My wife and I just celebrated 24 years of marriage. That may not sound like big news, but given the usual couple-alienation stories, I want to point out that there are still traditional relationships in this Capital City.
Although my wife and I came from small towns, all but one year of our marriage has been spent in the Washington metropolitan area. Our daughter and son have grown up and attended schools, including college, here. My wife and I have lived simple lives in this complex city. We're workaholics, with my wife, who now works in alumni affairs, entering the work force after the children were in high school. We relax by reading and watching television, believers that one person's wasteland is another's diversion--or even stimulus for creative work.
In many respects the two of us are complete opposites: She is talkative and loves people; I prefer solitude; she is meticulous and up-to-date in her dress; I mismatch more than I match and care even less; she likes her meat burned to a crisp, I love mine bloody rare; she is quick to discard the old and unusable; I save old newspapers, string and tin cans in the event there's another World War II. She was a hymn-singing Baptist when we courted; I was a brooding, mea culpa Catholic.
Yet, to borrow a phrase from Col. Potter of M*A*S*H, the two of us are like two spoons . . . But it wasn't always that way. We were kids when we married. The "baby" in each of our families, we were strong-willed and argued a great deal in those early years. But raising our children gave us insights into ourselves and the human personality, gradually easing the rough spots and giving vent to a sense of humor that both of our offspring acquired and developed.
We laughed at birthdays and the tricks we could play on each other, on holidays (notoriously fast eaters we calculated the time of cooking turkeys against the nanoseconds we spent at the table), and at the mini-crises of youth, such as the time our son, in his first car accident, hit two cars on each side of a narrow Georgetown street.
Although Mallie and I never thought very much about the strengths of our marriage, a wedding we attended recently focused our thoughts on such matters.
The ceremony, on a particularly lovely day, brought back memories we later shared. Like the two of us, the groom was dark, the bride fair. Like our offspring, theirs might reflect the parents in an inverse relation: the daughter dark like her father, the son fair like his mother. Also like us, the couple was very young. And they were bright-eyed, eager to assume a responsibility that appears less venerated than it did a generation ago.
A few days later, the bride's mother and I ran into each other at a shopping mall. "And how are the kids?" I inquired?
"Judy called the other night, her voice bubbly with excitement. 'You know, Mom,' she said, 'it is simply wonderful having your best friend with you all the time.' "
I thought about Judy's remark for a long time. Your best friend would scarcely fit the jargon of contemporary treatises on marriage, nor would it encompass the sort of short-term passion that seems the stuff of today's best sellers.
And yet, the more I reflected on her words, the more I found them apt and wise. A friend, according to Webster, is a person attached to another by feelings of affection or regard.
Such a person is considerate of the other's flaws, like mine in the mechanical and carpentry fields. How well I remember the day I bought my wife an electric can opener as an anniversary present. I installed it on the wall only to find that, alas, she never used it: My bumbled planning had not provided sufficient space for the actuating lever to be raised. But not a reproof from my best friend, only a hearty laugh and a good story to tell our children.
I suppose if more couples considered their marriages from the perspective of friendship, they might be less likely to put them on the court's docket. Sure, friends in marriage have problems, but they also have enormous assets.
Consider, for example, their history, which provides a wealth of experience for future guidance. The illnesses of infants and children have a way of building insight into the problems of adolescents; initial mistakes in home economics can lead to a division of labor every bit as effective as the organization of a top business, and the newlyweds' concern for intimacy translates somewhere along life's continuum to the simple delights of handholding on an evening stroll.
Friends in marriage laugh and cry, run and walk, stand and fall. But in good times and bad, they know they have a friend to the e-n-d, as we said when we learned to spell the word as schoolchildren.
And although friends may speak of love, they like each other.