How to Stay Married

Just Married
which anniversary is this?

Over the last couple of weeks, when invitations to various events came our way for December 19, I would reply, “Sorry, can’t be there; it’s our anniversary.”

Each time the response is “Which one?”

“Fifty-ninth,” I tell them.

The reactions differ from “Wow,” to “Wonderful,” to “Amazing,” but the most frequent is a question, “What’s your secret? How did you keep your marriage going strong for so many years?”

It’s not a new question. A newlywed couple asked us that exact question on our fifteenth anniversary!

the secret to staying married

Over the years, I’ve pondered the query and tried to answer it honestly. Maybe I needed the answer for myself as much as for my listeners. For the first twenty years, I usually replied, “Make time just for each other every single day.” This was a promise we made to one another around the fifth month of our life together because I realized one evening that I hadn’t “seen” Jay for two days. Sure, we had slept in the same bed, but I was asleep by the time he got home at night, and I left for work before he woke in the morning. Both of us worked and were in school. Our only free time was Sunday. Even then, most of the hours after morning Mass, we spent studying-he was in a corner of the living room with his law school buddies and me curled up in our bed.

every marriage depends on compromise

On the night of my ah-ha moment, Jay found me in the living room, wide awake at eleven o’clock. When he quietly shut the door behind him and saw me, he was startled. “Are you okay?”

“No.” I said. “We need to talk.”

Seeing how upset I was, he sat on the couch beside me, wrapped his arm across my shoulders, and hugged me. And I cried. In between sobs, I told him how lonely I was. “We spent more time together when we were dating than we do now,“ I said. “Is our marriage old hat already?”

He gave me a deep kiss and murmured, “I doubt it.”

“Okay then,” I said, “We need to spend more time together.”

“But Yulsey, we have impossible schedules. How are we going to do that?”

“I’ve been thinking,” I told him. “Although our days are crazy, we could have breakfast together. But…” I hesitated.

He nodded. “I’d have to get up before you leave for work.”

“Right. Could you do that? I’ll get up early and make really nice breakfasts.”

His response was, “When you look at me with those deep blue eyes of yours, I’d agree to anything.”

good marriages must be flexible

It often took some complicated juggling as we graduated school, took on new jobs, had four children, and moved several times, but breakfast remained sacred for us right until our twenty-fifth anniversary. By then we had added a once-a-week date night.

Then the children grew up. They moved out of our family home. Our job stresses lessened. We had more time for vacations and weekends away. The breakfast and date night rituals gradually drifted away. Now we are retired and spend much more time together than away from each other. Our love story has come full circle because now we can have all the time we want with one another.

The twilight marriage

This doesn’t mean we can’t drift into routines where our daily paths don’t cross very often. Jay’s continuing vivid interest in politics has him watching several newscasts every day and reading TIME religiously. Our garden also occupies hours of his day even in the winter. (Don’t ask me what he finds so engrossing out there!) This computer of mine keeps me glued to my desk as I pursue writing for hours a day as I yearned to do in those years when I taught and cared for our children. We no longer share breakfast every morning, but we always meet for lunch.

Best of all, every night is date night now. At 5:30, we put away the day’s tasks and join each other in the living room for an evening cocktail and an hour’s chat about all sorts of things. Then we savor an uninterrupted dinner. Although much of our conversation becomes nostalgic as we recall the crazy, chaotic, glory years of raising of wondrous children.

good marriages depend on grace

Our secret remains-Spend as much time as you can together. In our heart of hearts, we know this has been possible for us because a loving God has gloriously graced us.

Have Wedding Invitation, Will Travel

Proposal on a signpost
Hooray for happily ever after!
Wedding with balloons
Photo by Alvaro CvG

Everyone, it is often claimed, loves a wedding. What’s not to love?! Marriage celebrations are the culmination of a real-life fairy tale. For a brief, few shining hours, a whole community of randomly gathered folks fervently believe in “happily ever after.”

It is, my contention, therefore, that as wedding plans sweep the country in a veritable flood in the coming months, they will lift high the spirits of not only hundreds of brides and grooms, but of thousands of excited invitees. I, alas, have not received any wedding invitations for the coming season, but listening to the plans of others evokes delightful memories of my own. Sharing the blessed moment when a young couple pledges to love one another “until death do us part,” has taken me to about every state in the U.S.A. The farthest and most adventurous wedding journey my family and I ever took, however, led us to a small town in southern Poland.

one girl’s american adventure

The bride, a former nanny for our grandson Bryce, honored us with this invitation. Mariola had come to New England, as a young college student, to strengthen her English language skills. She supported herself by helping our daughter Betsy care for two-year old Bryce. My husband Jay and I visited Boston frequently in those days so that our grandson would know us as he grew up. That year we also came to know and love Mariola.

Bridal bouquetTwice Mariola brought Bryce to Chicago to visit us. On one of those occasions, she accompanied us to a friend’s wedding. On the way to the wedding, she insisted that we stop to buy flowers for the bride. She was quite flabbergasted to find out that guests did not shower American brides with flowers. Nevertheless, we stopped at a florist and as we greeted the happy couple following the ceremony, Mariola thrust a huge bouquet of golden roses into the bride’s arms. That young woman opened her eyes in wide surprise, but graciously smiled and gave a tentative thank you.

Bryce and Mariola, 2003
Bryce and Mariola, NYE 2003

Another time Mariola joined us when we vacationed with Bryce over the New Year’s holiday in Florida. In a very poignant moment, she telephoned her boyfriend back in Poland as we stood on a Florida rooftop.  The sun was just slipping into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, but over the phone we could hear midnight fireworks in Poland. Now five years later, Betsy, an eight-year-old Bryce, Jay, and I were traveling to her home country to witness her marriage to the young man who had been at the other end of the telephone line.

as long as we’re going, why not?

Our daughter Betsy was born a party girl. (She is the one that was delivered at six PM on a Saturday night by a doctor in a tuxedo.) She decided to turn our trip to Mariola’s wedding into an adventure on a grand scale. We were to begin with a cruise on the Mediterranean.

Monkey on Gilbraltar Island
Photo by Lucas Cleutjens

The cruise added a host of enchanting destinations to our journey. We found every stop even more amusing because Bryce found unique ways to enjoy the famous sights. He mimicked a street performer in Barcelona. In Morocco, he played hide and seek in an ancient mosque with a crowd of local boys. On Gilbralter, a monkey stole his ice-cream cone. He also managed to charm many of the ship’s personnel, some of whom remembered him from a cruise we had taken three years before. (Yes, that’s another story I’ll have to share.)

a long dark ride into unknown territory

Our most risky venture was to come, however, after our plane landed in Warsaw. The late September sun was just setting as we picked up our rental car. We went through the usual anxious moments while Jay figured out the workings of the unfamiliar vehicle. Betsy rode in the front passenger seat with the GPS device she had acquired back home. Its program gave directions to the Polish roadways in English. As enlightened as this sounds, the results were not always what one would hope for and the Polish roadway system seemed (to us, at least) convoluted at best. I became incredibly grateful that at least we were dealing with the Roman alphabet in our attempts to discern street names.

Australian Shepherd
Photo by Yas Duchesene

Upfront you could cut the tension with a knife as father and daughter struggled to remain civil through one missed turn after another. In the back my eight-year-old grandson squirmed and twisted as he tried to find a way to get comfortable. It was a lost cause. Listening to me read would catch his attention and calm his restlessness, but it was too dark in the car to see the words on the page. Instead, I made stories up. For five hours, I spun one “Super-Bryce” story after another. Bryce’s dog Ranger, his beloved Australian Shepherd, played a key role in every tale. Each yarn featured one of the locales, which we had visited on our cruise. I do so wish I had been able to record the stories. They were crazy. Still, they would be fun to hear again.

we made it!

