A young person recently asked my husband, after learning we'd been together 30 years, "Wow, how have you stayed married so long?"
"And what did you say?" I asked him.
"I might have mentioned something about love."
"Are you crazy?" I said. "Love's got nothing to do with it."
I'm not a psychologist, life coach, guru or relationship doctor. I don't possess uncanny abilities of perception into the human psyche. But between a long marriage and a lifetime of experience, I think I may have found the secret to a successful marriage. (And contrary to popular belief, it is not about undying love or finding your soul mate.)
Let's start with soul mates. The concept of finding your soul mate is lovely but is there really only one perfect person for you on this whole planet? One out of seven billion people? OK, let's say your perfect mate does exist. What if they live in Mongolia and you've got a one-bedroom in Van Nuys? Do you spend your two-week vacation every year traveling to Khvod or Ulaanbataar hoping to run into them in Genghis Khan Square?
What if you never find them? (Listen to Stephen Stills' "Love the One You're With.")
And undying love. How many times have you experienced undying love? I've experienced it three times. I bet you have too. You may have even experienced it more—like five or six. Some people experience it eight or nine times but they're usually movie stars.
There's a logic problem with undying love. If love is undying, then you could only (by definition) experience it once. Experiencing it three times would be a contradiction in terms. See where I'm going with this?
Marriage is a long-haul flight with screaming babies, broken toilets, crappy food, empty drinks carts and surly flight attendants. And with life expectancy rising, modern marriages last at least twice as long as our ancestors' who were lucky if they lived to be 35. And the new adage of "60 is the new 40" is great if you're talking about looks but it's a death sentence with no chance of parole in the relationship department. It's like buying a new pair of shoes and wearing only that pair for the rest of your life. Sure, you can polish the scuffmarks, replace worn soles and heels, even jazz them up with bows but they're still the same old pair of shoes 'til death us do part.
How do we stay married (and relatively happy) for so long?
I met my husband on a photo shoot in London. I was a New York art director and he an English photographer. It was pretty much love at first sight. But marriage? I'd been married before, ugh, and he was only 27. Marriage was the last thing either of us wanted. But work took me to London and I moved in with him promising I'd get out of his hair when I found my own flat.
One day, after I'd been in the bath for hours, he came in.
"Oi, you've been in here all day, it's my turn," he said.
"Go away," I said.
"Get out of that bath or I'll pee in it," he said, unzipping his pants.
"You wouldn't dare," I said.
But he did. He peed in my bath.
We were married in the Chelsea Registry office a few months later.
My husband is funny. And crazy. I'm probably crazy too because only a total nut job screams with joy when her boyfriend pees in her bath. (Come on, it's just water and minerals for god sakes).
But I have to tell you, this humor thing—this humor simpatico—it's seen us through illness, deaths, accidents, job losses, financial horrors and a boatload of life catastrophes.
Humor is matrimonial superglue. And it should be used liberally by anyone who wants to stay married.
"If he'd only laughed at my jokes. We would still be married," a recently divorced friend told me.
You know those old married people you see in restaurants eating their meal in silence, each staring into the middle distance at a salt shaker or vase of plastic flowers as they shovel mashed potatoes into their pinched, unsmiling mouths?
You don't want to be those people.
Bruised and in shock the morning after I lost a job I loved, my husband thought breakfast at Musso and Frank's—the oldest restaurant in Hollywood, and one of our faves—would cheer me up. On the way, we drove by a guy, probably drunk or high (knowing the neighborhood), rolling down a grassy parkway near the sidewalk. Rolling over and over down the gentle slope of the street like a little kid in a park.
"Look at that poor guy," I said sadly.
My husband slowed down.
"He just got fired," he said.
Shocked, I burst out laughing. And the sadness disappeared.
"How have we stayed married for so long?" a friend recently asked her husband on their 15th wedding anniversary.
"You're pretty and I'm good-natured."
"Wrong answer," she said.
I know exactly what she wanted to hear. She wanted him to say, "Because you are my soul mate and I love you from the bottom of my heart forever and ever."
But they're both wrong. They make each other laugh. And they will keep laughing at each other's jokes until they're 90 and peeing in their adult diapers.
Last week, after snapping at each other for a few days about something stupid, my husband asked me, "So, how's the apartment hunt going?
I stared at him blankly.
"You said you'd get out of my hair once you found an apartment. How's that working out?"
And I had to laugh.