How marrying later in life turned me into the go-to relationship expert – even though in the beginning they thought my wife and I were nuts.
My wife and I didn’t meet in our 20s or get set up by our friends or parents, and we never endured cutesy made-up names on online profiles meant to grab the attention of the opposite sex.
We met the old-fashioned way: in a bar over a game of Cribbage.
She thought I was preppy, and I thought she was a Goth-Rocker wannabe. She actually asked if I played Backgammon, which I don’t, thank you. But she insisted that I did and that she had she had seen me play with other people. So we essentially started out with her thinking I just wasn’t interested and my thinking that some weird chick was calling me a liar. We were older, almost 40, not much wiser, and had both been through a string of dating attempts not worth discussing here. Though neither of us can remember who won the most card games that night, we do remember that we talked and laughed our way through several pints of beers. Eventually we figured out that she had seen me playing this game, which was Cribbage, not Backgammon, I and later found out that she has a way of screwing up everything from clichés to colloquialisms. We each went our separate ways at the end of our evening, after exchanging email addresses, phone numbers, and a quick kiss that I initiated.
And thus it began.
The next day we emailed back and forth, while at work, incessantly. Anyone looking at us individually from the outside would think that we were either stalking the other person or being stalked ourselves. And by today’s standards, maybe we were. We weren’t constrained by social norms and ignored that one friend we each had who kept telling us to wait a certain period of time before making contact or responding to someone who had made the first painful contact. That know-it-all friend, of course, as we all know, is always single, coming off their fourth divorce, and sees no irony in dispensing dating advice. We met later at the same pub, as we did most nights, talked, and kissed.
We moved in together six weeks later.
Our friends (and some of our family) thought we were nuts. They shook their heads, called us, and wrote emails in vain attempts to dissuade us from the rash decision we were making, as if I was hopped up on bourbon and Viagra, and she were overly hormonal and not thinking clearly.
I’m not implying that any of those characterizations were entirely inaccurate.
The real reason: We both had apartment leases coming to an end.
We had both, after two decades of dating, been through enough and been put through enough to know that what we had was better than anything we’d experienced and believed that we could make a pretty decent go of it without killing each other.
To this day, twelve years later, we still get looks of amazement and bewilderment when we tell that story of our whirlwind romance. It’s as if people can’t believe we’re still together. It’s usually from those same people, who are single and coming off their fourth divorce.
Friends my age who still date, be it on the internet, in bars, or by attending those, frankly, weird speed-dating events, call me lucky. I guess I am, but there’s a significant difference between dating and marrying someone in your 20’s or 30’s and meeting and marrying someone later.
In your late teens and well into your 20’s, there’s considerable emphasis on going out and having a good time. College, after college, Thirsty Thursdays, TGIF, etc. Generally, the focus is on getting through the week and having some fun along the way –wherever you can find it. This attitude generally carries over to dating at that age: Find someone you’re attracted to who enjoys going to the same places as you and likes being around the same people, and voila, you’re a couple.
As we get older, however, we begin to appreciate the importance and comfort in having someone who can hang around for the duration. I don’t mean someone who tolerates us despite our glaring defects, but someone with whom we can build a real, deep, emotional connection.
The inclination to find someone we can go out and have a good time with is replaced by wanting to find someone who we can stay in and have a good time with. A real life adult that we can coexist with – like adults do.
As we get older, we have a lower tolerance for mind games, “drama” (whatever you want to call it) than we do in our 20’s when have a greater tolerance for this kind of instability. Maybe it comes along with being a little less serious about life in general—which of course is replaced by real goals and ambitions as we get older. We don’t want to get sidetracked by somebody who will drag us down into their own delusional hell. After some experience and time, we recognize the red flags of nuttiness early and decide what brand of it we can live with, because let’s face it, no relationship is without a comfortable level of insanity. The trick is really about what we can accept from the other person and what they will accept from us. There’s a big difference between sharpening an axe in bed and needing to have a fan running in the middle of winter in order to sleep.
During the early days of my relationship, everyone wanted to give me advice – slow down, don’t rush, make sure you’re ready. But now? I’m the one always asked for relationship advice, I think because we have such a stable marriage due to our being over 40 when we said “I do.”
There are several, if not hundreds, of factors that go into a successful relationship. Looks and physical attraction are obviously a factor, but if you think you’re going to be spending your life with the same hot number you met in your 20’s, pack it in now and declare yourself officially on your own. You’re not Donald Trump. And if that’s really what you feel is important, that last divorce you went through is probably not without good reason.
A few of my friends and some family members have asked me about my relationship and how it works. I’ve generally responded with the same snarky comments about keeping my head down, doing what I’m told, and making sure she thinks she’s always right. When I’m slightly more serious and talking to people I genuinely care about, like my brother, I’ll tell him to find someone he can stand to look at, isn’t too crazy, and puts up with his BS.
In reality though, the best advice I’ve ever received and have recently passed on to that same brother, is something I’m sure I was told early on numerous times, is this: Don’t get involved with anyone who wants to change you or that you think could use some work.
When we are a little younger we tend to see someone’s potential, and maybe even fall for it. Who they could be if they would just listen to you. If they would just stop being so lazy. Or apathetic. Or do more with their skills – whatever. As the years go by we realize the importance of not only working on becoming whole ourselves, but also finding someone who has done the same to share our life with. We understand that we need an equal and a teammate, not a project.
I could say that I wish I’d learned that lesson years ago, but if I had I would not have met my wife and I would not have changed and grown in the ways that I have. She would tell you the same about herself. We’ve been through surgeries, tragic deaths in our family, financial devastation, painful moments in our own lives, and yet here we are, still standing. And all I had to do was sit in a bar and wait for her to challenge me to a game a Backgammon, when she meant Cribbage. She still mixes that (among other things) up.
I still find it cute.