(Note: If you didn't love me with my mid-90s wire-framed Costanza glasses, you don't deserve me in my Silver Fox stage.)
A couple of weeks ago, I had a bit of an epiphany. Which is to say, a memory was jarred loose from that overstuffed storage unit of useless information in my brain where I keep old baseball stats (Warren Spahn had 363 career wins and 363 hits) and old toy commercial jingles ("Trouble, Trouble, that's the name/ of Kohner's Pop-o-Matic game."). It fell off the shelf and rolled into my frontal lobe over the weekend when Hurricane Lee was downgraded to Category 1 Manageable, Windy Day but We Need to Incite Panic in the Elderly So They'll Stay Glued to Their TVs Lee.
As I wrote about a while back my devoted Irish Rose and I sold the house we raised our sons in and moved close to the beach. Both boys live out of state and are in the early stages of starting their careers. Living near the ocean was a dream we'd always talked about, and it was time to make it real. So while Not Nearly as Bad as We Made it Out to Be Storm Lee made its way past our location, we hit the beach to check it out. And walking along the shore, just the two of us with nowhere else we needed to be, I was reminded of this one time in the dark, pre-Irish Rose days when my life was hollow and empty, I was down Cape Cod during the offseason, and I spotted this older couple, walking the beach, holding hands and just … being. Together. At on some level, it struck me that that's the ultimate goal. "Couples Goals," decades before anybody coined the term. That the best thing one can hope for out of this life is to grow old alongside the one person you want to do it with. Everything else is secondary. To that point, I'd never been in anything you'd consider a serious, long term dating situation. And this was probably the first time I'd ever thought about this.
And here, in 2023, we were those people. Old in somebody else's eyes. (Though with all humility, we're keeping it TIGHT.) But that I've become that guy I was giving silent, unexpressed respect to all those years ago. Either intentionally or by sheer, stupid, arbitrary fate, the universe had landed me right where Early 20s Me wanted to someday be. Only a few miles up the coast. But with the exact person attached to the exact hand that was meant to be holding mine.
I bring this up because today is our 30th anniversary. While I considered doing an entire post just about that, I reread the one I wrote at the occasion of our 25th and realized that, apart from it being five years later, us being Empty Nesters now, and our location moving a few miles, nothing has changed. Here it is in its entirety:
My personal journey hasn't taken me around on this spinning blue marble all this time without learning a thing or two. If you know nothing else about me, understand that I've been paying close attention these many years. And every so often I feel I owe it to our readership to impart some of the wisdom I've picked up along the way. If you're going to call me Old Balls (a term of love, I'm pretty sure), the least I can do from time to time is to pass along some of the life's lessons I've learned through experience. And anyone who knows me knows I will always choose the least I can do.
Well today is just such a day. Because today is my and my beguiling Irish Rose's 25th wedding anniversary. You don't hit a major milestone like that without pausing to share what a quarter-century of in the marriage game has taught you, particularly when a good chunk of your target demo wasn't even born when you stood there at the altar looking the berries in your rental tux. As Peter Parker's Gentle Uncle Ben said, with great power comes great responsibility. And just because he bled out in the street while the little ingrate was wrestling for money doesn't make it any less true. So listen up, you might learn something.
Communication is Overrated.
"My wife was complaining that I don't listen to her. At least I think that's what she was saying. I wasn't really paying attention." - Jerry Seinfeld
Lord, do people love saying that good communication is the key to a good marriage. TV doctors say it. Relationship books. The mandatory pre-wedding classes the church makes you take all agree, total, open and honest communication is critical. Well it's never been tried. And I know for sure I wasn't going to take that giant leap for mankind, Neil Armstrong. I'm not saying don't talk; you should. But there are limits. Men and women are hardwired differently, and if you're planning on saying everything you think, you should pass under a gate that says "Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here." Let me give you a real life example. Let's say you get a sitter so you can go out to dinner for the first time in weeks and the night is co-opted by venting about how "Teresa took credit for the work that Deb did, and Deb was really upset and she was crying. And Pauline went to Delores to tell her but Delores didn't even care and Pauline was really upset. And so I beep, click, whistle, buzz, chirp …" The natural, honest, male inclination is to laugh and say "Can you imagine if for one second I came home with work stories like this?" Or worse yet, to try and work the problem. Well that's a rookie move, newbie. It took me years of trial and error to realize no wife is interested in your advice. You're not there to offer solutions, Dr. Oz. You are there to listen. Period. Sit there, chew your food. Make reassuring noises. Nod. While in your head space, feel free to set your Fantasy lineup or just plan whether you're going to stop and make out or trust the babysitter will have the kids asleep. But if you really want to be a good husband, don't do anything else. It sounds counter-intuitive, but doing anything more is overstepping your authority.
