Thursday, February 6, 2014

This marriage thing ... it's not that easy

The happy couple (most of the time) after 37 years of marriage
(photo taken last November; we look different than we did in 1977).
        It is our Monday morning routine and we are at one of our grocery-store stops when after one of my smart remarks, Beatrice says to me, "Shut up."
       One of the checkout guys is laughing. "Sounds like love to me," he says, and now I'm laughing, too. Bea, not so much at first. But a moment later, she too thinks it's funny.
        It is love; it really is. When you have been married for 37 years -- and today is that anniversary, thank you -- you have a lot of moments like this. Just shut up, and take it.
       Here is what I have found out over the years, a real surprise: Marriage is not easy. A relationship with a spouse is not easy. Relationships of any sort take work, but especially if you're living with this person.
        I am writing this with her approval. And she not only is helping me write part of it, she will be proofreading and editing. Let's be clear about who's in charge here.
        I always think of Coach James Farrar, the wise man who left us 16 months ago who used to say often, with a laugh: Any man who says he's the boss at his house will lie about a lot of other things, too..
        I'm just kidding. We actually take turns being the boss, making the decisions we need to make together. Except when Bea really has her mind made up.
        I would not trade, though. This has been the most fulfilling, the most exasperating, the most complete experience of my life. Would I do it again? With her, yes. But I know, after 37 years, I would do it a helluva lot better.
        We have survived this -- somehow -- because we have grown ... a lot. And I can say that I had a lot more growing to do than she did. After all, she had been married for 10 years already before Sunday, Feb. 6, 1977.
        I was so happy to bring her and Jason, a month short of 3, into my life, giving my parents a daughter-in-law and grandson just like that. And I filled a need for them. When Rachel came along two years later, we had a complete family.
        But, no matter how prepared I thought I was at age 29, I wasn't. There was so much to learn about being married, and it took me a long, long time to learn a lot of it.
        Wait, I'm still learning every day.
        But this marriage barely survived, mostly because of my stupidity. You don't need the details.
        Had we not left Shreveport-Bossier in 1988, it might not have survived. No offense to Shreveport-Bossier because I love the place, but we needed a change of scenery, a fresh start of sorts.
        We've had to have a few more restarts in other places, and we've had to leave jobs and friends and homes behind, but here we are in "senior citizens" territory, in a place we love (Fort Worth), with a regular routine, with plenty of interests and places to visit locally, with our kids grown and with their own spouses and kids.
        We're an hour from our son, daughter-in-law and two grandsons and a phone call and Facetime away from our daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter.
        Life is good, except for those days -- or hours or minutes -- when it's still a battle.
        Yeah, we still have our moments. There are times when we just don't agree, when words get heated, when tempers rise, when we're back in the old behavior.
        Can't deny it. I've learned a lot about marriage in 37 years; I haven't learned everything.
        But eventually we can calm down and talk it out, talk it through, reach a peace agreement.
        We continue to evolve; we continue to make changes.
        In the past five years, we have moved to an apartment and downsized, we've operated with only one car -- and bought a new one -- and we have shed a lot of possessions we no longer value as we once did.
        She's taught me so much, in so many areas -- about acceptance and tolerance, about balance, about giving. About books, the local museums, cooking (I'm still an amateur), clothes, cleaning, caring for kids and grandkids. She says I've taught her a lot, certainly about newspaper work; it was special when we both worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel. We've learned a lot together.
        We worry about each other's health; she is a colon cancer survivor of 12 years, thank God. When I was having blurred vision and stomach issues (as in, it was too big), we found out that a better/healthier diet could fix those problems.
        We have worked hard on eating healthier, dropping much of the guilty pleasures. And we each try to exercise regularly.
        We think alike on a lot of social/political issues, probably more liberal than many of our old friends. But we have our differences. For instance, she's an early riser; she goes to bed much earlier than I do. I'm a night person because I worked nights all those years. But I'm getting better at rising early.
        Still, she likes her space in early mornings. So do I. But we do try to start each day with a hug and a kiss. That's nice.
        I do like to take my walks through the neighborhoods; she prefers exercising in the apartment workout room.
        She's an eclectic reader, loves to watch PBS shows or the Science Channel or the Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer, Michio Kaku, Oprah Winfrey deep-thought shows. I tend to stick to sports or biographies or political books and shows.
        She's become completely anti-football; I am becoming anti-NFL but not yet ready to give up the college and high school games. She loves the NBA; I can root for the Mavericks, but don't care about the rest of the league. I still love baseball and one particular team; she doesn't care at all.
        (Oh, and I wouldn't trade her? Well, my team does need a solid third baseman right now.)
        We don't have, I believe, an "old" mind-set; we think the world today is so much better, more advanced than in "the good old days." OK, we were lost quite a bit watching the Grammys and we don't do reality shows ... unless Dancing With The Stars fits that category.
        But we're still willing to travel. The trip to Holland last year -- her idea originally -- was spectacular. We have some U.S. destinations on the wish list, including the annual fall trip to Knoxville, Tenn., and we have our local stops (Bass Hall, book-club meetings, the library, the occasional eating-out trip).
        Here's what you learn about marriage: You learn to share and sacrifice, and do what you can to keep that other person happy. And when that becomes difficult, you learn to find something to keep  yourself happy.
        Also, don't ever think this is easy. It still takes work every day.
        We're proud of each other, and we're proud that we've made it this far. It feels good; it feels like an achievement.
        I think we can make it another 37 ... minutes, maybe, if I survive the posting of this blog.
        Well, 37 hours, or 37 weeks, or 37 months. How's that? That's three more years; that would be 40 years. We'll check back then, and hopefully, Bea will be here to help write and proofread the blog on that one. And I'll just shut up.


