The National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University announced recently that only seven 7% of current United States marriages last to celebrate their Golden Jubilee.
My wife, Shirley, and I are about to join that rarefied group when we celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary Friday.
This considerable event represents our sharing the past 18,250 days, 438,000 hours, 26,280,000 minutes together since we married in the Unitarian church in Rockford, Ill., in 1969.
We wrote our brief vows. We didn’t want to bore or put to sleep. Our words held significance to us then as now:
As Robert Frost said, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there/They have to let you in.”
This is simply a wedding. Two people deciding that life can hold more meaning when you’re two instead of one.
What is marriage? Marriage is more than a permanent maintenance pact, more than a child-rearing protection pact, and more even than a mutual security (or insecurity) pact. Marriage is the commitment of two people with drives and dreams, rhythms and perhaps neuroses that interlock to an adventure in loving that is indestructible as long as it is unforced.
The ring is a symbol of unity in a fractious world. A unity of trust, a unity of tolerance, a unity of shared love for one another and a unity of love that will come to encompass our ever-expanding orbit.
What an adventure in loving it’s been and continues to be, made ever richer by decades of life-enhancing experiences and relationships with family and friends.
Not infrequently as the decades collect, Shirley and I are asked by friends and acquaintances what our “secret” is for a long marriage.
In truth, there are no “secrets.”
Why has our “commitment” to one another, and our marriage survived over the decades when so many other unions have not is one of those “sweet mysteries of life.”
“Marriage and divorce are both common experiences,” declares the American Psychological Association. “In Western Cultures, more than 90 percent of people marry by age 50” and “about 40 to 50 percent of married couples in the United States divorce.”
The San Diego law firm, Wilkinson & Finkbeiner posts on its website, “Divorce Statistics: Over 115 Studies, Facts, and Rates for 2018” that reports “Every thirteen seconds there is a divorce in America.” That “equates to 277 divorces per hour, or 6,646 divorces a day,” adding the somber reality that “first marriages last (only) about eight years.” The leading cause for the high divorce rate, the law firm attests, is “lack of commitment.”
The other day, I asked Shirley why she thought our marriage has not only survived but thrived. With little pause, she responded with a laugh, “I don’t know. I guess I’ve been desperate over the years!”
“Yes, your desperation has been my great good fortune,” I responded. “But be serious for a moment,” I pressed.
“Well, I suppose the answer in large part involves all the tropes — beginning with patience, empathy, shared interests, and values, treasuring the good times and jettisoning the edgy times. Your yielding to my wishes most of the time is certainly a great help, too,” she ended with a broad smile.
Her responses also included a key to our enduring relationship: employing humor.
Said differently, we’ve found truth and solace in our wedding vows — “Two people deciding that life can hold more meaning when you’re two instead of one.”
Todd Tarbox, author of several books including “Orson Welles and Roger Hill: A Friendship in Three Acts,” lives in Colorado Springs.