Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Adding Them All Up

My wife and I recently celebrated our third wedding anniversary with a day of delusion, starting with our own episode of House Hunters. While wandering a craft show at the mall feigning interest in a variety of items we couldn’t afford, we found a flyer for a local Parade of Homes, which was nothing like what the title suggested (an actual parade of homes down the street would have been entertaining) but did allow us to wander through six area houses - three that were actually for sale and three that were serving as demos for the builders - pretending we could afford to buy if we found one to our liking. They all had pros and cons as expected, but the house we liked best wasn’t part of the event, but a modular home we looked at on the way home. It was almost exactly what we would want if we were seriously in the market.

We finished off the fantasy day by eating at a local restaurant we normally wouldn’t patronize because we couldn’t afford it. I had lamb chops, mostly because I don’t recall ever having them. The verdict? Well, now I can say I’ve tried them. Actually they were perfectly fine, but somehow the whole experience was a bit of a letdown. I can’t say why; I have no specific complaints about any particular aspect. It is a very nice place, easily the classiest in town. The service was good, the prices a bit high but not unexpectedly so, and we both ate well. Perhaps I’m just not cut out for fine dining.

As the anniversary approached, it occurred to me that I was reaching another personal milestone; twenty years of marriage, in segments of 14, 3, and 3 years. I wasn’t sure what to make of that. Is it something of which to be proud? Are we talking about perseverance, or a learning disorder? The fact that I eventually got it right leads me to flatter myself that it’s the former in my case, but there are a lot of people for whom it seems to be the latter; they never seem to consider the possibility that they’re not the marrying kind. Those people rarely reach a large total of years, either because they can’t stay married to anyone long enough (it’s tough to get there a year or two at a time) or their history eventually makes potential partners leery. Four divorces seems to be the point after which people start to really wonder about someone.

What intrigued me was that I couldn’t recall anyone else ever bringing up that type of statistic, and none of the remarried people to whom I’ve mentioned this had thought about it, which upon further reflection isn’t too surprising. For most people a new relationship brings with it a desire to start as fresh as possible; a running total creates a connection to the past that may not be comfortable. In addition, culturally marriage is treated like a winning streak; it’s the current consecutive number that matters. When someone asks how long you’ve been married they mean to your current spouse; if you gave a total rundown you would be regarded suspiciously. There simply isn’t a context in which total married years is meaningful to anyone.

The long unbroken strings will always get the accolades, which is fine given their continued rarity, with increased divorce offsetting increased life spans. Still, the general dismissal of reaching big numbers in smaller chunks is something that may be worth reconsidering as more people who have done it recall its unique aspects. Flying non-stop is generally preferred, but having to change planes, while usually inconvenient and sometimes worse, doesn’t make the trip less worthwhile.