Better than any warning words on divorce is this human closeup of a successful marriage that was no lucky accident
Our Happy Marriage
Better than any warning words on divorce is this human closeup of a successful marriage that was no lucky accident
I’M NOT a divorce court judge, a psychiatrist or a professional marriage counsellor. My chief qualification to discuss the building of a good marriage is that I’m part of a supremely happy one, now in its 12th year. I write under a pseudonym, so that I may write more freely.
Sally and I were not. “made for each other.”
By superficial standards our chances of making a go of it were not too good. We were married after knowing each other less than six months. The year we met—the autumn of 1933— was nearly the bottom of the depression. Sally was supporting her mother and herself on a clerk’s wage. 1 was making $90 a month at a job T detested.
Finally, we were both on the rebound. Sally had just, broken with a man to whom she had been more or less engaged for five years. I’d been jilted. Sally’s experience had left her underweight, jittery and slightly neurotic.
However, boy began to fall in love with girl, and vice versa. We began to think of marriage, then to talk about it. The night Sally agreed to share my name, bed, board and fortunes we started a period which, beyond all question, has been one of the most vital factors in our subsequent happiness. We commenced to go to school to each other.
We did this deliberately. We knew this was probably the most important decision of our lives. We knew that passion and physical attraction, which each had in abundance for the other, were pretty insubstantial stuff with which to seal a lifetime contract. We knew how our previous attachments had blown up. We had learned that little things can raise as much hob between a man and a woman as big things. Relatives had been divorced in both our families. We wanted to make as certain as possible that we were not embarking upon a venture either of us later would regret.
From This Day Forward
VV7E AGREED to an informal pact. Neither ▼ ▼ would withhold from the other any information requested. Neither would duck or color answers.
Having drawn up the pact, we worked at it. We saw each other nearly every evening. When we went out, the time going and coming, and free moments between, were spent in mutual research. We went for long walks in the nearby hills on Sundays and holidays. We spent most of our evenings at Sally’s home, before the living room fireplace, «combining talk with courtship.
Implicit in the pact was an unspoken, tacit escape clause—either of us could call the whole thing off' any time it looked hopeless. However, as our safaris into friendship progressed, the escape clause became more and more academic.
What did we learn? Just about everything.
We had met at a party at the home of friends—evidence that we both liked the same sort of people. We had rather much the same sort of middle-class background — schooling, congenial family life, church affiliation, upbringing. Both of us had been taught to think and act on our own. We were almost exactly the same age—24.
We found we were in agreement on more matters than we were in disagreement. Neither of us yearned to be rich. We wanted a comfortable home within our means. If children came, well and good; if not, well and good too. Neither of us gave a hoot about “Society,” but we were both deeply interested in problems of society with a small “s.” We agreed that, card playing was a bore and dancing a silly time waster. We both liked to swim, walk and play tennis. Chess was our favorite indoor game.
We compared health records and found that neither was marrying a potential invalid. With enough exceptions to make for interesting argument, we shared similar enthusiasms for books, periodicals, music, drama and public figures. Politically, we were both mugwumps, a little to left of centre.
The specific matters on which we agreed are important to no one but ourselves. That we delved deep to search them out , and that we did agree on so much, is all-important. If we hadn’t , each would have written off our attraction as one more bust.
The differences Sally and I turned up were just as important as t he matters of agreement. Perhaps more so, for their danger potentials. They were not minor, but we made them so by deliberate design we worked at making the differences matters of indifferent importance.
There was temperament, for one. Sally is quick, instant in her reactions. She is impulsive, makes swift decisions, is naturally more vivacious. I am slower, a sluggish starter.
Take the way either of us tells an anecdote to friends. Sally rushes through a story at a gallop. I like detail that builds up suspense. The consequence is that at first Sally tended to take my stories away from me and finish them in a whirl. We fixed that,
before marriage, by agreeing that whoever thought of a story first would tell it in his own way. The arrangement has worked well.
