When someone proposed at a recent meeting of The East Hampton Star’s editorial staff that I might like to write about my 28-year marriage, I said, somewhat derisively, “You’ve got to be kidding.” And everyone laughed.
Actually, I hadn’t heard what the subject was to be; it’s my generic response to anything that has to do with one of our supplements.
And now that I’ve sat down to think about it, and about what goes into a good marriage — what makes it work, as it were — I’m still dubious. I don’t know that you can deconstruct it, that you can speak of marriage as if it were a Lego set.
I know one thing, having been married twice: It’s a crapshoot. That you have succeeded the second time (I’ve read that most second-timers don’t) has a lot to do with luck, though experience teaches you what to want.
I don’t know. . . . There’s a certain way she smells, the way she feels, the warm curve of her neck, the way she looks, especially with her high, intelligent forehead and perfectly shaped nose in profile . . . her true blue eyes. . . . I could go on in this vein, but perhaps that’s enough, this being a family newspaper.
No, no, one more thing. We all think when we’re younger that “the excitement,” as Frank McCourt referred to it, is the be-all and end-all. And yes, of course it is delightful and mysterious — and thus, to my mind, not to be analyzed overmuch — but I tell you, those of you who might tend to doubt that old people can be lovers, there’s great delight in merely touching. There’s a thrill in just that.
And then there’s delight in just being with the one you love. That’s the mental part and, frankly, a very important part when you’re speaking of a love and friendship that lasts.
Of course, it’s not always bliss. There will be disconnections, misunderstandings, slights, pouting, and full-throated recriminations of Vesuvian proportions even among those who most hours of the day ride the same wave length. But the storms, whose origins often can be traced to the archipelagos of childhood, pass — if you want them to. And with perspective, you’ll probably laugh about them some day.
I have my late father and stepmother to thank for this next: that if you love someone you will let that person do what he or she wants to do. Constraint, whether overt or covert, will not further love’s course. Resentments will build and love will ultimately die. Reform is not the answer. Think of your spice (plural for spouse), let them be, and love will flower.
I wrote a poem about that early on in our marriage:
I know this about love
that you must always be willing to let it go
that it is delicate, like a bird,
who, if you are worthy,
will alight, and re-alight,
that it is a most wonderful
disarming, not expecting, commingling
alight and re-alight
we live from day to day
no longer hopeful, wistful, resigned
who would have expected it?
we laugh about that, and many
Which brings me to the most important thing: Laughter is the straw that stirs the drink, at least in our experience. Mirth is frequently my preferred response to the human condition, yet it can lighten and refresh the spirits of kindred souls.
And keep in mind, as Dante, who had a great love, said (it’s on my bulletin board): “How brief a blaze a woman’s love will yield if not relit by frequent touch and sight.”
I intend not to let that blaze go out.
And remember: If you want your marriage to have legs, keep on your toes.
In the Quakers’ Grove
In the winter of 1984, Jack Graves, who is The Star’s senior writer and editor by far, having joined the staff in October of 1967, and who had been a bachelor for six years following a divorce, met a new member of the production department at her typesetting machine. Her name was Mary Anderson — and the rest is history.
Mary was leery of an office romance. Besides, she thought his advances would cease once he learned that she had 4-year-old twins.
Nevertheless, he invited them all to dinner at a small house he had rented on Floyd Street. The twins trashed the place, but he didn’t care. She did, however, and duly admonished them, after which she said, “Thank God I don’t want to date him!”
Yet they remained friends through thick and thin throughout the following year, and, in the end, his invincible surmise proved true and love blossomed.
Jack and Mary married themselves at the Quakers’ grove on Shelter Island, in March, 1985, the twins, Johnna and Georgie, cooing “kiss the bride” as M & Ms — which served in place of communion wafers — dribbled down the sides of their grinning mouths. The late Shep Frood made it official in their back yard on August 22 of that year.