Dater X: How The Heck Have My Parents Been Married For 40 Years?
For most single women out there, New Year’s Eve is a big deal. On December 31st, we’ll get all dolled up—preferably in sequins and heavy eyeliner—and hit the town in our 2011 New Year’s Eve glasses. (Question: How exactly are those going to work?) It’s one of the few nights a year where debaucherous drinking is not only condoned, but encouraged, and where grabbing a random stranger for a makeout session is not only okay, but tradition. The next morning, as we nurse our hangovers, we’ll have the satisfaction of standing up, wiping off the dirt of the past year, and jumping feet first into a new one—a fresh 365 days in which every possibility is open.
Yes, kiss or not, New Year’s Eve should be a great night. But for me, January 2nd will be a much bigger day. See, it’s my parents’ anniversary. As much as I think about it, I still can’t seem to wrap my head around the idea that, in less than a week, my parents will have been husband and wife for 40 freaking years.
I mean, they’ve lasted through countless technology changes, eight presidencies, and four decades. I keep thinking to myself: how did they do that?
My parents met in 1969, of all places, at a Who concert. My mom was 18 and had long, glossy brown hair that trailed down her back and, from what I can tell in photos, a closet full of sun dresses. While Pete Townshend ripped through “Magic Bus,” my dad—with curly hair down to his shoulders—worked up the nerve to talk to her about about the topic any other cool guy of the era would have—the new album from the Beatles,Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
And, at least in the version of the story that’s been passed down to me, that was it. A year later—it took them just 365 days to know—they got married in a small service in my mom’s suburban Long Island backyard, under a weeping willow tree. They went backpacking in Europe for their honeymoon, and then returned to New York to finish college and get jobs. For eight years, it was just them—going to plays and restaurants, and on trips to all corners of the globe. Then they had me.
As a single woman who hasn’t had much luck in the love department recently, my parents are a huge inspiration. They are proof that with the right person, things just work. They are a talisman against the fact that half of marriages end in divorce. They protect me from the ever percolating idea that monogamous heterosexual relationships don’t work because the genders want such different things. Because their relationship absolutely works, and has for almost half a century.
In pictures now, my parents’ smiles are just as big and genuine as they were in the faded snapshots of them in their hippie gear. Yes, my parents have had their hard times. They are both strong-willed and stubborn and when they butt heads, they really butt heads. I remember being 8 years old and hearing a fight where the decibel level got so loud that I hid under the covers and cried. And I remember a six-month period in high school, while my dad was going through a career transition, where they constantly seemed at each other’s throats. At the dinner table one night, my mom announced that they were seeing a couple’s therapist, years before such things were the stuff of HBO series. I remember feeling sure that they were headed for divorce, like my best friend’s parents. But that didn’t happen. They worked through it. And every other obstacle they’ve ever encountered. When they stand near each other, my dad still puts his arm around my mom’s shoulders and makes stomach-turningly-cute comments about her.
When I think about my parents’ marriage, I feel a sense of awe. I know there are things about the other that drives them crazy—like the fact that my dad talks to himself and that my mom gets cranky when hungry—and yet they’ve showed me that these little things just don’t matter. While so many other couples have jumped ship at the first sign on an iceberg, my parents have stuck in out and repaired the ship, even when it was hemorrhaging water. That is truly a beautiful accomplishment.
How the heck were they both able to commit to marriage before either one of them was old enough to legally drink? (Wait, was the drinking age then 18? If so strike that last statement. But the point still stands.)
Scary thought: I’ve been dating for more than 17 years now. I’ve had great relationships—two particularly wonderful ones that spanned past the three-year mark. But ultimately, I couldn’t see a life together with either of these guys, as much as I loved them. In all my years of dating, and all the guys I’ve tried with, nothing has felt easy and just fallen into place. I recognize that my parents are of a different generation, one where people didn’t feel paralyzed with fear at the idea of marriage and entered into it younger and with greater ease. But sometimes I still find myself wondering—why not me?
When I think about my parents’ marriage, I also have to admit that I feel a little bit … like the odd one out. Sometimes I feel like they don’t get the struggle I’ve had trying to find my green zebra. Neither of them has ever had to deal with rejection. Neither of them has ever heard an “it’s not you, it’s me” speech. Neither of them has ever had to dig through their apartment and gather someone’s things after the ending of a multiple-year relationship. Neither of them has gone on an awkward bad date. Neither of them has felt the giddiness of potential with a new person, only to have it evaporate. Neither of them knows what it’s like to be sick, and have no one to bring you soup and buy the kind of tissues you like. Neither of them knows what it’s like to go to through a bad time—a layoff, the death of a friend—without someone at their side.
Sometimes, I feel like my parents worry that I’m a “Sex and the City” character. How could they not think that I’m doing something wrong or being too picky or putting my career first over relationships? They’ve never expressed this and never put any pressure on me and have always been there for me when things fell apart—things I hugely appreciate. But I still have to wonder—because our loves lives have been so wildly different — can my parents really understand me?
Somewhere deep down, looking at the strength of my parents’ relationship makes me feel just a touch sad for myself. There’s no way I will ever have a relationship like theirs—one where I grow up with someone—simply because I am already grownup. I envy the ease with which they were able to enter their relationship. Because even if I meet my green zebra, oh tomorrow, I feel like the accelerator will be on. We won’t have eight years to spend just the two us—we’ll have to think about the future pretty fast, unless we want to spend a million on fertility treatments.
To celebrate my parents’ 40th anniversary, my siblings and I are throwing them a party. We’ve invited their friends and our family members, and have asked the same restaurant that did their wedding to cater the event. The soundtrack will, naturally, feature exclusively The Who and Beatles tunes. It’s going to be a blast and I’m excited to celebrate my parents and their 40 years together. So I know I need to turn this self-pity and fear off—and I will. I need to remember that there is no one path—that love isn’t one size fits all.
Amazingly, I have faith that even if my relationship won’t be like my parents’, it will be equally as wonderful. I have faith that I’ll make it to a 40th anniversary—I’ll just be a little older when I get there. And what out there is cuter than an old couple holding hands?
To ring in 2011, I decided to start a Twitter account, @iamdaterx. Follow me to read new columns, and to get my random dating and sex thoughts on a daily basis. And if you ever want to email me, hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org. Dating is hard, so let’s help each other through it, mkay?