Also, our senses of humor were quite different. Sally favored subtlety, the retort sophisticated. My funny bone was from a more Elizabethan mold. I enjoyed the ribald, the lusty and the raucous. Puns 1 have always adored, and they were beneath her contempt.
Each profited. I learned to appreciate the exquisitely spun wit of such masters as Beerbohm, Voltaire, Cabell and Oscar Wilde. Sally has learned to enjoy the absurd slapstick of such earthy clowns as Olsen and Johnson, Abbott and Costello, Bob Hope and Bert Lahr. She admits, too, now that I have shown her the light , that a pat pun requires a high degree of mental agility. She no longer views them with minxed emotions.
One extracurricular activity that caused a little trouble was Sally’s love of the drama; specifically,
act ing. She was never so stage-struck as to yearn for a professional career, but from her teens she has enjoyed appearing in amateur productions. She is good at it, what’s more, and husband was never more proud than the time, a couple of years ago, when she wrote and played the leading role in a first-rate “one-acter.”
By and large, however, amateur theatricals are something I can gladly leave alone. Maybe they’re fun for t he people on stage, but to me they never seem worth all the foofaraw and fuss, the endless rehearsals and energy.
But if t hey are important to Sally, that’s another matter. When anot her play is in the works, I keep my thoughts to myself. Sally, on her part, has never once let, her appearance in a play interfere with our home life. Rehearsals are held during the daytime. She has even turned down opport unit ies to appear in small roles in professional productions that, play our city, although I’ve urged her to accept if t hey interest her.
For Richer, For Poorer
ANOTHER difference of a more basic nature, which we found in our self-schooling, was that 1 frequently worry about money and that Sally seldom does. While my income has steadily increased since we were married, and the jobs I have held have been increasingly to my liking,
1 have spells of impatience that income progress isn’t swifter. Sally, who worked for the first year and a half of our married life, and who knows the value of money as well as the next one, is always serenely certain that we won’t starve, which is all that she considers essential.
It worked out this way—one phase of it, rather: Sally’s confidence that
our income would always be ahead of outgo had no serious challenge at first. We lived in Spartan simplicity and kept a rigid budget. But when we moved to another city and opened our first charge accounts, on the strength of a much bigger salary for me, challenges began to appear. It got to the point where things which Sally “had to have” and which she got by the simple expedient of saying, “Charge it, please,” led me to suggest archly that I might as well go to work for the department stores.
When we moved to still another city, with still another advance in income, we agreed to try doing without charge accounts. The arrangement has worked superlatively well for more than five years. We have stayed within our income and saved more than we ever did before. For the things we “have to have” we pay cash.
We discovered that Sally is a lot less naïve about people than I am. I tend to take them uncritically at their face value, and when they turn out to be something less than I had expected, they are likely to go down in my black book. Sally keeps her guard up until she has proof that she can lower it safely.
Result her decisions about people are more just and temperate than mine. 1 keep trying to learn. Judgment about other people bears strongly on marriage when one mate lets his measure of the ot her’s friends affect the home atmosphere.
We found out that we are very different, in our views about promptness. Sally insists upon being on time for dinner engagements and parties, while a half-hour delay never seems to matter to me. But I gef all of a lat her when it looks as if we are going to be late for a theatre or concert. We might “miss” something. And under taut exhortations to hurry we both become aloofly deliberate! Over the years we have both learned the virtues of patience and of starting to get ready early of an evening. We both try not to offend.
Again, Sally is the incorrigible romancer and I
am literal-minded. For her a fact is something to start from, to exaggerate, to spin fancies upon. I uphold a more respectful regard for precision. The effect upon her was to charge me with killing interest. The effect upon me was to charge her with talking moonshine. We get around this difficulty by never correcting one another in public. Also, Sally, to please my literal soul, has trained herself to say, “It, was one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a long time,” instead of, as earlier, “It was the funniest (hing I ever saw in my whole life.” We still don’t agree about the physically protec-
tive role of the husband, particularly in the business of the wife going around alone at night. Sally was so completely her own girl before marriage that it galls her to find me playing convoy when she is bound no farther away than to the corner drugstore. Maybe I’m unreasonably old-fashioned about this. But I don’t want her to become the subject of grim black headlines in the public prints, a victim of assault or worse. Too many young wives are.
