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Still reaching for his hand

Jul 12, 2012 - By Betty Starks Case

My mate and I mark 70 years of marriage

With the recent public announcement of my mate's and my long marriage, the cat's out of the bag and the genie is out of the bottle, as they say.

And readers can probably come close to guessing the age of this column's creator.

So my longtime mate and I decided we'd better prepare ourselves for the often-posed question: "What is the secret of such a long marriage?"

A friend tried to simplify it for me by offering this condensed response: "I was there and now I'm here."

Author James Thurber suggests a more detailed version, and I'm going to run with it: "Love is what you've been through with somebody."

Surprise! There is no secret. And if there was, and I'd shared it, there'd still be no secret, right?

We once thought there was something magical about our union, a fairly common view in newlyweds. But we refused to accept the theory that we were just lucky or happened to get a mate uniquely suited to our personalities.

To begin, we didn't conduct tests to determine our "sleep number." I'm not sure what that is. But it suggests a similarity to the one a mattress company promises its users -- a search for the perfect match. A sad mistake, since in this test the match is more apt to be found in the head and heart.

What we did expect was a life together. A good life, one we could make, with the commitment we called "our marriage" held at the top of our priorities.

Discussing the longevity matter at breakfast one recent morning, we came to this conclusion: Neither of us ever really let go of the other's hand, symbolically or otherwise.

That doesn't mean we never quarreled or suffered hurt feelings. But wouldn't it be hard to stay angry when you are so accustomed to reaching for the other's hand?

There's a pull there -- one that hurts when you try to deny it for almost any reason.

Author Judith Viorst suggests, "One advantage of marriage is that when you fall out of love, it keeps you together until you fall in again."

Of course, that doesn't work for many couples. But sometimes, maybe, they just didn't give it enough time. For a commitment participated in by so many, doesn't a failure rate of nearly 50 percent in first marriages and 60-80 percent in second tries, sound pretty high?

There are remedies -- simple but effective, if applied often.

Like the day I drove 150 miles in an old '53 Chevy to meet him at a motel to tell him, "I'm sorry."

Like the night he slept on a blanket on the floor beside our bed because I'd had shoulder surgery and he was afraid he might hurt me, but was also afraid to leave.

Our relationship wasn't always like that.

In high school, when we were still trying to figure out what life wanted us to do, we dated and broke up several times. He gave me a gold locket with the letter "B" engraved on the front, surrounded by swirls that looked to me like a "C" for Case. Then he dumped me for a "city girl."

I was sure my heart was broken.

My dad explained that my boyfriend may love me but wasn't old enough to recognize it, that when and if he really loved me, he'd know it beyond all doubt. Therefore, I should put on a smile and date other boys.

I did. But I was still waiting for him.

And guess what? My dad was right.

Sometime later at a dance, his older sister, sitting on a bench at intermission, pulled me onto her lap, then jumped up and gave me a push. I landed right in his arms, just as she (and he?) had planned.

But as God's Little Instruction Book says, "Success in marriage is more than finding the right person. It's becoming the right person."

And marriage, I once read, is our last, best chance to grow up.

Doesn't it seem that we should grow up first? Yet, maybe this long marriage grew and lasted because we began young and never let ourselves think we'd graduated from the school of marriage instruction.

Finally, I'd offer this last bit of advice from author Mignon McLaughlin, "A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person."

That, I believe, can happen. Especially, if you never stop reaching for each other's hand.

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