Marry Someone Who Shares Your Interests. Or at Least Respects Them.
"Never marry someone who doesn't love the same movies you do. Because eventually they'll stop loving you too." - Roger Ebert
This sounds obvious, but I've seen a few marriages where I was left wondering if the wife has ever even met the guy I know. I'll stick with the Ebert thing because I think it's a great metaphor for bigger issues. When I met the Irish Rose, she owned the entire first Star Wars trilogy on VHS. At a time when boxed sets of any movies weren't common. So yes, I was intrigued. Then, she signed one of those old ripoff video clubs, which had me questioning her judgement, believe me. Then to get out of it, she had to buy two titles. Without checking with me, she got Patton and The Godfather. I was at the jewelers the next day. It's not the perfect relationship in that regards. She'll never watch brilliantly stupid comedies like Step Brothers or Ron Burgundy, say. But loves Tarantino and LOTRs and the Marvel CU and accepted the other night that when we were about to go out I got Shawshanked by Braveheart. And understood she'd have to wait a few minutes because to me that is the best romance movie of all time. To expand that to life, if you meet someone who's all about leaf-peeping in New Hampshire, antiquing and going to quilt shows and you prefer the Indian Casino Texas Hold 'Em Tournament lifestyle, it doesn't matter if she looks like Carmen Electra in her prime. Don't start down the marriage road because you are condemning two people to a life of conflict and misery.
But Sharing Their Interests is a Good Thing.
"We fill gaps. I got gaps. She's got gaps. We fill gaps." - Rocky Balboa
Stubbornness is your mortal enemy. The willingness to try new things is your friend. I didn't become a genuine, un-ironic fan of figure skating on my own. I married someone who used to compete for Skating Club of Boston. And in the same way you or I will say "Oh, this is going to be defensive holding" before the referee says it, she has an uncanny knack for saying "OH! She two-footed the landing" a second before Johnny Weir says it. So by osmosis I've picked up an appreciation for something whose appeal used to be limited to how much ass cheek Katarina Witt showed. That's a little thing I consider "personal growth." Same with Broadway music. I'm not ashamed to admit it. Any more than guys I know who watch Project Runway or Dancing With the Stars because their wives do or getting into helping them with craft projects need to be ashamed. Only a guy who's planning to spend the rest of his life trying to obtain 9th level Elf Wizard powers in some online realm before dying a forgotten virgin unmourned by no one refuses to accept new pursuits.
However, Do Stuff That is Entirely Your Own.
"Get a life!" - William Shatner in that SNL skit about the Star Trek Convention
I've said before and I'll say again, the best thing that ever happened to our marriage was the Irish Rose getting back into theater after years away from it having a family. Her girlfriend insisted she come audition for Sound of Music but she was reluctant because the kids were little and she didn't want to be out so much. But I told her to give it a shot, get a small part and we'll be fine. So she went. And came home saying "They cast me as Maria." Boom. It was injected right into her veins, which was the best of all possible things. She became part of subculture of weirdo theater folk. With friends, rivals, frenemies. A total social circle that didn't involve the rest of us, other than coming to the shows. Most importantly, it taught two boys that the world - both their mother's and the world-world - does not revolve around them. A world that was hers and hers alone. Granted, it was an adjustment for them watching her make out with Captain von Trapp. And seeing her in a nun outfit wasn't the easiest for me. (I asked if she was going wear it around the house and she said "Why? Do you want me to get a ruler and hit you with it?" and I told the last thing I need in our bedroom is a ruler. True story.) For her, it's musicals. For me, it's stand up. But whatever it is, golf, bowling, a side job, book clubs, trivia nights, whatever … have some interest outside the marriage that is yours and yours alone. It might have been cute when Jim and Pam were working all day at Dunder-Mifflin together, then commuting home together and then spending all night together, but in reality, not having a social circle outside the marriage is a recipe for insanity.
