On Sunday night I sat across the table from my husband at a restaurant with huge windows that opened onto the sidewalk. It was a moon-drenched night — just as it was in Honolulu the night my parents got married.
It would have been their 68th wedding anniversary. I recently found the contract for the Luau/reception that was held in the garden at my grandmother’s house in Hawaii: singers, dancers, drummers, and torches. There was my mother’s signature: “Miss Barbara Ann Elliott” and then, in parenthesis, “(for the last time).” Her name would change. Her life would change. And so would his.
Sitting in the restaurant with Ben, I was feeling all of it– how we all step lightly and stomp our way through this transitory life. As a child, I came across a storage closet that teemed with the surplus favors from my parents’ wedding: white porcelain ashtrays with their nicknames embossed in gold: Sparky and Lefty. And the date: 1954. I can feel the cool of that round shape in my palm at the moment of that discovery But they are gone now.
I looked at my husband across the table. “Let’s play a game,” I said. “Let’s take turns coming up with bits of marriage advice. It will be fun.”
“No,” he said. “And I can tell you are writing something.”
“Close,” I said. “I want to give my writing friend, Jonathan, some advice. He’s getting married and advice from you would be golden.”
“I knew it was something like that,” he said. “My advice is going to be very different from yours.”
“Well, it can’t be that different. We are living this beautiful life together.”
“I don’t know– it won’t have anything to do with yellow checked napkins and fresh blueberries for breakfast.”
We both laughed at this parody of my idea of living a beautiful life together.
He relented. He leaned back in his chair, “Be attentive. Care. Love your wife.”
That was it. Simple and profound. Golden. A summation of the true with integrity. I echo it back:
“Be attentive. Care. Love your husband”
It is the best advice. Anything I add is commentary, but here it is… for my friend Jonathan.
- Don’t go to bed angry. And if you do, don’t stay in the same bed. It is a toxic feeling. But wait… if you do move to the couch, the chance of her foot finding yours or yours finding hers is gone. Don’t go to bed angry.
- The most important thing I can say is this: happiness in a marriage cannot survive contempt… contempt for one another, for one’s self, contempt for one another’s families.
- Don’t be afraid to be the couple that doesn’t talk in a restaurant– that couple you said you would never be. It turns out that couple may have learned comfort in companionable silence.
- Walk the dog together– not every day (it is only right you should take turns), but sometimes.
- Being authentic, accepted, and loved does not mean you showcase your worst qualities to put your partner to the test. Don’t.
- You are composing a life together with disparate elements: pathos and fear and sadness are balanced with beauty and serendipity and hope. Be intentional.
- It is really tempting to leave it all on the field when trying to get a reaction from your partner. Things fall apart and things come together. Be patient. You can wait for a reaction.
- Your story is not the only story in this marriage. This is an odyssey with two heroes. Be an appreciative witness to one another’s epic journeys.
- Travel. Pick apples. Plan stuff. Plan perfection and don’t despair when your plans don’t turn out perfectly. You have a lifetime to get it right.
- Be very wary of throwing around the “D” word to get a reaction. Divorce is a hard word to get back in the bag.
- Sharing beauty together is a form of prayer. Share sunsets and moonlight and dawn and music and plays and movies and festivals. Reach for each other’s hands when you do.
- Make the bed.
- Set the table.
- Invite each other in.
- Save stories from the day for each other.
- Create traditions and rituals together that are yours. Honor traditions that make sense. Let go of the ones that no longer do.
- When children come, welcome them.
To sum it up: Be attentive. Care. Love your spouse.
This goes well with yellow checked napkins and fresh blueberries.