  1. From David Henington: Excellent post. One of the most brilliant things y’all have done is downsizing and cleaning out. Was it difficult?
    I have cleaned out grandparents’ stuff and both of my parents’ stuff. Brutal. So much we did not know what to do with. And good grief, the stuff people keep!

  2. From Doug Bland: As my wife's aunt use to say: She has earned those jewels in her crown over the 37 years.

  3. From Raleigh Whitehead: Yep, Sue and I have been married over 44 years. We laugh a lot. Mostly at me and the things I say and do. I don't mind. Coming home from work is my refuge. A place to forget that I have to get up at 4:15 the next morning and start all over again with getting up and making the commute into the office by 6 a.m. One of these days I'm going to quit working, stay at home and let Sue chase me until she catches me. Pretty good plan.

  4. From Tommy Youngblood: Nice story. We married in '67 if you can believe it. She still looks down her nose at Fair Park. Some things never change.

  5. From Dr. Bob Haley: Your latest blog concerning 37 years of marriage contains pearls of wisdom that hopefully we have learned along the way. I remember reading that if you have a good marriage, you really shouldn't ask for much else. For those of us who have found the right spouse -- well, we are blessed. Not totally without challenges, but it makes the road much smoother.

  6. From Joyce Craft Bridges: Marriage is NOT easy, but neither is rearing children. But both are worth the work. Congratulations on 37 years.

  7. From Sandra Groves Timmons: Love this! My husband and I will be teaching a class on marriage to a group of couples, and this blog fits perfectly with one of the topics. With your permission, I would love to share this with our group.

  8. From Elsa Van Thyn: Jim always says, when we got married it was decided he would make all the big decisions and I would make the little ones. He claims that in 33 years, we have never had to make any big decisions.

  9. From Bea Van Thyn (reposting this piece on Facebook): Reposting my sweetheart's words and having to confess that he pretty much has the facts and the emotions spot-on. No question, I love him even more than I could have imagined all those years earlier.

  10. From Lola Shaw Hammett (Bea's aunt): Nico still has a flair for writing. Quite a tribute. He is so right "This marriage thing is not easy." As I learned in my marriage of 45-plus years and told my. children, marriage doesn't just happen because you say I do. You have to work at it every single day. Happy anniversary, you two. I think you will have many more happy years.