Periodically, Betsy would reach Mariola on her cell to assure her that although the trip from Warsaw was taking much longer than it should, we were coming. Finally, after many miles along a gravel road, a sign loomed up. Dukla it read. Mariola in a bathrobe with her hair in rollers stood beside the sign. Fog swirled around her legs. I felt like a character from Brigadoon had come to greet us. She was so relieved to see us she was in tears. We were too exhausted even for that.

Fortunately, comfortable beds awaited us at a quaint inn. We were asleep almost before we could undress because the festivities started at nine in the morning. It was already past midnight.  We were grateful for the sleep we managed to get. A Polish wedding, we found out, is a twenty-four-hour affair.

a beautiful beginning
Church wedding
Photo by Jeremy Wong

Bright and early, we joined Mariola, her finance, her family, and her godparents for breakfast at their family home. From there, the family solemnly processed through the village streets to a small but ornately decorated Catholic church. We sat, stood, and kneeled for two hours during the long religious rite the accompanied the exchange of the wedding vow. It was beautiful, but because it was in Polish it felt even longer than it was.

A marthon party
Drummer
Photo by Music HG

We weren’t the only ones getting antsy at the church. When I entered the reception hall, the guests appeared to me like a large group of oversized children just let out of school. Voices echoes loudly as people fought to be heard over the thundering of a brass band. Glasses clinked in toast after toast to the new couple. Dozens of people danced foot-stomping folk dances and laughed loudly as they gamboled.

 

 

fun for the whole family
Dancing at wedding
Photo by Mitchell Orr

And the children! All the village families had been invited and while it wasn’t a large village, every family had lots of kids. They ran and weaved among the dancers and around the long tables where guests sat enjoying the mounds of food on their plates. The hall sometimes served as an auditorium.

At one end was raised, curtained stage. At least fifty boys between the ages of six and eleven had a game going. They would run up the steps on the side of the stage, slip behind the curtain, burst from between the drapes, and launch themselves off the platform. Picking themselves up, they ran off and repeated the cycle. Bryce caught on to that right away and raced off to join them. When they finally tire of that game, he joined them for the rest of the evening. The fact that they spoke no English and he didn’t know Polish was no barrier at all.

one guest, one bottle
Bottles of Vodka on a table
Photo by Jacalyn Beales

Mariola made certain that her American guests did not suffer from a language barrier. She was now studying to become an English teacher. So, she seated us at a table with her university colleagues, all of whom spoke excellent English. That made it extremely comfortable for us and the girls were excited to learn about the U.S. Most of them were married. None of the husbands spoke English, but they chatted among themselves. Then as the evening wore on, we all drank deeper into the bottle of Vodka provided for each guest. It began to feel as though we did speak the same language.

feast without finish
Chafing dishes on buffet
Photo by Jonathan Borba

There was no official beginning and ending to the buffet. The food just kept coming. We filled our plates and ate our fill. Then we chatted, danced, and watched the children for a couple of hours. More food arrived. We helped ourselves to that and the band played on.

Mariola and her husband spend plenty of time with each guest and spent much of the evening in the center of the dance floor. By midnight we had been there for ten hours, and the crowd was not all diminished. If anything, more people who had had to come from farther away showed up. Around two in the morning, the nature of the food changed. Breakfast was served. Voices quieted. Some guests left. Children were taken home to bed.

goodnight, sleep very tight

That was our signal. Bryce had been asleep under the table for several hours by that time. Jay slung him over his shoulders. We hugged the bride and groom. As the sun rose over the Catra Mountains, we pulled the shades in our room and fell asleep.  It had certainly been a wedding to remember!

Does one wedding you attended stand out for you?  I’d love it if you write a bit about that in the comments.

Sunrise over mountains
Photo by Francis Gunn

 

Most Unexpected of All Things

Tender moment - elder couple
Life’s Revolution

Leon Trotsky is best known as vital leading figure in the Red victory in the Russian Civil War.  One would think that the outcome of that tumultuous time would strike him as the most unforeseen event of his lifetime. Yet, he actually claimed, “Old age is the most unexpected of all things that happen to a man.”

He was so right. We dream so many dreams when we are young, even dreams

Protestors amid fire
Photo by Hasan Almasi

of a grand revolution, but we never dream of becoming old. So, we are flabbergasted when we realize it has befallen us. In some ways, of course, it is a blessing in disguise. We cannot help but acknowledge that the only real alternative is considerably less appealing.

love beyond the grave

Being an elder is on my mind this week, both because yesterday was my father’s birthday and the anniversary of his death and because I’ve just finished reading Elizabeth Berg’s The Story of Arthur Truluv. Berg’s protagonist Arthur, an endearing widower, reminded me strongly of my dad. Both men recalled wives, who were challenging companions, with great fondness and kindness, a kindness that extended beyond death. Arthur goes daily to have lunch at his wife’s grave. My father gave up his lake cabin because it was too lonely without my mother. Both men invariably spoke well of their departed spouse.

Death did not sever the bond of marriage between Arthur and his wife Nola anymore than it did that between my parents, John and Peg. The relationship pattern that had kept their commitment strong through thick and thin continued. Their partner’s physical presence perished, but their spirit remained within the heart of the husbands they left behind.

fond memories

And those husbands continued to treat the wife of their memories with tender kindness. They didn’t do this by sanctifying them.  They could still admit to the flaws and idiosyncrasies of the women with whom they had spent more than sixty years. But they never spoke of them with disrespect or contempt.

As I read The Story of Arthur Trulove, memories of other elder couples I’ve loved flooded my heart and soul. I could see again my grandfather sneaking me sips of his rich, milky coffee and my grandmother scolding him, “Now you know, Ted, that baby doesn’t need coffee.”

“Ah, Minnie,” he’d reply. “It’s more mile and sugar than coffee.  It’ll put roses in her cheeks.” My grandmother would sigh and I could feel the electricity that sparkled in the smile they exchanged.

Sixty-year romance

When Nola in the book is in her last illness, I remembered my Uncle Jim and his wife Betty. Theirs was a relationship I witnessed from beginning to end because when I was ten, my grandmother set me up to chaperone my young uncle when he borrowed the family car for a ride with his girlfriend. I thought Betty with her dark page boy and luminous brown eyes was as glamorous as a movie star.  They probably could have dumped me at a soda fountain for all I cared.  But they didn’t.

Sixty years later, my uncle suffered a debilitating stroke. My aunt, devastated that he was too heavy for her to care for, allowed him to move to an excellent assisted living center. I was sometimes lucky enough to accompany her on her daily visits to the facility. Every afternoon she joined him for lunch and a one-sided conversation until he fell asleep.

When he died, she buried his ashes in their church garden so that he would be

Church garden
Photo by Samala Sarawathi

right there where she could visit every Sunday. Uncle Jimmy loved that church. It was such a great kindness on her part to bring him to rest where his favorite hymns would waft over him every week.

expect love

Newlywed couples receive the admonition, “Be kind to each other; treat each other with civility even in discord.” If as an elder couple, Jay and I live by that same maxim, we can hope that although we might not have anticipated being old, we did expect to be well-loved and in that we were not disappointed.

 

Have you read any books that sparked memories for you lately?