Her volunteer activities during the war complicated this problem. We settled it as we would have had to settle it if I hadn’t been rejected for the armed services and had gone off to war. When she had to go out alone at night she took the car, and kept it locked on the inside, but she made no after-dark excursions that weren’t necessary. She checks her free-wandering instincts and I check my protective impulses whenever they approach the smothering point.
Some of the views we were most positive about in our premarriage talks have undergone remarkable revision in a dozen years. For instance, Sally had the notion that solo vacations from marriage were sort of a cement to durable matrimony. The way it has worked out is that in nearly 12 years we’ve been apart exactly three nights we want to be together as much as possible. Sally wonders where in the world she got her silly notion about separate vacations.
From an equally forgotten somewhere, I had the premarriage certainty that to be tied down to Things was a good way to kill a marriage. I wanted no property and no more household effects than
could be flung into the trunk of an automobile. Well, we have owned our own home and everything in it for the past four years—still paying for it, of course—and we wonder why we didn’t buy or build when we got hack from our honeymoon. I shudder when I think of all the rent receipts we previously amassed to no future purpose.
Encumbrances? Ha! Encumbrances is the wrong name for them. They are anchors to windward. Every new home payment gives us that much more equity in a very solid anchor.
We have no children. This could be a big, and worsening, hazard, if we let it. We both like kids. We think we are potentially fine parents, but we are not going to let failure to produce an heir mar our married life.
We both were determined that no in-law problem would throw us. None has, although it might have been otherwise. For both of our mothers, widows long before Sally and I met, share our home.
In theory, all four of us were opposed to such an arrangement, but eventually the time came when there was no other answer. Naturally, all four of us had to make adjustments. We did it in uniformly good spirit. Each of us lives up to self-assigned responsibilities of the home. For nine years now we have got along harmoniously, primarily because we treat each other as friends, not as in-laws. It is also important that Sally and I had the forethought to pick very superior women for our mothers. Our home finds in-law jokes stupid and pointless stuff, indeed.
But making adjustments to inconvenience, big and little, is mostly on the negative side. The goal is to avoid frictions. The positive aspect is no less important, and in this the little things may be all-important.
To Love and to Cherish
EITHER of us ever lets the other forget who is the best-beloved before all others. When I do a piece of work that’s good, or even fair, Sally is lavish with her praise. When we are out in public I delight to tell her she’s the most beautiful woman present, because she always is.
Does the emphasis on self-education sound pretty grim? Like going to a psychiatrist or filling out a long job questionnaire?
It wasn’t grim at all, nor have the adjustments been so.
Over the years Sally and I have had our annoyances, arguments and disagreements. But we have never quarrelled—not in hot and flaring anger. There has been no occasion to quarrel. If the impulse seems to be coming, we check it, knowing what we share, why we share it, and what we may be jeopardizing.
An old marriage homily runs: “Never let the sun go down on a family fight.” A better rule is: “Never fight.” Wounds may heal, but the scars remain.
A great deal of harm has been done by the nonsense that “marriages are made in heaven.” They’re not at all. They are made on earth and of the earth, by imperfect human beings driven together, out of their loneliness and deep hunger, by powerful and wonderful forces. But if marriages are made with care, tenderness, honesty, devotion and with full measure of understanding, they can be an earthly counterpart of what most mortals wish of heaven.
I hope this hasn’t sounded smug. That’s the last thing in this world Sally and I want to seem. What we are both trying to put across here is that marriage, if a couple goes into it with eyes open and brains working, can be the most transcendently beautiful adventure on earth.
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