Archived Story

We’re still merrily married after 25 years

Published 9:30am Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Column: Notes from Home

“Do you love me?” Tevye asks Golde in Fiddler on the Roof.

“Do I what?” Golde responds.

It’s a charming, funny song, all about finding love after a relationship begins instead of building a relationship after falling in love.

I think I like it mostly because it doesn’t have that cloying, treacly sappiness I hear in so many other love songs. You know those songs, the “bubble gum” ones that try to describe love as many-splendored or how being “in love” is like walking on clouds.

Tevye and Golde’s song seems to be more about people finding love — after 25 years of marriage — in the midst of chores and joys and hardships. It’s almost as if they find they love each other despite the situation in which they found themselves after getting married.

Twenty-five years ago today my wife and I said “I do” in front of our friends and family members. Twenty-five years of breakfasts and dishes and laundry and yard work have come and gone. During those years she birthed and I helped raise three children. Much like Tevye and Golde, we’ve managed to maintain and even build on our relationship through disagreements, minor and major misunderstandings, financial setbacks and even the traditional “in sickness” part of the vows we spoke to each other.

And the most amazing thing is that our marriage feels stronger today than it did the first week of living together after that wedding. Back then we were so young, and there was so much we didn’t know about each other or life or anything that was truly important. Oh, we don’t complete each other’s sentences, and I can’t read her mind (25 years together does not eliminate the capacity for surprise), but our friendship has flourished.

In our 25 years together, life has, by and large, been good to us.

Life isn’t fair, however, and not all marriages turn out the same.

There are the friends whose marriage didn’t flourish but continues to exist in a kind of mutual misery society. And there are friends whose marriage didn’t survive past their first decade together, and another who’s finding a second marriage in trouble.

All of that happened in the same time frame.

So what’s the difference?

I don’t know. What I don’t believe is that it’s about the depth of the initial promise, or that we’re extraordinarily good at relationships.

It’s not about deceit, with the friends I’m thinking about. It might have something to do with the random way life seems to deal out challenges — medical, financial, parental.

One thing I think it might be about is how we all change as we adapt to new problems and opportunities. We gain wisdom from our experiences. We become stronger — or weaker — with each problem solved and each opportunity claimed. The things we are interested in evolve — games, activities, books, movies — and the people we’re interested in, too. The friends of childhood are not often the friends of adulthood, whether we’ve moved a lot or stayed in the same town.

What I think might make the difference when it comes to marriage, and perhaps in all friendships, is managing all of those changes within the relationship. In other words, it’s about growing different together.

When we were first married, I cooked, while she washed dishes and baked scrumptious treats. I cleaned most of the house, did the laundry, while she took care of linens and towels, did the ironing and mending. When children came, I stayed home with them after she returned to work. We both listened to Suzanne Vega, Tracy Chapman and 10,000 Maniacs. We both read the same novelists and enjoyed the same movies.

Today, I’m away at work more than she is. She cooks more than I do … and still does all the baking. She cleans most of the house (sometimes with the cooperation of the offspring) and launders the linens and towels. She still does the mending. I mow the lawn and wash the clothes. While we both still listen to Bach and Satie, she listens to Greg Brown and Pete & Lou Berryman. I listen to Ratatat and Rammstein. She reads “romance” novels and thrillers like “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” I read British detective novels from the 1930s and ’40s and science fiction novels that she finds weird.

Even so, we still talk to each other. We still share the same bedroom.

We go for long walks as often as we can, both for exercise and conversation. My day is incomplete if I don’t spend some time with her.

And we’re still married. 25 years. Imagine that.

Albert Lea resident David Rask Behling teaches at Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa, and lives with his wife and children in Albert Lea. His column usually appears every other Tuesday.