New Year, New Beginnings

Couple by the sea
happy new year!
New school year desk
Photo by Elements 5

Happy New Year! September 1, not January 1, is the true beginning of the new year. The year’s date doesn’t change, but the whole rhythm of life changes. For our youngest generation, those from age three to age twenty-one, it’s the start of a brand-new school year (Even in 2020 when most classrooms are virtual.) As the children head back to the classroom, their parents’ year renews itself as well. For the formative years of our lives, this was the month of new beginnings and by now the urge to “get going” in September is written in our DNA.

For thousands of adults, this is also the beginning of their professional year. Preschool teachers and graduate school professors are all welcoming a whole new set of students into their classrooms.  Even if they teach actually the same lessons this year as they did last (and most don’t), the new group of youngsters sitting in front of them will make this year unique.

Student, parent, teacher – I have lived all these roles over a period of sixty-Celebrating my birthdayeight years. That alone would be enough to ingrain a sense of September as a launching season deep in my soul. Add to all those years in classrooms or engaged with school activities, the additional detail that my birthday falls at the beginning of September and it becomes obvious why I’m shouting, “Happy New Year!”

new year, new-ish blog

That makes it time for me to review and renew this blog. When I constructed the website and began publishing the blog, I chose as my motif, “It Takes a Lifetime to Learn Love’s Lessons.” My intention was to focus the blog posts on life experiences that were for me opportunities to learn those lessons. In my stories, I hoped that my readers might find ideas, feelings, memories of their own that resonated with mine.

An unstated purpose I had in choosing this topic was to answer a question posed to me many times over the last forty years – ever since our tenth wedding anniversary. Since that time, my husband, Jay, and I have often been asked, “What’s the secret? How have you stayed happily married for so long?” The short answer is, “By accepting that a lot of the time we wouldn’t be “happily married.” But that’s not a very satisfying response.

possible pearls of wisdom

In this post, therefore, I’m offering seven tenets that show up pretty often when couples are asked how they’ve managed to stay together and be relatively happy over the years. From now on, I intend to weave the wisdom from these thoughts into my posts in a more deliberate manner. In my last post, I wrote that Jay and I have always tried to be “intentional” in our relationship, meaning we didn’t just assume it would take care of itself.

I’ve complied some thoughts from various authors that reflect what intentionality means to us .   https://everydaypower.com/marriage-quotes/

Couple pulling in different dirctions
Photo by Emma Frances Logan

I’ll start with one that should be obvious, but wasn’t to my husband when we married. Be aware –even happy couples fight. What ever disagreements Jay’s parents had with one another, they managed to keep their children from seeing these moments of discord.  So, my poor hubby thought we were headed for the divorce court the first time we started shouting at each other. It’s impossible for two people to live in such close intimacy all the time without getting on one another’s nerves some of the time. Lots more could be said about this, but here I’m just listing tenets.

We found, however, that one way to steer away from letting the arguments

Focus on what you love
Photo by RMlogo

rule is to intentionally focus on what we liked each other, to recognize what they were particularly good at and give them their head in certain areas. This may be a bit too traditional for some folks, but it worked for us.

As much as you love and really like one another, we discovered, you can’t be everything for your partner;  there will be some part of their ideal where you fall short. Sometimes we completely disappointed one another in this area. I

couple back to back
Photo by Ayo Ogunseinde

thought all men were handy – not true! Jay thought all women put on make-up first thing in the morning – also not true.

 

Yet, even everyday chores and errands can be fun

Couple cooking together
Photo by Soroush Karimi

because you share them. So, we choose to do some things together that could be done alone, like the Saturday morning shopping. And, although it took me a decade, I learned to love opera as much as Jay does.

 

Older couple embracing
Photo by lotte-meijer

This one is hard. Sometimes, we had to choose to be attracted to one another. Familiarity can breed contempt, but it doesn’t have to. Staying faithful to one another has never been difficult for us, but staying passionate about each other has taken work.

 

Have a good time with one another. Everyday life can weight us down. We

Couple on bikes
Photo by Everton Vila

purposely go to movies with happy endings and watch really silly films that have us laughing.  That shared laughter strengthens our bond, helps us get through the harder times. We’ve also begged on street corners together. Was it fun? Yep. More about that in a future post.

Man comforts woman
Photo by Alex Bocharov

Remember your kindergarten manners when you are together. Please and Thank You and all that good stuff our teacher and our parents taught us about how to be kind to others gets good practice right in our own kitchen and bedroom. Charity begins at home. Sometimes you are the only one who might be kind to your partner that day.

Celebrate all possible occasions.  Jay and I even Couple on merry-go-roundcelebrated the 500th month anniversary of our wedding day. We know and celebrate the date we first met – Nov. 4, the date he gave me his Notre Dame class miniature ring – Dec. 6, the date, he asked me to marry him – April 19. We spent hours one steamy, day when torrential rains kept us locked down in a tent in the middle of the African bush, making a list of the best things that had happened to us each year since we had been married. We are a unique couple.  There won’t ever be another committed partnership just like ours. That’s really special and deserves to be honored more than once a year.

Here’s the “tenets” in summary:

Accept that even happy couples argue – and not just even not and then.

Highlight what you like about each other.

Don’t try to be everything for one another.

Wedding rings
Photo by Sandy Millar

Choose with intention to stay attracted.

Have good times together.

Be kindest of all to your partner.

Celebrate YOU whenever possible.

 

I promise to shine intentional light on these topics in future blog posts.  I will put my life experiences under a literary microscope, searching for those times when as we encountered both the ordinary and the extraordinary moments of our everyday life, we navigated them by paddling through the rapids steering our course with these seven tenets.

Watch for these themes to be front and center in my upcoming blog posts.

Some exercises I developed in working with engaged couples demonstrate how intentionality works. You can find them on this website.  https://julewardwrites.com/radicalpromises-2/for-better-rather-than-worse-fun-fill-ins-for-couples

Do you have some tenets of your own, you’d like to add.  Please, write and tell me about them.

“Thus, the critical dimension in understanding whether a marriage will work or not, becomes the extent to which the male can accept the influence of the woman he loves and become socialized in emotional communication.”

John M. Gottman, Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/14734208.John_M_Gottman

Can Marriages Really Last a Lifetime?

Wedding rings
My Parents’ Marriage

For the first half century of my life, the end of summer meant one last celebration before summer was officially over –  My parents’ lifetime promise to one another, their wedding anniversary, August 31. They never commemorated it by going out just the two of them, but always at home with their children. As we grew older, my siblings and I would take the planning for the evening into our own hands. My brother John, born twenty months after me, and I took the lead. Our dad was a great cook and John followed in his footsteps. My main task, with the help of over willing younger sibs, was baking and decorating the cake. Because this occasion had always been a family feast, I was a teenager before I wondered why Mom and Dad didn’t chose to celebrate their anniversary in some more romantic manner.

Just you and me

Jule kisses Jay on NYE With few exceptions, from our first anniversary to our fiftieth, my husband Jay and I marked the day of our lifetime promise, December 19, with “just-the-two-of-us” dates.  The first exception was our sixth, the day we brought our second child, our daughter Carrie, home four days following her birth.  That lovely evening was still a quiet, intimate affair, shared only with the baby and her eighteen-month old sister. I sat in a comfy old high-backed upholstered chair, nursing the baby. Jay light the fire in our tiny fireplace and popped the cork on a bottle of champagne. He gathered Kristy in is arms. We sipped our wine and gazed at the fire, content with our laid-back salute to our love, which at that moment seemed best embodied in the reality of the two little girls on our laps.

romantic getaways

Yet, the date continued to be one that over the decades we chose to “get Jule and Jay on cruiseaway” to celebrate.  Sometimes, while the children were very young, the get away was simply dinner at a restaurant with food and ambiance the children couldn’t appreciate. Many years, we extended that into staying overnight in one of Chicago’s better hotels and spending the whole shopping on our beloved Michigan Avenue before dinner and a show.

