Last weekend I spent time with friends, an older, unmarried couple who had the fresh, excitement of young love. Each was married for more than 30 years before being unceremoniously dumped for someone else.
They found each other over coffee after church. They’re like high school sweethearts. Playful. Endearing. Theirs is a second season of love.
As we sat around the dinner table listening to how they found each other, it made me want to re-examine my own marriage. It was time. This week marks 25 years since I said ‘I do,’ a quarter of a century since I dressed in a my first Sims gray suit and headed for a justice of the peace on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx.
When people say marriage is a journey, I know. Our marriage has traveled well -- New York, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida – New York City, Silver Spring, Piscataway, Charlotte, Fort Mill, Tampa and Tallahassee. Whether we lived in a big city or small town, in a house or apartment, there’s always been one constant. My wife made it feel special, like home, a place to rush to at the end of the day. She builds the coziest nests.
I’m a lucky man. Our marriage has remained strong while too many others I know have dissolved. I’ve learned that when I don’t see someone for more than six months, I should be careful when I ask how’s the wife. Too often the response is: “We’re not together anymore.”
That’s life in America. About half all of all marriages will end in divorce, we’re told. But for those of us who stick together for this long, the odds get better. In 2008, among couples married 25 years or more, about 1 percent divorced in the previous year, according to the Pew Research Center. Remember Tipper and Al? That saddened me.
But we are the marrying kind of people. According to the Census Bureau, 81 percent of 50-year-old men who divorce will remarry, and 71 percent of 50-year-old women who divorce will remarry.
I was raised by married grandparents. But the men in my family didn’t have a great track record of fidelity. My two grandfathers and my father had children in and outside their marriages. On Montserrat, the Caribbean island where I grew up, love and multiplication went hand in hand, one man-many women. Monogamy is a learned habit.
Island guys evolve slowly. Every Caribbean man needs a patient, forgiving wife for a happy, successful marriage. Mine has been.
It helps to have that shared value of what it means to be married. My spouse isn’t available for a trade-in the moment things go wrong. But shared value is no guarantee for success. But add a splash of love and a few drops of passion, and you get something that’s built to last.
Flexibility helps. It’s hard to be too rigid and stay married. In two decades, we’ve lived together and lived apart. Each of us has taken turns working on the road. It’s the sort of sacrifice one makes for love and for family. Two years ago, home was a four-hour drive on the weekend. Good-night prayers with my daughter came over a telephone line. But there was nothing like the excitement of the last 20 miles. Instead of making us strangers, living apart always reminded us about how much we enjoyed being together.
Things I’ve learned? Friendships – male and female – are better shared. Washing the dirty dishes at night is as valuable as that piece of jewelry. I can’t fully appreciate my wife if I am spending too much time with other women. I can’t love two people at the same time.
Home improvement projects are ours, not mine and hers. Grand gestures are fine, but little favors count even more.
Seated around a dinner table listening to that older couple reminded me of those simple truths about why relationships work. Fate gave them a second chance at finding love. And there’s no better love than the one I have.
Andrew J. Skerritt is an assistant professor of journalism at Florida A&M University and the author of Ashamed to Die: Silence, Denial and the AIDS Epidemic in the South. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter at andrewjskerrit