I’m a New Yorker at heart and I always read the real, on actual paper, delivered by a young person on a bicycle, Sunday New York Times. Call me shallow, but the wedding announcements come first, always.
It makes my day when the Times announces “…book lovers meet again at the Public Library after 40 years and three marriages, in two different cities, and are pronounced husband and wife by a librarian who is licensed especially for the occasion …”( I made that one up, but think you’ll catch my drift.) News of midlife or later romance is so much sweeter than the story of two millennial geniuses who meet in kindergarten and then again at Yale and get married in the campus chapel on their way to medical and law schools. Why? Because everyone loves a comeback story and what’s better than a comeback from failed marriage or serious illness or singular dedication to a career or even a long sabbatical from love? My adored 85-year-old Aunt just married again, and I have not ever witnessed such incredible joy. They are bound together for whatever, and the world is rejoicing along with them.
I’ve never believed in only one lid for each pot, but rather one lid at a time, and an entirely different lid at another, because even with irrefutable evidence that pots don’t change much, they do indeed change a bit. Just plain living makes us change.
Think of it this way: when we met, my first husband had an amazing head of hair,(you’re welcome Peter) but when we divorced and I started dating again, I realized that a lot of the hirsute lads of my youth had lost their lovely locks, so I had to re-think my idea of what made a man attractive. The sands of time changed my views. Turns out, hair was the least of it.
A smart shrink once told me: “tall doesn’t mean strong” and boy, did she call that one! When it comes to strength of character–height and muscle mass almost never predict the kind of partner who will be in your corner, fighting off the bad guys. Success in business has no correlation to someone’s ability to comfort or make you laugh in the worst moments and, as you know, there will be a bunch of those. We should all think and think hard about which qualities have staying power and which items on our attractive wish lists mean anything at all. Tall, dark and handsome? Really? Truly?
On my wedding day, I practically leaped out of my tea-length lace number to throttle my mother who said, “If you are willing to give 80 percent, you will have a successful marriage.” Eighty percent? What happened to fifty/fifty? Was she insane? Turns out, she was 100% right and the marriage failed, miserably. Even with that dear mother of the old-fashioned views, I had been socialized to believe that women are equal to men in all ways. Life has taught me to temper that a bit: women and men are not always equal; women are better at some things and best at others (sorry fellows).
Love–real, long-lasting love–is more than attraction and now at a certain age, the attraction, though important and lovely as it is, is far less meaningful. The “Love Story” has flipped: “Love isn’t never having to say you’re sorry,” it’s always having to say you’re sorry. It is understanding that mutual respect is actually thinking of your partner’s feelings first and owning it when you haven’t. Don’t ask the poor guy/girl to come with you to the opera, if they hate the opera. Why?
It’s been six years since I met my “slow to know” significant other. It was a meet/cute and then quickly, it was something. We weren’t sure what, but we recognized it as a different “something” and ran with it. Later love brings a sense of urgency not unlike the ticking clock of the childbearing years. We have only so many good years and why not make the most of them? He and I are from opposite worlds; I live under messy skies with lots of sunshine and periodic fireworks and he lives under soft clouds, floating amiably by. We both carry the pain of marital failure and how we may have damaged our respective grown children. Life has taught us to be cautious and that, once uttered, words don’t disappear. At about year two, probably provoking a fight; I remarked “We’ve never even had a fight. ” After his characteristically slow, “I’m thinking,” he said, “What do we have to fight about, aren’t we beyond all that?” I took a breath, pecked him on the cheek and said, “you are absolutely right.” The “no fighting” is a much better way to live and I wish that I had absorbed that lesson years ago.
The new guy isn’t my absolute everything–he’s my almost everything. I had a full life before we met and I have an even fuller one now. He doesn’t share my love of museum-going and down dogging and on the other hand, I’m never jumping with him into 65-degree shark-infested waters. He isn’t the boss of me or I of him (I hope he doesn’t read this) because it really doesn’t matter who wins, except at Scrabble.
Lately, I’ve been looking around and it’s almost like like I got a new prescription for my glasses. I’m seeing love differently. I’m not frightened by the silence of an elderly couple across the dining room—it doesn’t mean they’re unhappy; in fact, they might each be happier in their silence. And what’s the big deal about happiness anyway? Happy for me is different than it was when I first married. Silly me, I thought if: we gave our children everything, read the same books, discussed them and traveled to exotic places, we’d be happy. Today, happy means something more like secure and safe and warm. Happy is scrunching up right next to the sig other as, blissfully unaware and snoring, he clings to the edge of the bed. I know my place and he knows his (mine is most of our bed and almost all of the blanket). He reads whatever he damn wants to read and I scan the NY Times for photos of “olds” at events or announcements of later in life marriages.
It makes me so damn hopeful.