Jule and Jay in ParisAs the kids and our marriage matured, to celebrate our promises to each other we fled our hometown. We took a train to New Orleans for our tenth anniversary and flew to Paris for our twentieth. Then, we were tragically grounded on our thirtieth by the accidental death of two of our closest friends. A funeral is a sobering way to commemorate an anniversary, but it most definitely strengthened our gratitude that we still had each other and could hope for many more years together. https://www.families.com/what-are-the-7-stages-of-marriage

holding it all together

Jay and I had not consciously decided to observe our anniversaries differently Jule and Jay at breakfastthan my parents had celebrated theirs. We just did. Now, as another summer ends, I remember as I do every late August my parents’ marriage. I suspect that many newlyweds felt as we did when they make that initial lifetime promise.  We see our parents’ marriage as somehow staid and boring. Or maybe, as lifeless and hostile. As kids, maybe we witnessed arguments and saw tears. Young and idealistic, we vow that the romance will never die in their relationship. We will always love one another as completely as we do today and with the same amount of passion.

what exactly is marriage?

Easier said than done, right? Was my marriage really that different than that of my parents? Or do all marriages simply follow a similar pattern of beginning on high hopes that fade as the years go by and we could no more escape that fate than escape the wrinkles and grey hair than came with the ensuing years? Can any promise really last a lifetime?  I don’t have a universal answer to the second question, but I have pondered the first and my honest response is that our marriage has been a very different he experience than the one my parents lived.  At the same time, many aspects of it are not just similar but almost identical.

Marriage is a complex social contract. https://www.thespruce.com/definition-of-marriage-2303011 If we look at the history of marriage, we see that before the modern era, it was an agreement between families rather than between individuals. One of its central purposes was to bring stability to society at large, not to provide happiness or fulfillment of any kind to the couple. I want to avoid swirling down into a sociological/historical treatise here (something I’m easily drawn to). So, I’ll just say, that the marital contract of our time has evolved into two-person covenant, a promise of fidelity and love “until death do us part.” https://www.britannica.com/topic/marriage

a social contract

As we go about choosing a mate and promise ourselves to them for a lifetime, that’s the pledge that fills our consciousness. But, just outside our peripheral vision, the ancient social contract remains intact. When we say, “I do,” we are still vowing to contribute to the joining of two families in a manner that will contribute to the stability of society. That is a big task, made even larger because most young couples don’t realize just what they have promised until they are smack in the middle of it. Creating a stable base unit within the social order requires complex time management and careful financial management.

“Adulting,” as it is now popularly called is tough work for any individual human being. It becomes much more complex when two people must manage the multitude of grown-up responsibilities at the same time in the same place.  If this doesn’t sound romantic, it’s because it isn’t.  The couple, who has promised to “love and cherish,” wasn’t thinking of doing dishes and balancing check books. But nonetheless they’ll spend more time on those two activities than they ever will having sex.

My parents could not avoid the move from couple in love, swept along by the At Clinton Inaugurationforce of passion and romance, to married pair, properly feathering a nest – nor could Jay and I. In that way our marriage were similar. Like my parents and like Jay’s, we worked and budgeted our income, we bought and furnished houses, we beget and cared for children. We belonged to communities and made friends. Those everyday activities of the stable base unit of society repeated themselves from one marriage to the next in our families.

mission: intentional commitment

DePaul CentennialIn one important way, our marriage differed from theirs. From the beginning, we strove to keep our relationship intentional. Deep, abiding love for one other person above all others is not easy to maintain for a lifetime. You have to fight for it.  There are far too many reasons promises can slip away or even be snatched from you. Most of us develop other passions over the course of our life.  We love our children to the moon and back. A hobby like gardening or painting absorbs our souls and frees us from stress. Our profession prospers and demands almost constant attention. A volunteer activity desperately needs our help. Some one new and exciting becomes attracted to us.

Marriages, like that of my parents, lasted through the force of society’s will and expectation.  That is no longer true.  Divorce in no longer frowned upon, but considered the reasonable decision in many situations.  If a couple wants to stay in love, they have to choose it against all odds.  They can’t just assume that if it’s good, it will last on its own.  At lease, that’s what we have found. Like any living thing, love thrives on nurture and nurture takes time. https://www.families.com/?s=blog+the+beauty+of+mature+love&submit=Search

For us, that has meant both a commitment to spend time alone together and to spend time with other couples who value their lifetime promise as much as we value ours. Being alone together out of the house lifts our spirits. It’s fun to put space between ourselves and our responsibilities.  And when someone is your regular companion for having a good time, it’s easy to feel caring toward that person.  Add to that the intention of love – and voila! Romance – even at the garden store. The exercises on “For Better or Worse,” a page on this website address the subject of intentional relationships. https://julewardwrites.com/radicalpromises-2/for-better-rather-than-worse-fun-fill-ins-for-couples

We enjoy a diverse group of friends, married and single, young and older, but CFM meetingthrough the years regularly gathering within our faith community with other couples committed to intentional marriage gives us a chance to talk about love and committed relationships, the ups and the downs in an honest way not available in casual conversations. These deeper dialogues help us work through some of the thorny issues of our own relationship and have served as an anchor for us over the years, especially when we were working our way through some tough times.https://www.cfm.org/

To those friends, if any of you are reading this, I say “Thank you so much.”

What do you think? Can the promises made on your wedding day last a lifetime? Why or why not? Let me know. 


  “Some people ask the secret of our long marriage. We take time to go to a restaurant two times a week. A little candlelight, dinner, soft music and dancing. She goes Tuesdays, I go Fridays.”
Henny Youngman

Some Like It Hot

Palm trees at sunset
irreconciable differences

Coming in not quite sweating, but pretty warm from my morning

Cat in red blanket
Photo by Francesco Ungaro

walk on a recent morning I opened our front door to a blast of heat.  My beloved sat on the living room couch, cuddled under a blanket with a space heater going full blast.  It was July 8. I just shook my head.  I knew better than to be flabbergasted. Our incompatibility about what constitutes a comfortable, livable temperature is well over fifty years in the making.

This discordance is drastic enough to almost fall into the Person typing on computercategory of irresoluble differences, but not quite. One lesson love has taught us is that in truly committed relationships “for better, for worse” sometimes means “for hotter, for colder.”  This irreconcilability rears its menacing head both at home and abroad. During this time of enforced seclusion, Jay  keeps warm in the overheated (my definition) living room while I work at my desk in our frigid (his definition) bedroom. I leave the windows wide open. We have discovered this is a difference shared by many couples. Most, like Jay and I, have found ways to live with it.

which way to go?