Find Someone Who'll Be Unrelentingly Supportive and You Be the Same.
"My dad says having dreams is what makes life tolerable." - Rudy Ruettiger's buddy Pete, just before he dies in a steel mill explosion
This is another of the favorites of the relationship advice gurus. Only this one counts. I spent some time dragging my feet about the idea of linking my life up to another human being's, mostly because because I didn't want to be responsible to her. I was an irresponsible, self-absorbed carbon blob who figured that if things went south in my life it was no skin off anyone else's back. What changed my mind was realizing I was no prize and had completely outkicked my coverage (seriously, together we look like a kidnapping in progress). That, and the aforementioned movie choices. And shortly after we got married, I got laid off. With a brand new mortgage and a baby on the way. It was the worst two months of my life and represented everything I was afraid of happening if we'd got married coming true. Until it didn't. Until instead of dragging her down, she was there to prop me up until I found a better job, close to home. Years later I had the opportunity to do the easiest work in the world, Massachusetts road details where you do nothing but waive traffic around job sites for ridiculous amounts of money. It's a license to print cash. And she talked me out of it. Because she wanted to see me pursue writing for Barstool, doing comedy and taking radio gigs, rather than stand next to a ditch watching other men work. Even if it didn't pay off. Even though we had a mountain of bills. And now Barstool is a flourishing media empire and it's my career. Don't marry anyone that wouldn't say the same thing to you or that you wouldn't support every bit as much. Just don't. Which leads me to:
Don't Be a Dink.
"There is nothing in the world - no possible success, military or political, which is worth weighing in the balance for one moment against the happiness that comes to those fortunate enough to make a real love match - a match in which lover and sweetheart will never be lost in husband and wife. … I am just as much devoted to Mrs. Roosevelt now as I ever was." - Teddy Roosevelt
This one couldn't be more straight forward. Just be nice to her. Or him. If they give you some leeway, don't abuse the trust. Believe me, I've pushed the envelope a few times. Stayed out later than I should and so on. Like my brother puts it, we are all basically dogs. And when you tie a dog up to a runner in the back yard, even though he knows exactly how long the leash is, he's still going run until he chokes himself on it. And I've choked myself on the leash more times than I should have in 25 years. But it's not a big ask to just be responsible to someone important to you. As a matter of fact, it's one of life's greatest blessings. Just to be nice to someone who's nice to you back. To make each other feel good about who you are and who you're with. It sounds really trite, but it's the whole ballgame. I worked a few months in Family and Probate court and if that doesn't put the fear of God in a married man, nothing will. People who absolutely despised each other to an extent I've never seen before or since. Not even in the drunkest section of the stands of the nastiest rivalry have I witnessed the levels of vitriol I saw regularly between people who chose to spend their lives together. Fighting over money. Fighting over the kids. I once watched a couple pull out estimates they'd each gotten over an expense the husband felt the wife had spent way too much money on. It was their 14-year-old's funeral. I am not making that up. I used to call my wife and my mom from the courtroom just to tell them I had the best life ever and I appreciate them. And my thought with couples like was always the same: When did it change? Because nobody acts like that on the first date. Or the second or third. But somewhere along the way it went horribly, horribly wrong. So my advice to you is don't let it. And if you find it and effort to treat someone with respect and dignity and make them feel supported and loved, not marrying them in the first place is definitely your best option. Do that.
My best option back in September of 1993 was to still be married to the perfect person, with two boys I'm proud of and working the best job in the world. My advice to you is to accept nothing less. Thus endeth the lesson.
Thanks for reading. And thanks to the one who's put up with nonsense for 30 years. Nothing else has mattered to me. In the words of GK Chesterton, "Here ends my previous existence. Take it: it led me to you.”