Newlyweds’ gift to their grown kids is an abiding belief that love can last

Russell Frank
By Russell Frank September 15, 2013 05:00
All smiles down the aisle

All smiles in their walk down the aisle

When I was in my 20s, my attitude toward romantic relationships could be summarized by an old saying my dad taught me: “Women are like streetcars. Wait 10 minutes and another one will come along.”

(This from a guy who was married to one woman for 69 years.)

Now, pushing 60, I know better. Casual relationships may be easy to come by, but deep ones are rare – rarer, even, than streetcars after midnight on a holiday.

That is why I am savoring what I have with Han. She and I had been friends for 20 years when our marriages busted up within six months of each other. Getting together was not the obvious move. We had met in Sonora but were now living 2,700 miles apart – she in the Bay Area and I in Pennsylvania.

One spring weekend, though, she and three mutual friends from Tuolumne County flew east for a women’s weekend in New York. I invited myself along.

By the end of an evening of Manhattan barhopping, the women had kicked off their shoes and were dancing in the street. A video camera caught Han and me singing “That’s Amore” near a statue of St. Anthony in Soho.

At 1:30 a.m. I bade them goodnight, hugging each in turn, Han last and longest, like Dorothy hugging the Scarecrow: I loved each of them, but I loved her best of all.

I woke up early so I could make it to my son’s Little League game. I considered calling Han and asking if she wanted to take a quick walk in the park, but decided against it: She was probably still asleep. And she hadn’t given any indication that she wanted to spend any alone time with me.

A half-hour into my drive, my phone rang. Han wanted to know when I was leaving. I told her I’d already left. She said she didn’t realize I was leaving so early. I mentioned my morning stroll idea.

“You should have called,” she said.

Reader, roll your eyes if you must, but at that moment, Cupid’s arrow lodged in my breast.

That was six years ago.

We began seeing each other, on average, every other month. At first, we called each reunion a “date.” Some of our dates were long weekends. Most were a week to 10 days. The longest amount of time we ever spent together was three weeks.

Throughout this long and lovely and logistically challenging courtship, friends and strangers gave us the same advice: Don’t change a thing. Which is another way of delivering the punch line argument against getting married: Why spoil a perfect relationship?

Then there were the statistics. Two thirds of second marriages end in divorce, compared to about 40 percent of first marriages.

So why did we decide to do it?

One of my stock answers to that question is to talk about how tired we were of checking Kayak.com for good deals on transcontinental flights. Another is to rattle off what’s convenient about having a partner: always having someone to pick you up after you’ve been doped up by doctors and dentists; always having someone to talk to at the end of the day; always having someone to play with on weekends.

Closer to the truth might be this lyric from a Taj Mahal song: “I would sure be doin’ better, baby, if you were sleepin’ next to me.”

But these were all reasons for closing that 2,700-mile gap and living under the same roof. They weren’t necessarily reasons for picking up a license at the county courthouse and inviting our nearest and dearest to witness an exchange of vows.

Our answer to that one was a twist on a familiar theme. We wanted to marry, in part, for the sake of the kids. It wasn’t about reestablishing their lives after our marriages crashed and burned. Her two and my three are pretty much on their own now. It’s a little late for them to look to us for stability.

What we could provide was a statement of belief, in spite of everything, in the possibility of long-term love.

When my ex and I split up, my oldest, 19 at the time, questioned the wisdom of getting into a relationship if it is only doomed to failure. What chance did she and her boyfriend have when even her seemingly solid mom and dad couldn’t keep it together after 20 years?

I didn’t know how to respond, aside from reminding her how long her grandparents’ marriage lasted. Now, though, after six years of conversations with Han on the subject, I have a better answer: When it comes to relationships, depth beats breadth.

Yes, new love is exciting. It’s also superficial. When boredom sets in – with a place, a routine, a person – it’s not because we’ve seen all there is to see and done all there is to do and know all there is to know.

It’s because we’re not paying sufficient attention.

Sometimes, if you take a quick look at a tide pool, all you see is a bowl of seawater. But if you stay long enough for the rock to stop vibrating with your footfalls and for your body to become part of the visual field, the bowl of seawater comes alive with crabs, starfish, anemones and urchins. We can come alive for each other like that if we take the time and make the effort.

That’s the theory, anyway. Han and I tied the knot in July. We’re still as gooey as a couple of 19-year-olds. Maybe more so: We have a keener appreciation of how rare and precious love is. We plan to ride that streetcar ’til the end of the line.

Former Sonora resident Russell Frank teaches journalism at Penn State University. Email him at rbf5@psu.edu.

Copyright © 2013 Friends and Neighbors Magazine

Russell Frank
By Russell Frank September 15, 2013 05:00
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