Going Beyond Valentine’s and the Diamond Anniversary
Valentine’s day has passed. You did it. You either celebrated it or got through it. Regardless, you can probably still get some really good deals on chocolates, roses or anything heart shaped. But beyond flowers, chocolates, cards and over-priced dinners, the real romantic fete is to have a relationship that has a bond that lasts.
My parents just celebrated sixty one years together. My mom said they woke up, on the morning of their anniversary, and hugged and hugged and hugged.
“It’s amazing to really love each other,” she said, “It’s a gift and I have to pay attention to every little thing and be grateful.”
When we look at couples historically, there are few that sparkle below the surface.
Infidelity marred the great romances, of Napoleon and Josephine, the Camelot reign of JFK and Jackie, as well as Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball. Power and passion brought down great couples like Anthony and Cleopatra and Bonnie and Clyde. Prolonged excessive wild living brought down Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, and Adam and Eve are the prime example that the blame game does not work.
So, what is the secret to making it past the Diamond anniversary, or these days, even the Paper one? When a friend asked my mom what it was, Mom replied, “When I became okay with myself.”
This lead me to consider, beyond a little mazel, or luck, were there variables that allowed for longevity where romance was concerned? I have been fortunate to have positive examples of relationships that have not only had longevity but sincere affection throughout. My research, so far, has uncovered four pillars that seem to rise out of love’s foundation that have worked for my parents and other successful unions, both real and fictitious.
Pillar One: Being good with who you are and being willing to stand up for yourself with the willow’s capacity to bend.
I used to say on my mom’s fortieth birthday, her hair turned red and she was off to the races. It was a time of liberation for her. She began her acting career in earnest, she became a nudist, and she expanded her spiritual perspective. All of this led to her being “okay” with who she was. It was a shift that allowed her to not only rock the boat of marital convention and expectations but to withstand the waves that her independence created.
This was a time when many women had to rely on TV models to bolster their convictions. If Alice Kramden, Wilma Flintstone and Edith Bunker could stand up to their over- bearing partners, then it was possible to dare to voice an opinion and even explore who you were.
The key is being strong while being able to bend. Having conviction can be great, but a partner can remind us that our definition of who we think we are, can be broad enough to include and encompass our partners definition of themselves as well.
There are historic examples where both partners were powerful within themselves and were able to create a bending balance that worked, even elegantly. Winston and Clementine Churchill, Michelle and Barack Obama, and Johnny Cash and June Carter, all are wonderful examples of this. They were able to withstand tremendous pressures with lyrical panache.
Pillar Two: Having fun and laughing together.
When Jessica Rabbit was asked what she saw in Roger Rabbit, her reply, “He makes me laugh,” became an instant meme. This may be what Rita Wilson says about Tom Hanks or what Melissa McCarthy says of Ben Falcone, or vice versa. These couples have all four pillars in place but their laughter spills over, inspiring and strengthening other relationships. I think of Gene Wilder and Gilda Radner, they would be still laughing together if life had allowed.
Laughter has never been a stranger in my parent’s house.
My father not only looks like John Astin, who played Gomez Addams on TV, but was perfectly at home with how weird we all were. We weren’t exactly the Addams family, but we were lively, strange and invited in characters that were theatrical and freaky. We were also a family that played games, and joked with each other.
My parent’s were fabulous hosts and threw wonderful parties. They have always enjoyed having fun. They travelled extensively together and still enjoy social outings.
My mom looked a little like Lucille Ball and certainly had some, “…esplaining to do,” from time to time. But my folks’ strong sense of humor always buoyed them over rough seas.
Despite both being sick in bed on Valentine’s with a miserable flu bug, my wife Julia and I managed to make each other laugh and watch romantic movies while snuggling, which saved the day .
Pillar Three: Honesty and stability amid the madness.
Lucy and Desi Arnaz made it twenty years in Hollywood, were the first millionaire TV stars, had more people tuning into the episode where their son, little Ricky, was born than President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s inauguration got the following day. But there was a lack of honesty and stability in their marriage, and Lucy finally had to call it quits. Even though their love endured right to the end, alcoholism and infidelity ended their marriage.
A famous couple that did manage to find stability, even among the Lost Generation, was Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. Their apartment in Paris was the central hub of creative madness. Yet, while the Fitzgeralds, Picasso, Dali, Chaplin, Hemingway, Matisse, Eliot and others flitted in and out, Gertrude and Alice consistently supported one another. Gertrude used to leave Alice love notes on her pillow signed, Y.D.- “Your Darling”. Like Gene and Gilda, only death could part them.
Regardless of what was going on in my family, we were fortunate to know there was a foundation that allowed us to focus on what was at hand. This was not only financial. Emotions and moods could fluctuate but there was always an understanding that love was constant. Though all the changes that life brings, my parents love has provided a stability that has allowed them to stay together with sincere affection and appreciation of one another.
Pillar Four: The capacity for maturing.
In fact and fiction, it is possible to mature while remaining together. Unless you are Rick and are mature enough to send Ilsa off on a plane at the end of Casablanca to help save to world.
My parent’s marriage has a space within it that has nurtured their capacity for maturing. That is, they are secure enough to trust one another with breathing room. This doesn’t just mean that they each have a space in the house for private study and meditation. They have allowed and encouraged each other to fully become who they were meant to be. They stayed true to their individual life paths, while drawing strength from their bond. Because of this, their paths are now sweetly intertwined, in sickness and in health. My folks do not dwell on their ills, but keep their focus on what remains healthy between them. In that way, they get over what mom calls, little “bumps” in the road.
Our family can be wonderfully immature, but if I were watching the movie of my parent’s life, I would say there was impressive character development.
I am infinitely grateful for the love my mom and dad have for each other. It is a love that stands, alongside the other shining examples we have throughout history, as a light-house guiding many hopeful couples in rowboats towards the shore of their own Diamond anniversaries.