The topic, however, always gets laid on the table whenever we

Beach Resort
Photo by Claudia Altamimi

plan a trip. It is no exaggeration to say that for Jay, any place without palm trees isn’t worth the money and effort it  takes to get there. I have a much broader range of dream destinations. Hot beaches falls to the bottom of the list. Various compromises over the years have led to three ways of solving this vacation conundrum.

every sunset a celebration

The first of these is the time-honored “separate vacation.” For us, that took a very special form. For over a decade, every February, Jay would head to Florida to help his retired mother celebrate her birthday, which coincided closely with the President’s Day holiday. (Her actual birthday was February 12.  All through her childhood, it coincided with Lincoln’s Birthday, a national holiday and a day off school.  She did not take well to that date being clumped together with Washington’s birthday.) Having shaken off the wintry blasts and slushy snow of Chicago, Jay reveled in Florida’s balmy winter.  He and his mother packed their suitcases in his car, headed out the driveway of her condo building, flipped a coin and headed in the direction indicated by the toss.

Street in Key West
Photo by Brian Urso

Often, they ended up in Key West,  at the very tip of the chain of islands off the southern tip of Florida. There they could enjoy not just pleasantly warm weather, but fantastic sunsets and an amazing night life – a passion his mom didn’t have many other opportunities to indulge. Among Key West’s many bars, they had favorite haunts they returned to year after year. There, they drank a lot of margaritas. While sharing stories with friends they’d never see again, they listened to the Jazz Age music they both adored. In other years, they visited the west coast of Florida or went to Disney World.  One year they even ended up in New Orleans – a story I’ll have to let him tell you sometime.

some like it cold

Where was I? In Minnesota.  I took advantage of his escape to the south to visit my sister, Mary Beth Welter. She lived in a rambling Craftsman-style home in old St. Paul, just a few blocks away from the elegant Summit Avenue. Many years it was as cold as twelve below zero.  I loved it.  Minnesotans know how to deal with cold, snow and ice.  They revel in it. In fact, if I got lucky, I landed in the Elephant ice sculptureTwin Cities in time for Winter Carnival, the northern version of Mardi Gras. That meant more fun than we could possibly take advantage of.  There were bar-stool ski races, a giant snow slide, the Minnesota State snow sculpting competition, polar plunges, a snow maze and snow mountain play area.  Best of all was the fabulous King Boreas Grand Day Parade that we could walk to from her home.

bread and chocolate

But it didn’t have to be winter carnival time for me to enjoy being in a city that embraced the cold. Just fitting myself into the rhythms of a family other than my own was a respite.  I woke before everyone and bundled myself in layers of warm clothes. I slipped out the front and hiked the half mile past Coffee cake and coffeedozens of Craftsman Style bungalows, each one unique.  My destination was the steamy bakery, Bread and Chocolate. There I settled into my favorite corner chair to enjoy dark, strong coffee and pastries so mouth-watering I get hungry just writing about them.

I remained at the bakery, alternating between watching the morning crowd and reading a novel for an hour or so. Once I felt certain my nieces and nephew were off to school, I ordered fresh pastries – chocolate croissants for me and pecan rolls for her.  On the way back I walked down Grand Avenue, strolling past shops specializing in everything from kites to jewelry.

Store fronts
Photo by Becca Dilley

My visits signaled a break of sorts for my sister as well.  She ran a daycare center in her home. By the time, I arrived back at her home, the four children she cared for had arrived. Their parent had taken off for work and the kids were settled into morning activities.  Beth and I could enjoy a long chat over coffee, a change from her usual day-long toddler conversations. Then, weather permitting – and in

Plowing snow in St. Paul
Photo by Caroline Yang

Minnesota that is a very broad range – we took the toddlers to the park. After lunch, they settled down for nap time, giving us time for another cozy sister-to sister chat.

families are forever

Around three-thirty, Beth’s four children streamed in from school, shedding boots, mittens, scarves, and jackets in a stream across the living and dining room. Chaos reigned until the daycare kids were picked up by their parents after work. During that time, I escaped to the snug upstairs enclosed porch that served as a guest bedroom to read, nap or call Jay. When the front door closed after the last daycare family, I returned to the kitchen to help prepare dinner, a lively affair at which the Welter children vied with one Green Mill pizzeriaanother to grab their parents’ attention.  On my last night there, we would all go out to the Green Mill for pizza.  A Chicagoan never admits that anywhere else in the world has better pizza than the Windy City. But I really enjoyed every bite of every Green Mill Il Primo, I was privileged to share with my sister and her family.

absence makes the heart grow fonder

The next day I boarded the Empire Builder at the train station for the seven-hour journey back to Chicago.  Traveling by train was one of the top perks of the trip for me. I loved having breakfast along the Mississippi River and often shared that meal with people from outside the States. I arrived home, relaxed and refueled. At home I was the engine and the energy that kept that engine going.  Having an opportunity to spend a week where I had simply been a passenger was, for me, as refreshing as a trip to a luxury resort.

Jay and I were always thrilled to see each other on Sunday.  A week apart was more than enough.  He had had his palm tree fever somewhat relieved.  I had been energized by my foray into the frozen tundra.  Time to get back to “normal,” whatever that was.

That’s one way we dealt with our differences over what constituted an ideal getaway.  Other blogs will let you in on some more solutions we discovered.

Christ Taylor explores interesting ways that other couples have solved this problem in his article, “See You in Two Weeks.” https://www.reuters.com/article/us-money-travel-couples/se

Winter Carnival
Photo by Ethan Hu

“People are learning that it’s OK to rewrite the rules of marriage for their own needs, and not just do what their grandparents did. It’s a gift my husband gives me, to be able to fly solo once in a while.” Iris Krasnow, The Secret Lives of Wives.

When have you and a dear one clashed on where to go for a getaway?  How did you solve the conundrum? I’d really like to know.

DeJa Vu All Over Again

Riot and fire

This week we hear from a guest blogger.

IT’S DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN!

Those were the words from a famous comedian from yesteryear. I think it was Red Skelton. (It was actually Yogi Berra of the New York Yankees[jdw]) I hadn’t heard them for years, but they’ve haunted my mind for the last week. I couldn’t believe it was happening again.

The year was 1968. The month was April. The date was the 4th. I was an Assistant State’s Attorney for Cook County, Illinois. I was working on trial row in the felony trial division of the office. The near west side of the City of Chicago was up in flames from the rioting there.

ready or not

There were about 400 Assistant State’s Attorneys in Cook County. They all Blind Justiceworked hard. Maybe about 100 of them worked in the Criminal Courts. They worked really hard. They were on the firing line every morning. They were buried in cases all piled up waiting for trial. You never knew which ones would be continued to another date, or result in a negotiate plea of guilty, or actually go to trial when the judge told the bailiff to “call up the jury – we’re going to trial right now as scheduled”. It was hard on the State’s Attorneys and hard on their spouses. Working late was part of the deal. You had to get ready for anything by 9:00 am the next morning.

please don’t forget

Because I often worked late, my wife decided to take a trip to see her family in Minnesota so I could catch up with my preparation for trials. Hopefully then, we could have some time together when she got back to Chicago. The deal was I would pick her up at the airport when she got back and we would go out and celebrate our reunion. She said that all I had to do was make sure that Champagne was fed. Champagne was our cat and the proud new mother of five kittens. She said Champagne would take care of feeding the kittens. I told her have a good time with the family and say Hi! for me and I’ll see you in a week. Well, that’s my version. She claims she said to make sure Champagne was fed and be sure to clean out the cat box every night. I don’t remember that cat box part at all.

So off she goes to Minnesota and I’m working to midnight every night sorting out the cases that should be settled and preparing for trial on those that would probably be going to trial. I was really looking forward to picking her up and us having a night out together without murders, armed robberies and burglaries to be worrying about.

“We’re going downtown!”

