We recently celebrated an equally important event, the 40th anniversary of our first date. As I baked a batch of Anniversary Cookies — our traditional celebration treat — I thought about the beginning of our relationship. On March 27, 1971, at ages 18 and 17, we spent our first evening together and instinctively knew we would spend the rest of our lives together. The background of that first date is a story in itself as my spouse was tricked into taking me out by two of his friends. They told him that they had told me he was going to ask me out, an outright lie. Under those false pretenses, he took the polite step, thankfully, and asked me out to avoid hurting my feelings or disappointing me. On that day, never looking back, we began our life journey together.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, in 2009 there were about 2.1million marriages in the United States. The marriage rate per 1,000 total population was 6.8 and the divorce rate was about half that figure. Alabama’s marriage rate for 2009 was 8.3 and the divorce rate was 4.4.
Economist Justin Wolfers, assistant professor of business and public policy at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, adamantly concludes, “…Divorce has been falling in the United States since 1979, in almost every year.” Tucking that fact back, and considering the marriages of friends and family that have thrived for many years, a question immediately comes to mind. In a world that constantly throws sidetracking, separating issues at us, what is the glue that maintains the focus on our marriages and ultimately holds us together?
One of my relatives dated his wife for six months, got engaged, and married a little more than a year after they started dating. His wife left college and worked while he finished his undergraduate degree and became a co-op engineering student, alternating working a semester and going to school a semester. With a rock solid faith, he views their 42-year-old marriage vows, made when they were both 19, as a cornerstone of the binding that holds them together. The vows are a covenant before God and man to love each other, for better or worse, until God separates them by death. Referring to the Bible as a source of guidance, he is instructed to “lead” his wife while loving her as Christ loved the church, and to patiently honor her and respect her.
This relative’s own heartfelt words sum up the crux of his marriage:
“We believe that it is by God’s matchless grace that we have each other and also by His grace that he has given us all we need, if we are obedient to His Word, for our marriage to survive, thrive, and flourish. And even though our obedience has often been flawed, we have still enjoyed such a marriage.”
Over the years, the strength of their marriage also grew as they spent time with friends who lost or would eventually lose spouses way too early, primarily to cancer. While emphasizing the importance of appreciating each other, this relative candidly told the story of spending time with one of these friends who was beginning to brace himself for a life without his wife. The relative noted with a smile, amidst poking a little fun at himself, “Things like that help even a dope like me to cherish the ‘wife of my youth’ that God has given me.”
A friend, who is a teacher and a coach, had his first date with his wife on Friday the 13th. He asked her out at the suggestion of one of his middle school students. After dinner at Joy Young’s in Birmingham, a trip to the bookstore for a copy of “A Tale of Two Cities,” and a movie, this couple “just knew” they were right for each other. Eight months later they married and, in his words, their marriage of 18 years has been “absolutely fantastic.”
The foundation of this marriage is supported by a crucial unifying element — their personal commitments to their shared Christian faith. As a part of their faith, this couple agreed before they were married that divorce would never be discussed once they were married and they would not consider it an option if difficulties arose in their marriage.
Over time, other practical factors and day-to-day considerations have added vitality and cement to this marriage. First, paying attention to the “little things” that matter to one of them keeps daily life running smoothly. One partner is willing to be flexible since these “little things” are likely to be “big things” to the other. Second, an unselfish concern for the contentment and well-being for one actually becomes fulfilling for the other. Finally, while there is no question as to the importance of love in marriage, “like” in their marriage is equally important. Each one genuinely likes the other, they are best friends, and they choose and treasure each other’s company.
Finding each other as teenagers was an amazing blessing for friends whose marriage of more than four decades has provided a wonderful example for all of us who are privileged to know them. Eloping when one was 20 and the other was 18, to the short-lived dismay of their parents, allowed them to mature and grow up as partners.
This couple started their marriage with only a few bare essential possessions while each was in college and working at least one job. Surviving financially was a daily battle, but the problem-solving this struggle required basically allowed them to develop a mutual set of life-long priorities. Their daughters are convinced that their parents were fortunate to begin their marriage with so little. This couple’s positive, patient faith that everything would eventually work out, and their appreciation of what each was contributing to the success of their marriage, flourished under those circumstances.
The backdrop of World War II brought together a sweet high school girl from Montclair, New Jersey, and a handsome farm boy from rural Walnut Grove, Ala. An Episcopal priest and his wife routinely invited Navy men from the York Naval Station in Maryland to their home for dinner. On one of these occasions, the handsome farm boy, who was stationed at York, was invited. The couple’s daughter brought a boarding school girlfriend, who was the daughter of a Westinghouse engineer, home for the weekend. The Yankee girl and the Southern boy met, fell in love, and have now been married for more than 60 years.
Even though they grew up in such different circumstances, each spouse in this marriage had been taught the same core values — unfailing hard work, unquestionable integrity, and ever-present optimism. These essential ingredients created the unshakeable foundation of their marriage. Always demonstrating respect for each other as well as careful patience, this couple’s simple words succinctly explain the essence of their long and joyous marriage.
“We have loved together, laughed together, fought together, and learned tolerance of and willingness to adjust to our differences — even the annoying ones. We have been fortunate to grow and change along together. We have not doubted our dedication to the marriage, to each other, and to our family. Somewhere along the way there is an element of luck. Not everyone would agree with this, but we feel we have been lucky indeed.”
Many of us marry as “children” and then we grow up and grow old with our partners. As we make our way in the process of a commitment to something so much bigger than ourselves, we find guidebooks, or we write our own, or we plod along on a trial and error basis. Whatever route we choose, we ultimately discover the glue that holds us together is made up of a myriad of components — respect, devotion, friendship, problem-solving, hard work, optimism, integrity, luck — and these vital elements bring simple joy and beauty to our lives.
1 cup salted butter
One half cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 small package Hershey’s Kisses
1. With a mixer, cream the butter, sugar, and vanilla until light and fluffy.
2. Add the flour one cup at a time and blend on low speed.
3. Chill the dough for about an hour.
4. Remove the wrappers from the kisses and shape the dough around each kiss, being sure to cover it completely.
5. Bake at 350 on an ungreased cookie sheet for about 12 minutes or until the cookies are set but not brown.
6. Cool for a few minutes and then roll the cookies in confectioners’ sugar while they are still warm.
•This recipe makes a small batch of about 12 cookies.
•You can make a few cookies and then refrigerate the dough for several days until you are ready to make a few more.
•These cookies will keep well for two or three days carefully stored in a container with a good lid.
•They taste even better after a day or two.
Margaret Dabbs is a freelance columnist who resides in Jasper. Her column appears every other Wednesday in the Lifestyles section. Comments and suggestions are welcomed by contacting Dabbs at 387-2890.