An Old Gent’s Advice

old gentAlthough I was raised Catholic, I had given it up by the time I met my wife, Muri, who was Jewish.   We agreed that we would raise the kids Jewish, which didn’t require much more of me than celebrating a few unfamiliar holidays.  But as my son approached eight years old, we decided we should provide more and joined a Reformed congregation, Temple Beth Sholom of Santa Ana, CA, where both our children would attend Hebrew school.  Wanting to know more about the religion of her birth than she had learned into her mostly non-practicing family, Muri enrolled in an Introduction to Judaism course taught in the evenings.  She was so enthusiastic about the course … and the teacher, Rabbi Steve Einstein … that I decided to take the course, too, the next time it was offered.  I posted about how the class and Rabbi Einstein in particular affected my view of Judaism in particular and my spirituality in general in Touched Lightly back in June of last year.

During class, Rabbi Einstein always invited his students to attend services at his own congregation, B’Nai Tzedek in Fountain Valley, CA.  On the Friday night Muri and I accepted the invitation, there was a discussion group after the service.  The topic was How to Make a Marriage Last.  I remember almost nothing about what was said except for the the words of one Old Gent who was there with his gray-haired wife.   Looking back, he was probably younger than I am now.   What he said was this: My wife and I have been married for 40 years and I hate to disillusion you youngsters, but you’re all wrong.   The way to make a marriage last is to be committed enough to make it through the times when you don’t feel like you love each other.  To my thirty-something year old ears, it sounded like the most unromantic thing I’d ever heard.   But … hello … it’s true.

Let me be clear – I’m not talking about that giddy, obsessive, crazed … largely hormone-driven … feeling usually referred to as falling in love.  Don’t virtually all our romantic relationships … good, bad and indifferent … start out that way?  That’s why I’m a believer in longer courtships.  Muri and I dated for over three years, which gave us time to face some adversity, to face some disagreements and to see each other a little more clearly.  We were still in love, we were just no longer falling.    But the Old Gent wasn’t talking about being in love, either.  He was talking about the kind of love that can sustain a forty year marriage.  He’d wisely observed that such a love requires both feeling and commitment.  And his choice of words was perfect: don’t feel like you love each other … not don’t love each other.  Love that lasts is committed to itself during those times when difficulties arise and in love retreats behind anger, sadness, self-interest or even just boredom.

Given the forum, with the Rabbi in attendance, no one asked the Old Gent, But how long do I have to be committed if I don’t feel like I love her anymore?  I’d imagine he’d have responded, How much do you want to stay married?  And, given the forum, no one said, That sounds like a lot of work. Why bother?  I don’t know what Old Gent would have said but here’s my answer.  Love, like wine, gets better with age.  Forty years of shared experience gives it a richness that fills the soul in a way you can’t imagine.

I’m not naive (far from it).  I know not every marriage is Meant to Be … Forever.  But I know too many couples give up to easily.  And I believe that those of us who make it are blessed.

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4 Comments on “An Old Gent’s Advice”

  1. Cheryl P. Says:

    Our minister recently had a 5 week sermon series on love, marriage and sex. We are United Methodist and our minister has written a number of books on the subject. (Adam Hamilton..he delivered the sermon at the Inaugeral prayer service in January.)

    He, also said that there would be times that you might feel like you don’t love your spouse and gave a number of ways to rekindle the spark. It was an interesting series.

    After being married 41 years, I think you are right…there is something wonderful about a life spent together that compensates for the loss of the initial “butterflies” that accompany the “falling in love” period. I sometimes think that maybe some people feel the need to always experience that stage and not be willing to let love evolve.

  2. As an unmarried woman, I have always believed in what that old gent said. I saw into my parents’ marriage and could tell that, at times, they weren’t feeling the love. But they never fractured. Commitment and partnership is so important, and not everyone understands that. I hope I eventually find someone who does!

  3. My own marriage barely survived 8 years so this isn’t something in which I am claiming great knowledge and experience in making it work. I’d be better at showing how to screw it up, most likely. But what I do know is that it is hard, difficult -very difficult at times and it is work. I’d say it’s kind of like what I have always told my kids -especially when they’ve done something that made me really angry or hurt me or themselves -“I may not like you at times, but I’ll always love you.” I’ll not ever have the chance to see if that adage works with marriage to be able to survive, but I’d like to think it would at least help to look at things from that kind of perspective.
    Peace and bless you and Muri for having made it through the thick and thin and the times when maybe you didn’t quite like each other but still had the love there.

  4. territerri Says:

    Excitement and passion is what sells… so unfortunately, I think we’re often led to believe that to be successful, our relationships have to be a constant source of adventure and fun. Old Gent had a great message that I wish more people would understand and believe in. There might be fewer divorces then.

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