Thursday, August 18, 2016

Choose Well

It figures that "The Odd Couple" was the only Neil Simon play I'd ever seen.

That finally got corrected at Hanover Tavern with a matinee of "Brighton Beach Memoirs," which, among other things, clued me in to the fact that Brighton Beach is an oceanside neighborhood in Brooklyn, a fact which was complete news to me.

And while the coming of age story of a Jewish boy navigating parents, older brother, aunt and two cousins all under the same roof was sweet and very much of an era (the '30s), one thing that struck me - besides the terrifically talented young Tyler Stevens as Eugene - was the nature of the relationship of young Eugene's parents, Kate and Jack.

In the story, there was a real bond between the parents, no matter how many difficult situations they were facing. Each was caring and solicitous of their partner, doing their best to look after and keep problems and annoyances from the other.

They were happily a unit.

Despite incredibly difficult financial times and mounting responsibilities, they plodded forward, never for a moment considering a future without the other.

My parents are like that, too, and the long-term success of their union feels like both a gift and a curse to someone who has yet to get an "A" in long-term relationships. But I recently got some unexpected clues from an unlikely source: a cast-off Time magazine.

Mom, being very much a product of the Depression, distributes her old magazines to others once she and my Dad finish reading them. The cleaning lady gets Good Housekeeping and Sports Illustrated goes to the barber shop, but Time and Vanity Fair she gives to me.

I admit, I don't always take all her cast-offs, preferring to flip through and choose based on cover stories. So when she handed me a stack on a recent visit and I spotted the June 13th issue of Time, I paused because of the topic: "How To Stay Married." Subhead: "Staying married is more challenging than ever. But new data says it's worth it."

Surely I could learn something from this article.

It seems Americans have elevated their expectations of marriage and while we actually are capable of achieving new heights, it's only with a lot of work. Without that effort, turns out we'll be more disappointed than previous generations because we'd been promised the moon (and believed it).

And what do we do when we get disappointed? We check out because we can.

Well, not all of us because people like my parents and Eugene's don't consider opting out an option. What's tantalizing to me is that a Cornell study of 700 elderly people revealed that every single one of them said the same two key things.

That a long marriage was the best thing in their lives but also that it was a difficult thing that required effort.

This surely ties in to statistics about older people in happy relationships being healthier and living longer. The article made it clear that sex played a bigger role than money in marital happiness.

All that made good sense to me. But where the article really got my attention was on the subject of soul mates, making the point that, "there are tens of thousands of people out there that anyone could be happily married to and each marriage would be different."

Well, that was certainly encouraging.

But it was the next two sentences, which someone (I'm assuming my Dad) had boldly underlined in red that spoke to real life experience.

And how do you make a soulmate? Practice, practice, practice.

Sitting in my apartment in Richmond, seeing those sentiments underscored felt like a direct message from my parents in the Northern Neck to me, although I seriously doubt that whoever did the underlining even considered that anyone besides their soulmate would see those emphatic red lines.

Or maybe they did, given how my mother has been telling me for years that she can't die because I'm not married. No, really.

Usually when the subject comes up, I remind her of one key factor she's ignoring and, as it happens, it's the same one that closes out the Time article.

Just pick out a good one and get lucky.

My parents were fortunate enough to do just that before they were even 25. Me, not so much.

On the bright side, I am willing to practice.

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