But it was not to be. A big case broke that night and State’ Attorney, John Stamos grabbed me and said, “we’re goin’ downtown”! 400 Assistant State’s Attorneys and he grabs me. On our special date night! He starts yellin’ at people and called for a car to take us downtown immediately as we took off for the elevator of the Criminal Courts Building on the West Side of Chicago. I quickly raced to get into the elevator before the doors closed.

It was a big deal that out of 400 Assistant State’s Attorneys he picked me to go with him on this big case. But it was my date night! I promised her we’d go out, and, I’d had a week to clear my calendar for our date. Career big case with the boss man, or date night with my wife on return from her trip that was specifically meant to be our special night out? Telling her I was busy was not going to fly. Career or marriage? I pick —Marriage!

can this marriage be saved?

I tell him, as he’s chasing cars off the road driving downtown at well over the speed limit, that my wife is flying in from Minnesota that night and I have to pick her up at the airport. “Which airport?” he says. “Midway” I tell him. He grabs the police radio and shouts into it “Get me Flannigan and Flynn”. They are State’s Attorney’ Police Officers. (He’s got his own police department).

“What airline? “What flight number?” “ What time does it arrive?” I figure he’s testing me to see if I’m telling the truth so I give him the airline, the flight number and the arrival time after which he then shouts into the police radio and tells the operator to have Flannigan and Flynn meet the plane and take my wife into custody. Then he says to me “Where do you live?” I say Rogers Park. He stares at me and says “that’s a large area for Flannigan and Flynn to search. I mean what is your home address?” Oh! So I give him my address.

He then gives it to the police radio and says “have Flannigan and Flynn take the wife off the plane and take her home in the squad and don’t leave her until she is safely in the house and tell her you are on special assignment to me as of right now and we have no idea as to when you will be home because of this crisis and it may be days before she sees you again but Flannigan and Flynn will take care of you so we know you are safe.” I’m thinking of telling him “but its date night” but I think again, and keep my mouth shut. Chicken!

a slightly different perspective
Plane at gate
Photo by Erik McLean

Let’s look at it from my wife’s point of view. She has given me a whole week to swim thru all the murders, armed robberies, burglaries and other miscellaneous felonies I could handle and get them behind me so we could have a date night upon her return from Minneapolis. But instead of me meeting her at the gate, the plane lands and the captain announces that, “because of a police action, all passengers on board should stay in their seats until the police have taken a passenger off the plane!”

arrest the wife???

Whereupon Flannigan and Flynn come on the plane and come down the aisle to seat 28C where the stewardess points her finger and says “that’s her!” Flannigan says, “Are you Mrs. Ward?” She softly says “Yes” and Flannigan says “you will have to come with us.” Without further word, he helps her out of her seat, grabs the bag she says is her overhead bag and tells Flynn, “OK, let’s go.” With Flynn up front clearing the way and Flannigan protecting the rear, they escort Mrs. Ward off the plane, down the ramp to the gate and past all the people who had gathered to see what criminals they were taking into custody.

i’m going to kill him!

Meantime, Mrs. Ward is wondering what’s going on? She’s not entirely sure but she is pretty sure that somehow it’s my doing because, among all the airline passengers staring at her as she was being escorted to the squad car, she noticed that I was not there to meet her, like I promised. She didn’t know if something had happened to me, or, if she was going to “make” something happen to me because I had promised her that I’d be there and I wasn’t.

I was probably working late and skipping our negotiated date night out. Whereupon Flannigan says “Your husband says he’s sorry he can’t be here to pick you up but he and State’s Attorney Stamos are going to be working late tonight and so he sent us to pick you up and get you home safely.” So, finally she gets it. “I could kill him!” Flannigan and Flynn were protecting her husband from her!

breaking and entering

When they get her home, Flynn asks her for her key so he can open the door for her. She looks in her purse and realizes that she didn’t bring the key because her husband was going to be there to pick her up. So, she had left her key behind in the key drawer. At this point she’s ready to have Flannigan and Flynn commandeer a plane and to fly her back to Minnesota, permanently. She tells the cops she doesn’t have the key. They tell her their orders are to keep her in their custody until she is safely in her apartment. They ask her if any of her neighbors have a key. She says no.

Now Flannigan and Flynn have wives that are making dinner for them too and they get in trouble if they are late.  So Flannigan figures that the only thing between him getting home on time for dinner is getting Mrs. Ward safely in her apartment. So, he takes out his gun and breaks the kitchen window, unlocks the window, opens it and crawls in over the sink.

it gets even worse
kittens
Photo by Zetong Li

He notices immediately that something’s not right. The odor is overpowering. Is it a gas leak? No. Worse. He makes for the front door, opens it and rushes out into the fresh air. Mrs. Ward gets a whiff, takes a step back and says ‘the cat box!” “I told him all he had to do was feed the cat and clean the cat box!” Was that too complicated?”

So, to make a short story longer, he had his facts and she had her facts, just like most contested criminal cases. That’s what judges and juries are for. But we decided that day, April 4, 1968, that we didn’t need judges and juries, we just needed a date night every week even though we were already married.

Date night this week is Thursday, same as it was on April 4, 1968, the day that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated while standing on a balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. The day I promised my bride I would be there for her. And I wasn’t, I couldn’t, and finally, I shouldn’t have been there. I had a job to do.

city on fire

I was swept away by events way out of my control. All the law enforcement authorities were sending their bosses and top aides downtown to Chicago Police Headquarters at 11th and State. The Mayor’s Office, The Illinois Attorney General’s Office, the US Army and I don’t know how any other people wouldn’t be having dinner at home with their wives that night and for many nights thereafter.

By eight o’clock that evening I was high up in Police Headquarters looking down over the West Side of the City. It was burning out of control. Stores and businesses were being looted. It was chaos. All these governmental leaders were breaking down into smaller groups to handle problems on issues with which they had some expertise. The West Side politicians were trying to get their people to calm down and get off the streets so the fire trucks could get through to put out the fires that were burning down their neighborhoods.

this has to stop

Our assignment was to sit down with the leaders in the African-American community to work out a way to bring a halt to the shooting, the fires, and the looting. Stamos was particularly concerned because firemen were being shot as they tried to put out the fires. He understood that Dr. King’s assassination was nothing less than an outrage, but felt that right at the moment the heart of the problem was: “Nobody in Chicago murdered Dr. King; the people and merchants on the West Side who’s homes and business’s are burning are also African American. Attempting to murder firemen, who were risking their lives, trying to keep the community from burning to the ground, would never be condoned by Dr. King.” He warned the community leaders that anyone caught attacking police or fire officials trying to do their job would be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

His passion was terrifying. It broke up the meeting.

aftermath

I don’t exactly know what happened after that. But the shooting at the firemen did stop shortly after that. The remaining fires were put out, but much of the  West Side looked like a war zone. The city would rebuild, just like it did in the years after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. But, like then, it would take years to accomplish.

Following the riots,  my courtroom cases were stacked up higher than ever.  My week-long sprint while my wife was away did not give me the hoped-for relief. But we came out of the incident with the tradition of having Thursday night  as date night every week, a tradition we still honor a half-century later.

For me the story of that day is a national tragedy, a love story, a comedy and a horror film of chaos and hell. That day was April 4th, 1968.

deja vu

As I write this, it is Tuesday, June 1, 2020. As I write this, the stores of the charming City of Minneapolis are shattered and the stores themselves are ablaze. The contents of those stores no longer hang on their racks but are now scattering down the streets in all directions in the arms of the mob. The destruction of Minneapolis particularly hits my wife and myself. Jule’s family still lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, Minneapolis’s sister city. They are a beautiful cities.

