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Marriage

What My Parents’ 58-Year Marriage Can Teach Us

wedding cake

My parents just celebrated their 58th wedding anniversary.

My mom was born in Brooklyn and raised in Queens, and my dad was born and raised in Brooklyn’s Coney Island neighborhood. Their grandparents were Eastern European Orthodox Jews who spoke only Yiddish. They each still utter Yiddish words every now and then, grasping for a culture that is fading like an old photograph.

They met on a blind date. Being typical 1950s teenagers, my dad wore jeans and a white T-shirt with a pack of cigarettes rolled up in his sleeve, and my mom wore a skirt, matching cardigan, and penny loafers. A few of her sweaters survived over the years, and I loved wearing them in high school.

Set up by mutual friends, they met at a bowling alley. My mom says she remembers sitting on Dad’s lap and thinking he might be “the one.” My dad says he thought Mom was cute, and hoped for a second date. Months later, they became engaged at my dad’s brother’s wedding. As my mom tells it, while enjoying their first course of chicken noodle soup, my dad proposed and she accepted. Then they continued on with their meal. I adore my father, but I wouldn’t recommend he teach a course on storybook proposals. But his soup-ladled—I mean laden—proposal worked. They married a year later, in September of 1959.

The 1960s were spent having four children (faw gawgiss dawtas they said, in their deep New York accents), purchasing their first home on Long Island and spending summer weekends at our tiny cabana at Point Lookout Beach. They also had a rich social life consisting of bowling (like on their first date!), playing cards with family and friends, going out for dinner and dancing, and doing charity work for the organization that saved my mom from severe asthma as a child. In the early 1970s, they made a huge life decision: They moved the family across the country to Colorado—the place where my mom (for the most part) overcame her asthma.

Up until this point, I don’t recall my parents ever fighting. That’s not to say they didn’t, just that I have no memories of it. But that seemed to change as time wore on. Their arguments made me sad and angry. Like every child, I wished for a fairy-tale life filled with perfect friendships, the idea of a perfect future on which to steer me happily through childhood, and especially, a perfect family. But like dressing up as a princess (which was one of my favorite childhood things to do), those ideals were pure fantasy.

When I was in high school, I urged my mom to leave my dad. They were fighting a lot, and it wasn’t good for anyone. Much to my chagrin, she stuck with him. For me as a teenager, that was impossible to understand. I knew what was best for my parents, and I believed they should separate. I couldn’t understand why my mom chose to stay. She was a strong woman, but to me, this was a sign of weakness. (PSA: If you have a question, ask a teenager. They know everything.)

Of course, she knew what was right for her and her marriage. She wasn’t weak at all. In fact, it would have been easier to leave, and it took great strength to stick it out. Like all marriages, theirs experienced a rough patch. Since then, my parents have experienced many more rough patches, along with severe health issues (my mom with breast cancer, my dad with heart issues). But they’ve also shared immeasurable joy through the marriages of all faw of their gawgiss dawtas and the birth of seven beautiful, healthy grandchildren.

So, what have I learned from my parents’ 58-year-marriage? I’ve learned that the crazy-in-love early stage doesn’t last forever, and that’s fine. I’ve also learned marriage can be hard, and that’s OK, too. Anything worth having is worth fighting for (obviously this doesn’t apply to relationships where real abuse or damage is occurring).

And I’ve learned it’s easy to give up, but giving up can be heart-wrenching, not only to the two people directly involved, but to their children, relatives, and friends. The ripple effects of choosing to walk away from a marriage that could have been repaired, are infinite. It’s far better to hold on tight, trust in each other, and do the hard work to see things through.

My parents’ long marriage has taught me that marriage is precious, even when things aren’t as great as they “could” or “should” be. They’ve taught me to honor and respect my partner, to be responsible for continuing to fall in love, and to apologize, even when I don’t think something’s my fault. Why? Because it’s better to be happy than to be right.

Keep talking. Keep holding hands. Keep having fun together. Don’t lie or keep secrets. Remember the magnificence of the person you fell in love with, and know that their splendor is not only still there, but has magnified over time. (If you don’t see it sometimes, that’s more of a reflection on you than your partner. Keep looking, but be careful. The brilliance may knock you off your feet!) And what may be the biggest lesson of all: Don’t jump ship when your marriage hits a rough patch.

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