If you’re a parent of teens, and you’re married, still, to the parent of your children, it means you’ve been together a long, long, very long time. Our oldest child turns 20 this summer, the age I was when I started my relationship with my husband, Ed. We married at 21 and 25, and now we are 42 and 46.
What does it mean to be with the same person for so long? Not one cell nor even atom in my body is the same as when I was 20. I have changed many times over, and my current self is nearly unrecognizable from the person I was 22 years ago. Deepak Chopra points out that we generate a new liver every 6 weeks and a new skeleton every 3 months. Every month I generate a new sheath of skin, and every year, I replace 98% of my atoms.
What brought my husband and I together at that tender age? (Besides, of course, sex.) And what keeps us together now? (It’s hardly sex.) Is it possible to like someone as much as you did 22 years ago when so much — everything — has changed? Loving someone is different; loving is an act of will, a spiritual discipline, an enlargement of self. But “like” is fickle and idiosyncratic.
At 20 I was at the height of bohemia, much more carefree, experimental, loved to indulge, prone to passions. We were both terribly ironic and clever people who saw lots of films and hung out with other ironic and clever people. Our first apartment was half of a little house where we ate our meals on a table on the floor. Our mattress was also on the floor and our baby daughter snuggled between us each night. My writing station was a narrow student desk with a manual typewriter.
Is the adage true, about being liberal when you’re young and conservative when you’re old? As limiting and as misunderstood as those political constructions are, I theorize that it may be so for some men, but less so for women.
At 42 I’m more progressive than ever, but differently than in previous decades. I’m much more outspoken than I was in my 20s, more opinionated, and more questioning of authority of all stripes. Each year I live further out from the mainstream and go deeper into a culture of my own making which includes friends who are into radical politics, alternative health, protection of the environment, avant garde arts, spirituality, alternative education, and more.
On the other hand, motherhood has made me a homebody, and I appreciate quiet Saturday evenings at home with a book or good movie. I shun mind-altering substances, so even though Ed enjoys wine or beer with dinner, I never join him. Ed’s motto is “everything in moderation,” including all kinds of meat, which I avoid. I find television insulting and distasteful and rarely watch it. In many ways, I’m boring. And Ed will tell me that, missing the former me.
While I’ve become more progressive, in some ways, Ed has become more conservative. He’s terribly protective of our children, and has a life insurance policy so big I warn him he’s tempting us. His friends tend to be other lawyers, many Republican and Federalist, with whom I have little in common. Early in his professional years, some of them tried reaching out to me but these were typically failed social experiments. Mostly we socialize separately-he goes to baseball games and out to dinner with lawyer friends, I have my writing group and women’s song circle and monthly salon.
Other than the daily sports page, and a brief glance through the front page section of the newspaper, Ed doesn’t read much these days. He says he’s too tired from the intense analytical reading of this job to read for fun, whereas for me, books are the essence of a teeming life of imagination and spirit. On any given day I have several books going, as well as one or two magazines and newspapers.
Sex in our 40s is just not that big a deal. It’s there, it’s nice, and one day as we get even older, it won’t be there.
So we socialize separately, eat and drink differently, and even when we sleep together, we’re actually only sleeping. So why are we together?
I guess we’re not done with each other yet. We still manage to challenge and irritate and sometimes inspire each other, and thus, I hope, urge the other to keep growing. We have intense debates over everything from family finances to global capitalism, from raising daughters to the relevancy of feminism in the developed world. We’ve been debating with each other like this for years, and he’s one of my best sparring partners because he never lets me get away with sloppy reasoning, overstatement, or lack of research.
Ed tempers my utopian fantasies with his conservative pragmatism, and over the years, I’ve become more grounded and practical. I like to think I inform his consciousness as well. He’s one of the least white Caucasians I know, perhaps from living with someone who’s constantly pointing out white privilege and internalized racism. His male chauvinism quotient is relatively low; after all he’s married to the Queen Bitch, who insists on the entire household sharing chores, shopping, and meal prep.
What we share is an optimistically spiritual perspective on the redeemability of humankind. We’re both deeply occupied with issues of social justice. Despite our differences, we agree on all the really important things: how to parent, how to be good citizens and stewards, and the importance of walking the talk. Perhaps most importantly, we also share a similar sense of dark humor and the absurd. We’ve passed this on to the kids, and our whole family loves the morbid joke. We read the local police blotter for laughs.
Right now I’m working on getting him to envision what’s next for him professionally. All these years, he’s worked at incredibly stressful jobs to support his family and pay for college for our three kids. But now it’s his turn to rest. I’m hoping he will take a sabbatical for some much-needed midlife soul-searching.
I will never sugarcoat our marriage, which has withstood some severe periods of distress. It’s not lovey-dovey sentimentality that keeps us together, nor Viagra, nor diamonds, nor habit. Our relationship serves us because we can go further together than we can apart, debating, laughing, learning, and growing.