Is it possible that the theft of those inventories of goods and the destruction of those stores on top of a prolonged pandemic will mean the death of the Twin Cities our family knows and loves? Will it ever come back? The events of April 4th, 1968 were fifty-two years ago. Is it possible that nothing has changed? Will it ever change? Maybe we will have to give it another half century to find out.

Jay Ward

Love Is Negotiating Differences

Purple garden
Lo, There Be Snares along Love’s Garden Path

Jay and I learned love’s lessons slowly.  One of the first is that who you are in college and who you are as a married person are vastly different facets of the multi-dimensional self.

College Campus Loving

We met and fell in love while we were college students at different schools. For both of us, campus life focused on studying – going to classes, reading, researching, and writing. Tension and anxiety built up around exams and grade reports.

Campus couple on bency
Photo by Mojor Zhu

College can also be a time of great financial strain, but we were spared that anxiety. Jay’s parents handled the cost of university education for all five of their children.  And I had been fortunate to be accepted at St. Mary’s College on a work-scholarship program that covered tuition and dorm fees.

Due to such good fortune, the time Jay and I shared was “downtime.” Social life was our release from the relentless march toward a degree.  We got together to have fun. It could be low-key – coffee, cigarettes and long conversations.  It could high excitement – a big football game or extravagant ball.  To be together meant winding down, de-stressing, relaxing.

Living Together Reality

Becoming married radically altered our way of being together. We stopped dating.  We didn’t even realize that we had done it. Because we came home to the same place every night starting with our wedding night, the necessity of meeting somewhere simply slipped away.  And stealthily with it went the perks of actual dating.  At first, about half the nights in the week, one or the other of us was working or at school. But even when home, we were no longer necessarily ‘together’ in the way we had been while dating. We shared space, but not time.

Couple in small apartment
Photo by Soroush Karimi

We did the stuff people do “at home.” – cook, dishes, laundry, pay bills, read, iron and get work projects completed. Going out wasn’t an option because we were no longer supported by our parents or by scholarship funds. Our cost of living was now our own. Our salaries couldn’t be stretched to cover eating out or entertainment.  The responsibilities of maintaining our place and budgeting our money ate into the little bit of free time we did have.  So, even a cheap date like a walk in the park sounded more like a chore than a treat.

As for curling up and having a long conversation over a nice cup of cocoa, we slowly but steadily realized that away from the heady atmosphere of campus life, our most passionate interests were worlds apart – quite literally.

Being Politically Correct
Chicago Picasso
Photo by Solstice Hannan

Jay had cut his wisdom teeth on politics. For three generations, Ward/Brophy family members had been active in the Chicago Democratic party. Passionate about civic involvement, they campaigned for and won elective offices in city, county and state government. Dozens of others in the family, men and women, held non-elective government positions.  Politics wasn’t just their work.  It was their life. Every noon hour they met for two-hour lunches to discuss the “business” with one another and other city and county officials. They went out together after work before returning home for dinner.  They played golf together twice a week. Many belonged to the same Catholic parishes.

Whenever and wherever these gatherings occurred, the topic was always the same – politics.

Jay could hardly be blamed for regularly bringing this same subject to our tiny kitchen table.  Unfortunately, when he did, my eyes glazed over.

I could as easily be mesmerized as anyone by a charismatic figure like John Kennedy, but the day-to-day running of civic affairs could not hold my attention for very long before my imagination had wandered off to faraway lands.

A Land Far, Far Away

France, for instance, with her glittering capital city and romantic wine country, or the fjords of Norway. As much as Jay loved the here and now of the Chicagoland political scene, I loved just about anywhere else.  Who should run for Alderman of the 29th precinct just couldn’t hold a candle to my daydreams of an African safari.  Any time I passed a travel agency, I slipped in to scoop up any free brochures.  The vivid photos of high waterfalls and deep valleys, barren deserts and tangled jungles entertained me as I rattled along on the bus ride back to our apartment.

When I tried to get Jay to look over the brochures with me, he’d smile, give me a kiss and remind me that the electric bill was due.  Often this slightly chiding remark preceded an announcement that the next evening we needed to pass out election pamphlets to commuters as they crossed the Jackson Avenue bridge toward Union Station.

I sighed, but I met him on the bridge at five o’clock the next evening because deep in my heart I was very proud of his earnest engagement. I knew that being politically involved was honorable and that I needed to do my part.  But who could blame me if, while I smiled and thrust leaflets into reluctant hands, I pretended that the Chicago River was the Thames?

Have you had a time when you and someone you held dear had vastly different dreams?  What love lessons did you learn?

Safe Sex and Family Planning – Twin Oxymorons

Hearts and flowers Valentine's
Happy Belated Valentine’s Day

There it goes – another Valentine’s Day, done and dusted. The annual celebration of the lusty side of love, the hearts and flowers, the candy and wine, the romance and the sex has come and gone, mending and breaking hearts as it has done for as long as I can remember.

On the surface, it’s a holiday centered on mawkish sentimentality, but seething underneath vibrates a current of hot passionate physical desire for nothing less than ending the day with a night of ardent sexual coupling. For most couples in the 21st century such pleasures, however robust, fall into the category of “safe sex.”

The “safe sex” myth
Couple at bonfire
Photo by Wesley Balten

But really? Is there such a thing? Half a century ago, in our early years as a dating couple safe sex meant “avoid getting pregnant.” Only refraining from genital intercourse offered anything like “safe sex.” I remember being warned in high school health class about possible infections, but because the teachers stayed fairly vague about intercourse itself, the cause of infection remained a mystery – and the  one sure way to avoid it – just say no, of course.

The problem with drawing a line in the sand and dropping a curtain on the other side was –  it raised our curiosity.  Just how close could we get? What was safe and what wasn’t?   As Catholic kids, we had an even more nebulous rule to follow, “Don’t do anything that was an occasion of sin.” To follow such a dictate meant being able to name the “sin” and intuit the “occasion.” Clearly, the wrongful act was “going all the way,” but how far along the way could one go before the “occasion of sin” aspect kicked it? What was the point of no return?  The moral dictum assumed one.  If you could always stop short of the sin itself, then nothing could constitute an “occasion of sin,” which is a pre-state that once achieved made sin inevitable.

If all that rattles in your head like stones in a tin can, it’s no wonder. Much of Catholic moral reasoning during our youth felt like running on a hamster wheel – all noise and getting nowhere.

Now nearly a quarter of the 21st century is already history, but what constitutes “safe sex” is not much clearer than it was in 1962. Since then, the societal mores shift dubbed the “sexual revolution” has vastly altered our understanding of with whom we are free to be sexually intimate.

Contraceptives
Photo by Reproductive Health Coalition

Also changed is the age and the life stage at which young people become sexually active. Centuries of caution were set aside in less than a decade because the widespread availability of a “birth-control” pill caused women and their partners to believe they could decide if and when they would become pregnant, independent of their decision to have sexual intercourse.

a house of cards

As Jay and I discovered very early in our marriage, however, there is no easy fast track to safe sex, and “family planning” depends on the architecture of chance. By 1964, Enovid, the first readily available reversible birth control, was tentatively approved by some of the Catholic Church’s pastoral advisors.  It was argued that it helped couples practice “natural family planning” because it made it possible for a woman to pinpoint when she would have her menstrual cycle. Their argument convinced us and my doctor.  I began taking the pill the month before we married.

None of us knew that the medication had been rushed into production despite concerns about serious side-effects.  In 1964 Pope Paul VI convened the Commission on Population, the Family and Natality. Many representatives to the commission urged the pill’s acceptance by the church.

