were moments when even a Roger, the nicest guy you could ever meet, lost his temper. There were moments when he and Heather truly didn’t know what to do with some of their children. There were health problems and family problems and all those things that none of us can escape.
And yet last night Roger and Heather stood with their arms around each other greeting their friends, beaming.
It’s a life well lived.
The idea of a long marriage–of forty plus years together with one person–seems so daunting. Wouldn’t a long marriage get boring? Most of us suffer wanderlust at one time or another. We’re with the same person, day after day, with all these responsibilities, and we wonder, “what would life have been like if I had married my high school boyfriend?” Or we think, “I bet life would be a whole lot more exciting if I were with my co-worker, who’s always the life of the party, rather than my husband, who is always grumpy.”
We want something new and something exciting, not something that we’ve had everyday for sixteen years, through seventeen hundred diaper changes, or twenty-two hundred loads of laundry. Life just gets monotonous.
The measurement of maturity, though, is whether or not one can forego immediate rewards for delayed gratification of better rewards. Too often people throw something away because they want the excitement of something new.
Everything new, though, will eventually be old. Unless you want to cycle through constant change your whole life, at some point you’re going to have to decide to commit to someone or something.
Sometimes everyone needs a fresh start if the life they’re living is dangerous, abusive, or degrading. And sometimes we’re thrown into that fresh start through no fault of our own. Yet too often people chuck something just because it’s lost that “newness” feeling.
Yes, infatuation is heady, but you know what’s even better? Forty years of friends and family who can stand there when you’re sixty-five and still say all kinds of great things about you–because you’re still around. You haven’t gone anywhere. You’re with the same people, you’ve invested in a long marriage, and now you’re reaping the rewards. There’s no awkwardness with the kids or grandkids. There are no pictures you have to exclude from a lifetime of memories. There’s just a life well lived, and that is something exciting.