Sunday, April 22, 2012

Marriage, Schmarriage

"Have you noticed that everyone is splitting up suddenly?" said FFCOBB (fabulous female cousin of Bungalow Babe) yesterday as we sat around a backyard pool in that Shabbat no-man's land between lunch and havdalah at the family Bar Mitzvah that was held in the leafy, large-homed community of Englewood, NJ.

The observation -- affirmed by me -- provided ample grist for our gossip mill as we shared tales of friends whose long marriages had suddenly dissolved (with a delicious recounting of post-divorce sluttiness on the part of both the men and women we knew) agreeing that in most cases, the split followed a long period of simmering discontent.

Several hours later, seated around the cozy kitchen table of yet another FFCOBB, the conversation was revived and enlivened, with several themes emerging: relatively fast remarriage among the men, relatively demoralizing relationship prospects for the women...and the sharing of some actual scandals.

"Omigod," said the second FFCOBB to her husband, who joined us at the table. "This is really depressing. Let's not ever split up."

My fabulous male cousin, her husband, laughed with the security that comes from having a solid marriage, the kind that reminds me of what my long-married parents have.

I spent three days this past week hanging with POBB (parents of Bungalow Babe) in their newfound paradise -- Boca Raton's Century Village. In this pristine, perfect sunny compound of over 6,000 apartments, there are many long term marriages, reported FOBB (Father of Bungalow Babe.) Between the water aerobics, balance-training classes, gym visits, new apartment-hunting expeditions and poolside chats I attended with them, I got to see some of these marriages up close.

From what I could see, they are built on a sweet camaraderie, a life-long chumminess, an emotional intimacy that is nearly reflexive. There seems to be barely a membrane separating husband and wife, so that they have blended into one, two-headed entity.

"The most important thing is loyalty," stated MOBB (Mother of Bungalow Babe) when I asked her what she thought the secret of these long marriages was. "You've got to be the other person's best friend."

"You have to share, from the heart and soul," added FOBB. "Money. Dreams. Big Decisions."

"You are a unit," declared MOBB. "You form a united front. Being a good couple is the key to having a good family."

While in Boca, I had ample opportunity to observe my parents walking the walk of good coupledom in myriad ways. They helped each other throughout the day, often physically. They spoke constantly, sometimes arguing...yet constructively. They laughed frequently. When a new apartment -- closer to the shul -- became suddenly available, FOBB sprung into action, making an offer to the son of the recently-deceased owner even as we walked through the unit.

Though my dad was happy enough with the more affordable third-floor apartment they currently occupy, MOBB has had her heart set on a ground-floor unit a few yards from the houses of worship.

Without even a moment's hesitation, he made her dream come true.

It was a courtly and elegant move.

My eyes still fill with tears when I think about how happy my father made my mother this past week. She clapped her hands like a little girl getting a favorite doll. In that moment, her husband became her hero.

Watching, feeling very much like a little girl myself, I was struck by how loving and selfless his act was.

He knew her dream and realized he had the power to make it come true. It was not his dream and it came with a cost but he was committed to the task of making her happy.

It was one of the most touching things I have ever witnessed.

While lesser couples dissolve around me, I pay close attention to the example and teaching of my parents and their long-married friends. This is not just freelance observation but a personal and professional endeavor. I watch, like Harriet the Spy, and take mental notes. I ask questions, like one of the Four Children of the Seder. I see something that only rarely seems to exist today. I wish to bottle it, to emulate it. I admire the manner in which my parents have elevated their life-long union from an institution to something far more profound.

Marriage, schmarriage.

Stay tuned for more.

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