My Detroit-born husband – after much nagging on my part (let’s call it what it is) – finally bid farewell to his beloved 1999 “sports sedan”.
For years I have been jealous of the attention (and the expenditures) he showered upon his automotive mistress. On weekend afternoons he could be found spending quality time with it in our driveway. He polished, shined and tinkered. When winter snow was forecast, he rushed outside to place a specially configured cover upon his adored vehicle, while my car was always left naked in the driveway, exposed to all icy blows.
Our friends thought it sweet that JP lavished so much attention on his old car. He keeps his old car around, isn’t that nice, just as he keeps his old wife around.
Let’s put a stop to the old car/old wife parallels right there. Although old cars and even older marriages may share certain qualities.
While JP was online researching replacement cars, I became fascinated by the tempting descriptions of the “optional” add-on packages. How could we possibly choose between the “luxury line” package, the “modern technology” package or the “premium sports” package? Each is made to sound so alluring.
But choose you must. And years later, as the aging car enters its’ tween years, you realize you made it through without falling for “luxury”, “modern” or “premium.” Somehow you learned to manage without the “Venetian Beige Dakota Leather Upholstery With Exclusive Stitching” or the “Palladium Gray Interior Trim.”
Marriage comes with its own set of choices. Without torturing this car metaphor too much, we choose a spouse based on the new options he or she presents. Packages of personal qualities. Of course, what you don’t want to anticipate at the time you marry is all of the wear-and-tear your marriage will go through. The initial gloss on all newlywed packages inevitably fades.
So how do long marriages survive – or even thrive?
If I knew the answer to this question, I would share it with you here. Or rather I would write a best-selling book about it, make a zillion dollars and win a Nobel Prize for my ingenuity.
Sadly, I only know the answer as it applies to my marriage.
We started talking about this last week at a meeting of my writers’ group. The six of us – women ages 48 to 64, who all happen to be married to the same man we each started with, have been writing about marriage.
We agreed that long marriages are based upon making accommodations. What can we can live with – and what we cannot. There is a point that some of us get to where we feel we have accommodated enough. How do you know when or if you have reached that point?
One of the younger women in our group commented that I seemed to have a happy marriage. Has it always been that way, she asked?
Of course not. If only you had known me a decade or two ago, I told her, in the middle of my working-mom, career-super-stress, difficult-child-raising, husband-frequent-arguing years. Back then you would not have thought my marriage seemed so happy.
For me, marriage grew easier as I got older. With fewer relationship borne peaks and valleys. That I was able to better tolerate the smaller stuff – and that the bigger scary stuff that will happen puts all of the smaller stuff into perspective.
This is not always the case, I know. Divorce among older couples is on the rise, according to an article in the October 30, 2015 New York Times.
“Late life divorce, also called “silver” or “gray” divorce is becoming more common and more acceptable. In 2014, people age 50 and over were twice as likely to go through a divorce than in 1990…and for those over 65, the increase was even higher.”
And what is the biggest reason for the increase in late-life divorce?
“The changing status of women”.
Women, according to the research, are more willing to take the decisive step of divorce; men don’t want to rock the boat. Older women expect more from their emotional lives and if they are not satisfied with them, are more likely to leave an unsatisfactory marriage, even if it may mean financial uncertainty.
This conclusion did not surprise me: Women, as they grow older, still want more out of their personal lives and are willing to take risks to get it.
Let me take a minute here to reassure JP – if he happens to read this – that I consider our marriage emotionally solid. And I think he does too.
But I applaud women who make life-changing decisions later in life to pursue a deeper emotional relationship. My friends who have divorced are all the better for it. It takes great courage to leave the known for the unknown. To really rock the boat of your family’s foundations. And come out thriving on the other side.
If only I could offer the secret to long marriages to the younger women I know. Staying together and forging a satisfying deep bond as the years pass is not easy. Making fortunate choices in the initial selection of each other’s personal packages helps.
And yes, I guess, just like with old cars, shining, polishing and tinkering, showering attention on the older marriage helps too. Perhaps the automotive metaphor is not as tortured as it seems.