When we got married, I was already 45 and my husband was 53. Between us, we had two houses (mine tiny and his much larger but dark and cold), three children, and one grandchild. Behind us, we had two divorces (one for each of us), two different backgrounds (mine Russian and his Oregonian by way of Wisconsin), two advanced degrees (mine Masters and his Ph.D.), and plenty of experiences – mine mostly unhappy and his both happy and not so much.
Contrary to what you may think, I wasn’t sure that matrimony was a good idea for me. I had already had one bad experience and that with a person from a similar background. How could tying the knot with someone completely different be any better? Besides, I had no external motivations: I was already a U.S. citizen, I had a decent job, and I was used to being alone. In fact, because of this line of thinking, I didn’t finalize the dissolution of my first marriage for more than three years after my ex and I split up. This led to an embarrassing admission at the courthouse, where I had to declare that I got divorced in September (the scene took place in October), and I was already planning on getting married again. But, statistically speaking, people who were married before are likely to marry again, and so we did – “For better or worse for richer or poorer.”
Well, so far, it hasn’t been either rich or poor, although it has been turbulent at times. But whose marriage hasn’t had turbulent moments? The way I see it, turbulence is just part of the deal, like when you are on an airplane and they suddenly tell you to fasten your seat belt, because “We’re going through turbulence!” You aren’t surprised by that, just a little scared, right? Also, even under the best circumstances, life can be stressful, and it’s hard not to bring your negative emotions into your relationship. That said, there has been one long-lasting relationship that I came to admire – the relationship between my new husband’s parents.
At the time of our wedding, my in-laws lived in Washington State, but since it was hard for my husband to assist them when they needed his help, we decided to invite them to live with us. This happened a year after we got married. By that time we had sold our individual houses and bought a new house that was large enough for all four of us (and was also light and warm:)). We occupied one floor and my husband’s parents the other, and since there was a kitchen and a refrigerator on both floors, the only thing we had to share was our laundry room. Well, a couple of times my mother-in-law encroached on my freezer, but after I accidentally threw out a jar of mint julep that she prepared in advance for her younger sister’s visit (I mistook it for a long forgotten jar of bullion my husband was used to making in his BS – Before Svetlana – era), she quickly learned not to do that.
By the time my husband’s parents arrived, they were already 85 and 89 years old respectively. This was impressive in itself, but even more impressive was the fact that they had been married for 68 years (they lived to celebrate their 72nd wedding anniversary!). For me, a person who grew up to the thundering sounds of my parents’ arguments, my in-laws’ relationship was a miracle, compared only with the revelation I experienced when I discovered that, contrary to everything I learned in my Russian history books, the American Army had a lot to do with the defeat of Nazi Germany (we were taught that the Soviet Union won WWII almost single-handedly).
In any case, there they were, two elderly people who, despite all their differences (he, for one thing, was a stickler for the truth and she was a storyteller who never hesitated to embroider facts for the sake of a good story), enjoyed, if not the passionate love we all yearn for in our youth, then mature tenderness, respect, and appreciation for each other. This is not to say that life never tested them: they lived through the Depression and World War II, they lost their first-born and many of their friends, and they continued struggling with old age and the illnesses that come with it. Yet through it all, both of them seemed to think about the other as much as they thought about themselves (especially my mother-in-law), and they did whatever they could to make life easier for their partner.
Living near them was a humbling experience. We were still going through a “newlywed” phase, which, despite the allure we attach to everything new, has many difficulties: learning each other’s boundaries, respecting each other’s differences, dealing with children from previous marriages and so on. But, every time I got upset (and I have to admit that I get upset very easily:)), I thought to myself, “These people have been together for so long – should I, too, try harder?”
How well has it worked? Tomorrow, February 14, we’ll celebrate 17 years together. When my husband gives me a morning kiss or puts his arm around my shoulder, or makes a joke that only I can understand, I feel needed, safe, and … yes, happy. And while it’s true that, in the end, we’re all on our own, it means the world to me to know that as long as we live, I have a true mate who accepts and appreciates me the way I am.
According to Mark Twain, “Love seems the swiftest, but it is the slowest of all growths. No man or woman really knows what perfect love is until they have been married a quarter of a century.”
I guess that our 17 years won’t be long enough for Mark Twain, but it is long enough for me to believe that I did find my perfect love.
Happy Valentine’s to you all!