9 Truths About Later-in-Life Marriage
Here are the secrets to making it work
by Nancy Davidoff Kelton, AARP
Dear Readers: I am writing about the pandemic and will probably post what comes out of me here, but now want to share the below essay that was in AARP's Disrupt Aging on March 11, 2020. Stay safe. xxx n
My husband, Jonathan, has a receding hairline. I have receding gums. I was 60 when I met him. He was 59. Between us, we have three ex-spouses, three adult children, four deceased parents, nine doctors and dentists, and too many deceased friends.
Michael Caine attributes his marital happiness to two bathrooms. Two bathrooms help. So do the following:
1. Therapy. As we lingered at my door at the end of our first date, Jonathan told me his age. I mentioned I was a little older. He said he would tell his therapist. On a subsequent date, I asked what made him let me know right away he was in therapy. He said he found it easy to talk to me, assumed I would be pleased and was in or had had therapy, and he thought it was no big deal. Right! Not only no big deal but important and useful for no-big-deal issues. We both believe in therapy, had much before we met and go for booster shots.
2. Discussing discomforts and feelings as they arise. Despite our ease together, our marriage requires work — ongoing work. We share what bothers us right away (I do) and calmly (Jonathan does). We don't let things slide except when we should. For example, I am Oscar to Jonathan's Felix. Whether my clutter and piles don't bother him or he knows I'm not tidying up, he doesn't bring up my messiness. But when we feel unheard or erased by each other or by other people, we discuss that and how to deal with it, change it, and protect ourselves and each other. A blessing at our age and stage: We do not feel obliged to oblige family members when it is uncomfortable, and we avoid situations and gatherings that bring discomfort.
3. Balancing intimacy and space. I love our time together. I love our time apart. Having lived on my own for years and requiring much solitude as a writer and human being, I constantly juggle the two and work on being present where I am. It requires planning, prioritizing, compromise and patience, like all aspects of our relationship. On our 16-day Southwest road trip, with hours of togetherness in the car and at each stop, I took out my laptop and caucused with my muse. Jonathan excused himself for long periods to take pictures. We planned hikes together and walks apart. At home, we juggle independence and togetherness.
4. Self-acceptance. I would not call it self-love; self-acceptance or self-knowledge is more like it. Aging, reflection, therapy, just plain living, meditation, being too tired to beat up on myself, and embracing my quirks, idiosyncrasies and individuality allow me to embrace Jonathan. Maybe it is a chicken-and-egg thing. We get each other. We embrace each other. That helps us to embrace ourselves.
5. A sense of humor. My longtime friend Cindy, who had met most if not all of the men I dated, said upon meeting Jonathan, “He laughs at everything you say.” Jonathan appreciates how I see and say it — and vice versa. I saw the twinkle in his eyes right away. My parents were funny. They applauded funny. Cleanliness was hardly next to godliness in my family of origin or in the family I made. A sense of humor was and is on top, getting us through difficulties and pain.
6. Compatibility. Our temperaments could not be more different (thank goodness), but our interests, values and food preferences are the same. Family comes first. We both love our work and love to work. We love reading, the theater and Scrabble.
7. Chemistry. That inexplicable something was there the first time I saw Jonathan's face. Nothing more to say. Actually, there is, with the next two items.
8. Kindness. Jonathan's sex appeal includes kindness. It's in his eyes. Oh, yes! He majored in giving and gives from his heart. I cannot think of a more powerful aphrodisiac than kindness and a generosity of spirit.
9. Urgency. The lyric “Enjoy yourself/It's later than you think” is getting louder. Why spend time arguing, being right or proving a point? I am filled with gratitude every day and in every way that, at 60, I found my special someone. As Sinatra sang, “But now the days are short, I'm in the autumn of my year."
Yes. And not many seasons to waste.