Recently, Judy and I celebrated our 56th wedding anniversary. The event prompted a number of queries from folks wanting us to share some wise words on long-term relationships, queries that caused both of us to ponder the past. “What are the reasons for our marital longevity?” I asked.
She hesitated, then mused, “Have you ever been so captivated by someone that your heart won’t beat without them?”
I was flattered. “Is that how you feel about me?”
“Oh no,” she said. “That’s how you feel about yourself.”
“Maybe, it’s because we have an interest in each other,” I said. “Just how interested are you in me?”
She shook her head. “Not that much. Your interest in yourself is sufficient for the both of us.”
Then she continued, “We do have something in common, though. Food! I love to cook and you love to eat. Too bad your tastes and my creations don’t overlap.”
I know what she means. She spends hours whipping up dining pleasures, ranging from Inari Sushi to Yorkshire Pudding. Unfortunately, I tend to salivate over Egg McMuffins and Big Macs.
Once she attempted to instruct me in the art of the kitchen. I prepared a delicious repast of Grounded Cow on a Bun and invited our entire extended family to sample my first culinary delight. The decision was unanimous. If I cooked for myself for any period of time, I would suffer malnutrition and agonizing hunger pains before eventually dying of either starvation or food poisoning. All agreed that it would be best for everyone, including myself, if I were to die first rather than live alone. I won’t say that this consensus bothered me but the thought has crossed my mind that perhaps the mozzarella that Judy sprinkles on pasta is really rat poison, and I’ve come to believe that the three pills she puts by my plate every morning aren’t really vitamins as she claims. Does strychnine come in a capsule?
She made one further attempt. “If you start going to the gym, we would share an interest in physical fitness. Maybe, it would make you better at other things,” she said wistfully.
Judy walks, runs, lifts weights, bikes and does calisthenics. I also walk…from the sofa to the fridge to get beer and snacks during commercials. I make at least ten return-trips when a game goes into extra innings.
I pointed out other things we have in common. She said that walking on the left side of the road, looking both ways before crossing the street, and preferring strong coffee don’t count.
Maybe mutual interests aren’t the glue that binds us one to the other. Perhaps it’s mutual aversions. Again, she discounted my ideas. Apparently sharing a dislike of banana sandwiches, soft bacon and pet pythons also isn’t relevant.
I decided to see if I could spot things that she avoided but kept secret. Perhaps we shared hidden dislikes. However, it was impossible to find things she avoided. Every time I came near, she went for a walk.
I tried another approach. One thing that I dislike intensely are people who talk too much and, even worse, are the self-centered individuals who only talk about themselves. I wondered if Judy had an equal distaste for these blowhards and asked her directly. Communication proved difficult. She owns blue tooth earphones and tunes them to the highest volume. I know this because I see her turning them up whenever I enter the room.
I decided to trick her into an answer. I woke early the next morning and hid the earphones. Then, I hid other items and waited. Soon she shouted from the bathroom. “Have you seen my toothbrush?”
“What about my hairbrush? It’s missing.”
“Oh, oh. Did you take my earphones?”
“No, I didn’t. But that’s enough about me. Let’s talk about you. Do you think I have a great personality?”
She locked the door and turned on the shower. I never did get to my question about people who mostly talk about themselves.
So, it appears that what holds us together is not mutual interests or aversions. I needed to tack in another direction to search for our marital mucilage.
Judy sometimes perches on a stool, earphones on and stares for hours at a painting. Then, like a circling boxer, she makes a lightning jab and a dot of paint appears on a corner of the canvas. When not painting, cooking, reading, exercising or napping, she sings and practices the ukulele. As a consequence, we communicate mostly on twitter.
It’s become routine. I begin with a simple, “I’m sorry.”
She replies. “You should be.”
“You’re right dear,” I say.
“Very well,” she answers and turns off her phone.
I sometimes try to get her opinion on important questions. However, issues of the day don’t seem to interest her. She rarely answers when I ask if she thinks the new waitress at the coffee shop is cute or if, in her opinion, I could see home runs better on a big screen TV. In all fairness, she sometimes does respond. When I mentioned that humankind’s carbon footprint is getting bigger, she replied, “So’s your bald spot, old man.”
Obviously, there is a delicate balance between marital glue and marital stickiness. To help others find that balance, I’ve listed a few tips based on my own experiences:
Don’t drink too much when visiting in-laws. In particular, don’t throw up into the goldfish bowl that sits on the TV, especially while the family is watching Jeopardy.
Be as silent as possible if you have to pass wind at your granddaughter’s graduation banquet.
Don’t put all your spouse’s savings on a sure thing at the race track, especially if you have access to her account because you promised to buy a new wheelchair for her grandfather.
Don’t be a tightwad when buying birthday gifts. A wallet-size photo of you at a nude beach with a previous girlfriend is not an appropriate present for your mother-in-law.
Never peer too closely into the machinery of family ties, especially if the machinery is old and beginning to clank. This includes asking your father-in-law if he knows a good divorce lawyer.
Don’t stop to sanitize your hand after your spouse takes it when crossing a busy street.
And finally, two rules for sex: (1) Never finish before your partner has entered the room, and (2) remember foreplay is not an elbow in the ribs accompanied by, “Hey, you awake?”
When Judy read the foregoing, she penciled in one more tip: If your husband is talking, it’s not necessary to listen. He may be talking to himself. If he thinks it’s important, he’ll repeat it over and over and over again.
Will we make it to 57 years? To 60? I believe it’s possible and so, I’ve saved the most important advice for last.
During our long union, there have been two circumstances where our lives have been totally harmonious with a complete absence of wedded strife. Here are our two secrets to a long and happy marriage:
Don’t live together.
If you must live together, then for God’s sake don’t talk to each other.
For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com
For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com