My father died on May 7. He was 82. He and my mother were about seven weeks shy of their 60th wedding anniversay.
The other day, a friend of mine asked why I thought their marriage has lasted so long. The question was made more poignant because I am twice-divorced, the friend who posed the question is divorced, and my brother is divorced.
Here are my thoughts in response to that question:
I think my father was in charge. I don’t mean that he was a dictator or anything–he certainly wasn’t–but that it was established early that he would have the final say in things. This got worked out when my grandfather had a heart attack in the late 1940s.
At the time, my father was doing research at the Ag. Experimental station in Virginia Beach and planning to get a Masters. My grandmother–his mother–wanted him to come home and work the farm. He did. My mother told me many years later that she didn’t like it when it happened, but that it had worked out for the best.
I think from that point it was pretty much established that, if she had 50 votes, he had 51. But there were damn few decisions that came down to that kind of vote–changing jobs, which he did a couple of times, and always successfully–was the primary one.
Don’t think I’m saying the man has to be in charge. What I am saying is that a couple has to recognize that there are going to be some decisions come along that one person just isn’t going to like, and he or she has to live with them and make the best of them if the relationship will survive.
It’s called “compromise,” my friends. And compromise means that sometimes we don’t get what we want.
I also think that they had plenty of friends, relatives, and acquaintances. One thing I believe is that men and women–especially women, perhaps, these days-expect too much from their partners. I don’t think a husband or wife can be spouse, lover, best friend, confident, and social buddy all in one. No husband can be the kind of friend a best girlfriend can be for a woman. No woman can be the same kind of friend that a best guy friend can be for a man. Men and women are simply wired too differently in what they want and expect from their friends.
Yet families these days are so separated from having nucleus or a circle of friends–how many people don’t even know their neighbors?–they expect their partner to fill all the roles that several people are needed to fill. And the partner will certainly fail, because it’s just too much to ask.
I also don’t think that either my father or my mother thought he or she had a “right to be happy.” There is no such right. They thought they had a responsibility to try to do good. They did, and, as a result, they were happy.
I spent a lot of time on the support boards when my marriage was entering the slow break up. One thing I saw over and over again was the statement, “I have a right to be happy.”
What a red flag! It was immediately followed by some kind of justification for doing something bad–having an affair, gambling away the savings, running away from responsibilities.
There is no “right to be happy.” Rather, there is an obligation to do one’s duty. That is the highest calling.