Surgery sutures on belly
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon

Jay and I blithely gave ourselves over to a blissful life of frequent and, as we believed, now “safe” sexual intimacy.  But eight months after our wedding, I was hospitalized for major surgery on both ovaries.  I lost all by a fraction of my left ovary to tumors. My surgeon warned me against taking Enovid. Even more emphatically, he told us our chances of conceiving a child had been greatly reduced. Despite the fact that had hoped to postpone having a family until we finished school, he counseled us against using birth control of any kind.  We needed, he said, to be open to whatever possibilities for conception that might randomly occur, given the injuries to my reproductive organs.

We were not the only victims. In the next two decades, birth control medications would be linked to the risk of blood clots, heart attack, stroke, depression, weight gain and loss of libido as well as the risk of ovarian cancer, iron deficiency anemia, and pelvic inflammatory disease.

In 1968  Pope Paul VI ultimately declared his opposition to the pill in the Humanae Vitae encyclical. Jay and I never again returned to the practice of birth control, but our faith in two institutions that had been the bedrock of our youth – science and the Catholic Church was profoundly shaken.  The pope had made his declaration against the advice of the married Catholic on the commission. In the new climate of the church since Vatican Council II, laypersons knew their voice counted.  To be so blatantly swept aside when the issue at hand was clearly in their sphere of expertise called into question for us and many others, the church’s moral authority not just on family planning, but about other deeply divisive concerns as well.

life’s great maybes

Jay and I would remain members of the Catholic Faith Community, but with an expectation that hierarchy could and should sometimes be questioned for the good of the community as a whole.

As for the small community – the family unit, we would discover that adding the word “planning” to the word “family” represented at best wishful thinking.  Families aren’t designed, they are astonishingly serendipitous. And we would learn to live by the motto, “We’ll know more later – maybe.”

8 children peering through banister
Phots by National Cancer Institute

“It’s a bizarre but wonderful feeling, to arrive dead center of a target you didn’t even know you were aiming for.”
― Lois McMaster Bujold

I’d truly love to hear from you about experiences, momentous or trivial, that turned out to be so different than you expected, they changed your life in some important way.

Please fill in the box.

 

‘Til Death Do Us Part

Woman smoking by window
“And the two shall become one flesh”

As a young bride, naive and overly sentimental, this quote meant that once married, Jay and I would no longer be two separate people, but a new being, a couple melded into a relationship so intricate that we would be, if not literally one individual, then emotionally, at least, one being.

My thinking was an eery, contemporary twist on the words of an ancient prophet.   In his as in most ancient cultures, a person’s identity was inextricably entwined with that of their extended family, the clan. Individuality, as we understand it, fell outside the common perception. Rather, each person existed at all times in relation to others, most importantly to the other members of their family.

Large Indian Family
Photo by Martin Adams

Those families were extensive.  A given household consisted of many sons of a single patriarch living within one compound with their wives and children. All of them were of “one flesh.” The same blood ran in all their veins. Within the extended family, every choice was meant to benefit all because they were “one.”

When a man and woman married, the family recognized the wife as now one of the family, one of their “flesh.” And thus, she and her husband became one flesh, members of the same family unit with all its inherent obligations and benefits – and enemies.

Modern Daydreams

As you’ve undoubted guessed, the impressionable twenty-two-year-old woman in my wedding photos had no inkling of this erudite interpretation.  I believed that being married would cure loneliness.  After all, I was “one flesh” with another person.  He would be in some sense with me all the time.

Holding on
Photo by Brooke Cagle

I wasn’t unaware, of course, that work would keep us apart several hours of every weekday, and that in the mid-twentieth century this separation also meant no communication.   In addition during the first two years of our union, we were both in school.  Attending class, studying and commuting added to our time apart.

I had failed, however, to calculate that this schedule would mean endless days during we might not share even one meal. The only time we often “spent together” was in bed – and most of that sleeping. And even if I had more accurately gauged how few hours we would actually spend interacting with one another, I was much too young and inexperienced to evaluate ahead of the fact how utterly forlorn I would feel.  I couldn’t realize that the existential bliss of being married could not override the actuality of my isolation.

Long Lonely evenings

Evenings were the worst. Coming into a quiet, dark and empty apartment, I’d stand, hand on the door to the front hall closet, unwilling to shed my jacket.  I wanted more than anything to turn around and head back out. But in those early days, I had nowhere to go.  I had left my friends behind first in high school and then at St. Mary’s.  Because I worked toward my bachelor’s degree by piling up credits attending several different city universities on various evenings, I had no chance to make new friends. My day job as a caseworker for a foster care agency took me all over Chicago but didn’t offer opportunities to build relationships with co-workers.

woman on kitchen floor
Photo by Radu Florin

In those pre-Starbucks days, hanging out at a coffee shop wasn’t an option and it absolutely never occurred to me to head to a bar. Looking back, I wonder why, and the only reason that pops into my head is I had never known anyone who hung out in taverns or bars.  Growing up I’d only eaten in a restaurant a handful of times.  In college, there had been girls that “got away” with faking an I.D. to go barhopping – at least, I’d heard about them.  I didn’t know them.  No, I didn’t barhop because I was a “good girl.” To do so was simply out of my skill set.

But coming home to an empty place was also well out of my range of experience. I grew up in a home that was the antithesis of empty. My mother stopped working outside the house when I was born and remained a stay-at-home mom until my youngest sibling went to high school twenty-nine years later.  In those years, especially as a pre-teen, I yearned for solitude, something I could only find by hiding on the old glider behind the big coal-burning furnace in our dungeon-like basement.

At college, the only time I spent by myself was in the toilet stall – and that doesn’t really count because it was a communal bathroom with several stalls, a row of showers, and two bathtubs.  The rest of the time, whether working in the dining room, going to classes, or heading for mixers at Notre Dame, other girls surrounded me.

Votive lights, statue in chapel
Photo by Josh Applegate

Going to the chapel was the only way I could get some “alone” time.  Of course, I wouldn’t be the only one there, but, at least, each of us withdrew to a quiet corner to pray. Yet, although never alone, I was often lonesome.  Part of a big community, but belonging to no one person.

Now I was married, a life state I expected would rid me of lonesomeness.  At last, I thought, I’d be living with one person for whom I’d be the first priority and with whom I could do everything.  Instead, evening after evening I walked into an empty living room and then wandered into a cold kitchen, lost in dreams about the delicious, mouth-watering meals we would have together someday – when we were done with school  -when we could start a family.

feline rescue

But those days were a long way off. So, I  chose a slightly modified route to comforting companionship.

girl and cat
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez

I adopted a kitten.  Here was one dream I could actually make happen.  I’d never been allowed to have a cat because my mother loathed them.  I never knew why.  But this, I realized, gazing around the small apartment was my very own home.  I could make the rules.  I ruled that Jule could have a cat.  And she did.

It wasn’t a perfect answer.  I still had a lot to learn about overcoming loneliness, but my little grey tabby, Champagne, helped a lot.  She gave me someone to care for.  She took me out of myself when Jay wasn’t home.  And when he was home, she delighted us both.  Nurturing her together activated the true process of “becoming one flesh.” Her life and being were equally precious to both of us.  To  love someone else equally and together was one of the most important Lessons that Love taught us.

Feeling lonely in a relationship or in a crowd is a common human experience.  How have you coped when this happened to you? Let us know.

Being alone is very difficult.” – Yoko Ono