A quarter of a century — 25 years — is a long time.
It’s four years more than the era that separated the first and second world wars. It’s roughly the epochal chasm that divided the end of that Second World War and the counterculture celebration of youth and music and mud at Woodstock. Twenty-five years ago, the few cell phones in existence were bigger than bricks, Madonna was far more interested in lingerie than motherhood, and floppy disks really were floppy. The Internet existed, but only the government and a few academics knew about it; it would be another decade before the now iconic (and antiquated everywhere but at my mother-in-law’s apartment) sound of a phone modem would become heard in households everywhere.
I mention this because for me, in one crucial way, a quarter-century has passed in a heartbeat. It was 25 years ago this week that I married the woman with whom I had fallen madly in love our freshman year of college. It doesn’t seem possible. (Likewise, my mind reels at the notion that we have a daughter who will be 16 next month.) It seems, well, like yesterday.
But it wasn’t. It was a quarter of a century ago that we were married in Manhattan, the sky cerulean, a hint of an autumn chill in the air, the leaves in Central Park just starting to fall.
Over the years I have written in this space about how grateful I am to have found her. Likewise, on Valentine’s Days in years past, I have asked other couples who seemed so much older than my wife and me to comment here on what makes a marriage work. Now, with a quarter century of my own marriage behind me, I feel as if I should have that sort of wisdom to share.
And yet, I’m not sure I do. The 25 years have sped by and I am older but not necessarily wiser. One moment I am standing outside the steps of that church with a woman far more beautiful than in my wildest adolescent dreams I had ever expected to wed, and the next I am wondering where all that hair I once had on my head has gone. (Answer? My ears and my back, apparently.) One moment a bridesmaid is handing my wife and me a bottle of champagne as we climb into a cab to the airport and our honeymoon after the reception, and the next I am holding in my hands a plastic bottle of One-A-Day Men’s Health Formula vitamins (according to the label, “good for prostate health, heart health, and healthy blood pressure”).
Still, I might suggest to a newlywed the following: You don’t always have to be right. Arguments don’t really have winners. And make-up sex is a myth. Moreover, the more you do for your partner, the more your partner will do for you. That sounds more suggestive than it’s meant to, but read into it what you will. My point? Be pliable. Learn to say, “I was wrong before. I’m smarter now.”
The one thing I know for certain is this: Middle age is a whole lot easier when you have been blessed as I have to fall in love young and to fall in love forever. That’s a rare thing, a stroke of luck that is at once atypical and monumental. People should hate me (Good Lord, sometimes I hate me, but that’s another issue). I can look into my lovely bride’s eyes and recall a thousand memories more magical than I had thought likely when I was wondering at 17 how my forehead could disappear completely behind a zit or, sadly, contemplating the reefs that seemed to prevent so many marriages that surrounded me as a boy from ever settling into safe harbors.
A lot can happen in a quarter of a century, a lot can change. Hairlines can recede like the surf at low tide. Gravity, sun and age can wreak havoc on the human physique.
But in one case, nothing has changed. I am as in love today as I was a quarter century ago.
Happy anniversary, my dear.
(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on October 11, 2009.)