I suppose the Media feels obligated to remind us when February 14th, also known as Valentine’s Day, rolls around each year. It’s easy to fall into the cynicism-trap and believe that it’s just more programming to nudge us into spending money. If I let it, the hype can distract me from the fact that, from my perspective, Love should be, and needs to be, celebrated every day, in the broadest possible context. ‘Valentines’, or messages of love should be on our minds constantly. Especially when it comes how we love ourselves.
But sidestepping my own beliefs for just a minute, I allowed myself to get absorbed by two very romantic love stories featured in one of my print subscriptions: two couples, now in their 100’s, who both recently celebrated 75 years of marriage. One couple still lives in the home they bought as newlyweds and seem amazingly alert and aware of one another as companions. The other couple, now in an assisted-living community, are apparently less-stable – mentally and physically. But according to a daughter, this couple still – although they don’t speak much to each other or to anyone else – behaves in ways that let others know there’s still a ‘spark’ in there somewhere.
In the article I read today, the writer’s exploration was less about the amazing (and rare) longevity of the people themselves, and more focused (Valentine’s Day inspiration, for the rest of us) on the relationships these men and women have nurtured, endured, and remained committed to for more than seven decades. Her perspective was hard to miss: awe, envy, fascination, incredulity, and eagerness to identify the essential ingredients of these rare relationships.
Each time I read one of these exposés of enduring marriages, I offer silent gratitude to my maternal grandmother Beulah (‘beautiful land’, in one of the Native American tongues) who was married to my grandfather Homer (no explanation needed there!) for 68 years, until my grandfather passed. I’m grateful not because of the ‘example’ she set for me, but for the Truth she told about the answer so many people seem to be looking for – hoping to personify – as they marry and try to live out their vows: to themselves, and to their spouses.
When I was in my first serious relationship – deeply, passionately in love with a boy I’d fallen for while still in high school – I sought my grandmother’s advice. I was in my middle-twenties and we were still together. But school (I was in college, he was a musician), work, and emerging goals (as people, not as a couple) were starting to test the love we shared.
My grandmother understood this. I was amazed at her ability to embrace romance, and pragmatism, all at once (she was close to 90 years old at the time). Like a lot of older people, they don’t converse, so much as they dispense advice. (This takes some getting used to if you’re a young, impatient, independent woman who wants to ‘bolt’ when she senses a lecture coming on.)
But my grandmother didn’t lecture me. Instead, her spiel was actually more circumspect and generous than I thought it would be. Here’s what she said…
“Marriage isn’t for everyone.” You have to be willing to work as a team; at times, subverting your own desires for the relationship. Which brought to mind a woman I know, age 33, in a relationship for five years, suddenly announcing to her bf that she wanted to move to Los Angeles to become a model. He said Nope.
“Times were different, back when we married.” Marriage was less about the hope for enduring romance (as we all tend to strive for) and more about survival. Health, prosperity, children and a proper home all depended on a good match and a level-headed approach to the union.
People change and forget to tell one another. My grandmother’s response to this fact (I’d told her that I was becoming frustrated by what I saw as my bf’s lack of ambition) was unsympathetic. Like tutoring a stubborn child, she reminded me that Marriage is an institution: it doesn’t care what your personal goals are; it cares about structure and commitment to that structure.
Which made sense, back then. I respected my grandparents enormously. I admired their willingness and ability to ‘stay the course’ in their marriage — which, as my grandmother told me, does get easier to do over time, as dependence on one another grows. But is this a model that’s desirable, or even do-able in our society today? Is this a scenario that can be transformed and made more applicable to how we live and how we love? I think that the answer has to be considered subjective – dependent upon how the people involved choose to define ‘marriage’.
Looking at statistics, I can conclude that maybe a little more pragmatism might be needed. But for this particular Valentine’s Day, I’ll take the Victorian view of love this article gave me, letting the charm of romance take precedence over the actual work we know went into the handmade cards of linen and ribbons of that era.