Culture Magazine

My Marriage

By Fsrcoin

In all my years of blogging, I’ve barely touched upon my life’s central thing: my marriage with Therese Broderick. (I’ve eschewed boastfulness, humility being one of my great virtues.) November 27 is our 35th anniversary.

My Marriage

A recent David Brooks column deems marriage under-appreciated. Many younger Americans, he says, feel that one’s profession is the core of life, with marriage like icing on the cake. Wrong, argues Brooks: “if you have a great career and a crappy marriage, you will be unhappy, but if you have a great marriage and a crappy career, you will be happy.” He cites a study showing that while income does enhance happiness, marriage is a much more powerful factor.

But Americans are marrying later, if ever. Brooks reports that in 1980, only 6% of 40-year-olds had never been married. It was 25% in 2021. Around 50% of children have single parents. Economic as well as socio-cultural factors shape these trends. Males are falling behind women in education, making them less marriageable. Many folks aren’t even looking to hitch up. And I think a lot of marriages fail because people are too focused on themselves — too selfish if you will. A great irony, because if you let that undermine your marriage, you aren’t really serving your self after all, but wrecking what could be the greatest contributor to overall happiness.*

A key reason why marriage can be so fulfilling is our being wired by evolution for sociability (because greater social cooperation conferred an adaptive advantage). And while earlier people typically married for other reasons (economic, familial, etc.), modern marriage often provides one’s richest human connection.

Certainly true in my own case — though it’s no normal story. I was a loner kid, had somehow missed the standard socialization. By age 23, I’d had nothing to do with girls, was clueless how that even worked. At 5’4″ I was below their radar.

My Marriage

And the notion of someday having a wife literally never occurred to me. My hormones were repressed. But now, newly living on my own, I was suddenly much aware of romantic couples all around — and realized I wanted that.

Eventually, a learning curve did get me a relationship. Nice for a time; less so for the ensuing decade, until the gal found an exit. The long drama with her left me a more mature, wiser man. But all this fraught past history still sticks powerfully in my psyche.

Alone again at forty, through a cold dark winter, I undertook intensive efforts to finally find the woman I craved. I’ve written about comedian Andrew Sloss touting refusal to settle for less than perfection in a mate. Yet I would have settled — rather than waste my life in pursuit of an ideal. I am a romantic but also pragmatic. And to find that 100% perfect partner is seeking the proverbial needle in a haystack.

A local singles organization held an “interactive workshop” on romantic love, posing the question of what objective one centralizes. Among several choices, I picked “commitment.” With that, I believed, a lot could be overcome.

My Marriage

And at that workshop I did find the needle in a haystack after all. Hit the jackpot, really. A razor-sharp mind with a humble integrity of character and the sweetest disposition. Comely too. Therese and I seem preternaturally suited to each other, in our temperaments, outlooks, beliefs, and interests; the frictionless meshing of our lives, our mutual devotion. We don’t have conflicts — each attuned to accommodating the other; we’re not my-way-or-the-highway type people. I’ve told her it’s like we’re a single organism.

A big factor in happiness is an attitude of gratitude. We both have this quite strongly, regarding everything about our lives, with our marriage the anchor. Seeing our glass as way more than half full. She is a joyful, cheerful person, and we share a lot of laughter.

One thing we’re together on is our involvement with a Somaliland school project, including hosting students in our home, with Therese taking the lead. And this intrepid gal even traveled with me to Somaliland! But of course our biggest joint adventure has been raising a daughter, which I think went rather well.

My Marriage

I love Therese’s wide-ranging intellectual curiosity; and especially love being married to a poet. I don’t mean someone who (like many) dabbles at writing verse. For Therese, poetry is her vocation, taking it seriously and dedicated to her craft, active in the poetry scene; all a human flourishing which I honor. For my 75th birthday she produced a wonderful book of poems, humorously celebrating our joint life, which she’d worked on intensively for a year. Our both being deeply into words and language is another source of togetherness.

The physical aspect must be mentioned, of course we’re biological beings. If anything, Therese’s attractiveness to me has actually grown as she’s aged (more so since she started wearing glasses). Looking at her now I see the very archetype of the woman I’d always fancied, and I’m all “Yes!!!” But of course, I’m seeing not just the physical, but all the things about her, and our marriage, that give me pleasure.

My Marriage

Some view love as essentially irrational. One does not fall in love over a balance sheet of a person’s pluses and minuses. Psychologist Jonathan Haidt wrote that our conscious mind is like an elephant rider, thinking they’re in charge. But the elephant is one’s subconscious, going where it wants, and the rider’s main role is coming up with rationales for the direction of travel. Love is a lot like that.

Yet Therese and I are both very rationally mindful people. And even one’s elephant has its reasons, which may be rational ones after all. I did not fall crazily in love with her. I recall thinking at the time how very rational it all was.

My Marriage

That’s not to leave emotion out of it. As neuroscientist Antonio Damasio has argued, emotion and reason are inextricable; emotions give us the reasons for deploying reason. The emotionality of my feelings vis-a-vis Therese has also grown over time. I recall seeing the phrase “surprised and delighted” describing how newlyweds feel about their marriage — feelings which typically fade. But I am more surprised and delighted than ever, besotted even. So present to my consciousness it’s almost like a neurotic obsession. Yet still of course it’s not irrational; behind it lie all the rational reasons for those feelings.

Furthermore, even 35 years later, I cannot stop seeing her in the context of all my long ago history. My marriage still does surprise me. Everyone constructs a story line, a narrative arc, fitted to one’s whole life. This is mine. And now I’m in the denouement, the “happily ever after” part.

My Marriage

Similarly, a religious person’s belief system forms a structure within which they see their lives as embedded. My marriage to Therese is my equivalent. My religion: I am a Theresian.

* Note that the marriage picture is worse still in China, whose longtime one-child rule resulted in a shortage of younger people, especially girls (due to a preference for boys). Yet youth unemployment is severe, while owning a home is considered a prerequisite for marriage, and housing prices soar. All presaging fewer weddings. Young people are demoralized; many couples not even having sex (let alone babies).

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