"I don't know how you stand it," my boss, A. said to me the other morning. "Doesn't it drive you crazy having Jim around the house so much?" I had mentioned that Jim was working at home more often, and because of this we sometimes found ourselves tripping over each other in terms of work space. A.'s husband, a Ford employee for almost 30 years, was recently forced into early retirement, and is suddenly home all the time. He's a quiet man, rather unobtrusive, while A. is a force to be reckoned with and fiercely independent. She has confided that the transition is not going well, largely because they weren't prepared for it, but also because they've spent the bulk of their married life apart (as most of us do), going their separate ways every morning and meeting only at the end of the day. Now, having her husband perpetually "invading her space," as she put it, is placing a huge amount of strain on her patience, and I suspect, on their marriage.
Today is our wedding anniversary, so it seemed natural to reflect on the changing state of marriage in general and my own in particular. In our 33 years of "wedded bliss" we've been through a number of stages - the idyllic early days, the harried years of establishing a career and being young parents, the poignancy (and unexpected pleasures!) of an empty nest. For the past few years, we've been in a sort of limbo - too young to retire, but tired of working, wanting to move into the next phase of our lives but not quite sure what or where that should be. Worries persist, of course - no longer the worries of caring for young children but similar concerns related to the care of aging parents. New worries about financial security have begun to seep into our always relatively comfortable lifestyle. Sometimes it feels as if we're in a holding pattern, like a jetliner forever circling the airport waiting for the fog to lift so we can safely land.
Nevertheless, I feel fortunate to have made it this far, when everyday I hear about the failure of another marriage - a friend's, a colleague's, a relative's. Among all my cousins, most of whom were married shortly after I was, none of them are stil married to the same person. Mind you, I'm not being complacent. No one knows better than I that a marriage can fail at any stage. My own parents, seemingly so happily married for 40 years, suddenly lost the glue that had held them together and a relationship that had survived the separation of war, the raising of children and grandchildren, the loss of parents, was over and done with in the blink of an eye.
"Sometimes I wonder," I said to Jim tonight as we enjoyed a deep dish pizza on the patio at Buddy's Pizzeria, "if there's something wrong with us - I mean, hardly anybody stays married as long as we have anymore."
"That's pretty bad," he answered, "if you feel like you're missing out on something by staying married."
"No, it isn't that at all," I hastened to reassure him. "It's just that being happily married is starting to seem like an anomaly. I'm just curious about what it is that drives so many couples apart, and why we don't have it."
"Well, whatever it is, I certainly don't want it," he replied. "I hope you don't either!"
Of course I don't. But neither do I want to become long term partners who are just going through the motions, who have nothing in common except decades of habit, and whose daily presence becomes unwelcome and irritating. While it's important to keep one's expectations realistic, it's also vital to maintain a sense of momentum in a relationship, to not become stagnant emotionally or physically. I hope our love is the kind that ages well, and that if we can't have bliss exactly, at least we can have devotion and genuine appreciation for one another.
One of our friend's at church recently announced that her parent's, both in their mid-nineties, would soon celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary. It was interesting to gauge the reactions of those in the room - some people exclaimed in disbelief, as if they couldn't imagine spending that many years with the same partner. Others responded in genuine appreciation for this accomplishement.
What a gift that would be, I immediately thought, to be able to have so many years together, to be able to share an entire lifetime with that one person who makes you feel safe and cared for and cherished.
Maybe that's bliss after all.
How about you? What's your idea of wedded bliss? Do you have it, or hope to have it?