"This sure beats two martins when you're uptight," said Lance Billingsley, who was about to be massaged by his wife, Carolyn, in one of 58 workshops - you name it, they had it - at Washington's first Festival for Marriage yesterday.
Communications, sexuality, second marriages, parenting, drinking, fighting, religion in marriage, dreams as a way to enrich a marriage . . . The variety of topics was enough to attract about 1,200 persons to the St. Albans classrooms and Washington Cathedral Grounds.
The Billingsleys, instructors in "Massage: Try It, You'll Like it," invited 14 couples to lie down on a carpeted classroom floor and get into the proper spirit.
"Leave the other world behind," Lance Billingsley told them. "Forget about the kids you may have yelled at this morning. Forget about the problems you may face when you get to the office tomorrow. Let all the tension drain out."
Billingsley, it was shortly proven, has become very proficient at this. His wife had been massaging his forehead only a few minutes when he looked relaxed enough to be asleep. He wasn't, naturally, but was serving as a good example for any who might have been nervous trying to relax under unusual conditions. In a few minutes, half the class seemed perfectly peaceful, while their partners kneeling over them appeared to be enjoying themselves, too.
That sort of spirit, doing cheerfully what was suggested at the various workshops, seemed widespread at the festival, sponsored by the Pastoral Counseling and Consultations Centers of Greater Washington (an ecumenical agency of 25 church-related mental health and educational facilities) and the Marriage Enrichment Center.
The purpose of the gathering was "to try to help people take what they have and make it better," according to Ben Pratt, a clergyman and associate executive director of the PC&CC. "We believe marriage is too hard to do alone in our time."
The divorce rate in the U.S. - 11.8 percent - would attest to the difficulty of marriage, but the festival sponsors believe, Pratt said, that "marriage is still a viable alternative in the 20th century." And the large turnout (the fee was $15 for three workshops, super and an ecumenical service) pleased them.
The Rev. Charles Jaekle, executive director of the Marriage Enrichment Center, said he thought the festival, endorsed by a wide variety of clergymen and professional groups, pointed to "an enormous and growing interest in marriage as a subject that can be discussed and explored."
One way to explore marriage, it was learned, was through dreams. Virginia Booker, who ran the workshop called "Using Dreams to Enrich Your Marriage" with her husband, David, said dreams were "a healing, renewing and guiding process." If you sleep, you dream. You just may not be able to remember you dream, they said.
An Alexandria woman said she dreamed she shot her "authoritative boss." Relating dreams can help a spouse know what's on a partner's mind, it was pointed out.
The woman also said that she lost a sterling silver pen given to her by an old boyfriend, only a few days after dreaming that very thing. Dreams can come as warnings, she said. To remember retiring that s, said David Booker, tell yourself before retiring that you're going to remember them and when you wake up lie very still and try to remember.
Possibly the happiest group was found in "Sweethearts in Marriage," nine couples in a third-floor classroom. One was an older couple who emphasized the benefits of "a sesne of humor." One was a couple about 30 years old, married as teen-agers.
"We grew up together and got to know each other in many different ways," the wife said. "We're very proud of our marriage."
A man talked about his first date with his wife, going downtown on a streetcar and her quietly taking his arms.
Couples walked arm-in-arm across the cathedral grounds between classes. A woman coming out of "Couples Communication" said, "It made you aware of how you're coming off to another."
Another couple was walking along, she saying to him, "She stuck out her tongue at him - it was a real spontaneous thing." There was laughter coming from a chapel where a course called "It's O.K. to Feel Defensive" was being given.
Several of the festival officials said they thought the event would become an annual affair.