Married 38 years today. How did this happen?
Like most of the things that have turned out to be good ideas in my life, including VIDEO WATCHDOG, it wasn't entirely my idea.
When we were 19 and 18 respectively, Donna and I had both left our respective homes and found an apartment near the University, only to discover that our landlord -- Lou Franklin was his name -- was not inclined to rent his mousey efficiencies to unmarried couples. Of course it was none of his business; either one of us could have taken the apartment as an individual and left him none the wiser, but we were both so young... I suppose we were accustomed to our elders telling us what to do, and doing just that.
My mother gave us the $25 for our marriage license. Donna was relaxed and confident and loving on our wedding day, while I was... "apprehensive" is a good word. There's a picture of me walking out of the office of the Justice of the Peace with my arms upheld, like a man under arrest -- I meant it as a joke, and it did get laughs, but you know... it occurred to me, and so there probably was some furtive truth in that expression. I still am apprehensive in some ways because, funnily enough, I don't really believe in marriage, unless people want to start a family. Instead, I believe in friendship, and if I have one of the best marriages it's been my privilege to observe, it's because I married my best friend -- someone I first got to know through letter-writing, which let us become deeply attached without the usual distractions of physical concerns like whether or not we were the other's "type." I always thought I would end up with someone with dark hair. Go figure.
We are both aware of aging into a kind of advertisement for marriage and true love, and giving some of our younger acquaintances hope that it's possible to meet and stay with someone for a lifetime. We find this sweet and funny, and perhaps a bit naive. Because no marriage is a cakewalk. Let me amend that: no conscious
marriage is a cakewalk. Ours was probably as close to one as you can imagine until we began working together in 1990. Working together means we often have to put our professional life as co-workers before our interests as husband and wife; it sometimes means disappointing each other, contradicting each other, yelling at each other, being impatient with each others' (all too predictable, after 38 years) human failings and frailties. Sometimes we make the dread mistake of talking business in the bedroom.
People often remark that we were made for each other, yet there are vast areas of life in which we don't connect. It must admit it bothers me that we don't share many of those interests where I am most myself and most fulfilled... but how wonderful it is that she loves me anyway, and this is also the gift I give to her. And you know what I've noticed from other relationships? Shared passions don't last. They are potent, ardent and all-consuming, and either burn out or press on to something still more incendiary, like jealousy or hate. If you're asking me, if you want a relationship that will last, don't base your commitment to one another on mutual passions; base them instead on your character, your sense of humor, your shared frames of reference, the ways you look at everyday life -- because it's on those levels where you have the greatest chance of remaining the same person for the rest of your life. That's the constant you who is capable of making and keeping a promise of constancy.
What's it like to be together this long? At some point, you begin to recognize that you're held together as much by time as by love. We remember the same things (though she corrects the way I remember them); we've experienced the same triumphs and losses, the same pleasures and grievings; we've been the picture takers at each other's great moments, and we've fought side by side the yearly, monthly, daily, hourly war that is life all this time. And yet somehow, before any of this happened, there was something binding in our fine print, a promise even greater than the one we initially made to each other. To wit: Who could have guessed that, throughout my now-40 year career as a writer, Donna -- of all people -- would become my most valued and important professional associate? How could I have known that this funny little Munchkin from Western Hills, who drew fetchingly eye-lashed smiley faces at the end of her letters, would become the one person in the whole universe capable of designing MARIO BAVA ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK? Who would do everything to keep the business of VIDEO WATCHDOG running that I could not personally do? How could I have known that she would someday be able to market my work with greater success than either Dell or Simon and Schuster could? And how could she, The Monkees' #1 fan, have known that this shy, bookish boy from Norwood would someday work for Michael Nesmith and show her the path to her first hug from Davy Jones? It's a mystery, in which the only real certainty is the friendly face that looks back at me in the midst of it.
Of course, being with someone you love is no guarantee against loneliness; it's no guarantee that your heart will never break again. But it does (or should) mean that you don't have to go through life's tests and beatings all alone, because there is always a hand waiting to accept yours in the dark, and it's there for you whether it's awake or asleep. This is a way of life I can recommend.
Living with her these past 38 years has been an adventure in gratitude, and I just felt like saying that.
How did this happen? Just lucky, I guess.