When I see the number 42, I am immediately reminded that 42 was the number Jackie Robinson wore on his baseball uniform when he broke the racial barrier in major league baseball on April 15, 1947. Now, on April 15 of each year, every player of every major league team wears number 42 in Robinson’s honor. But this year, if I had a Robinson jersey, I would have worn it on August 28th. You see, this past Monday marks 42 years of marriage for my wife, Janene, and me. Or as I like to say, “I became alive in 1975.” Being married to my wife for 42 years is one of the things I am most proud of, and putting up with me for 42 years is one of my wife’s greatest accomplishments. I like the way Ed Howe said it: “No woman falls in love with a man unless she has a better opinion of him than he deserves.” Or in the words of a sports fan, I clearly out-kicked my coverage.
Love often leads to marriage, but sadly almost as often to divorce, as almost 50 percent of marriages now end in divorce. Said another way, the world would be a better, happier place if love were as easy to keep as it is to make.
So what’s the secret to a long relationship with someone you love? Romantic comedies can be unrealistic and sometimes downright boring, but occasionally they teach us about love and relationships. Here are three truths I have learned from watching them:
- Do whatever is necessary for your partner to fall (and stay) in love with you each and every day. Admittedly, you can’t force someone to love you. I know. I’ve tried and failed several times. But sometimes you might be able to influence a love interest to lean a little in your direction. In 50 First Dates,[i] Henry falls for Lucy, but Lucy has short-term memory loss and repeatedly forgets him the very next day. Henry remains determined, though, and every day he works at getting Lucy to first notice him, and then fall in love with him. Here is one of my favorite scenes from the movie:
Few people have short-term memory loss the way Lucy did, so most of us have to worry less about hoping someone falls in love with us, and more about someone staying in love with us. I constantly ask myself if I am doing things each and every day to help keep the love alive between my wife and me. Do I treat her today with the same amount of respect, interest, concern and excitement as I did when we were dating? Or have I let work, church, kids, sports, friends or other interests become greater priorities than our partnership? I realize priorities can be tricky. We have to find balance in our lives among competing values. Too often, though, after the honeymoon, we allow the time we focus on our partners to become a smaller and smaller and smaller part of each day.
Spending time with and on our partners is critical, but the importance can’t always be measured simply in the amount of minutes or hours spent. I have found that sometimes a few minutes of uninterrupted focus with my wife is much more important (and therapeutic) than an hour together where we are constantly distracted by phone calls, social media or other interruptions.
- It is easier to love in spite of faults than because of virtues. No one is perfect, and I believe no one is perfect for us when it comes to love and marriage. If we look for faults in our partner, we will always find them, as they will become as obvious as the nose on our partner’s face, as illustrated by this scene from Roxanne:[ii]
Finding your true soulmate rarely happens. Circumstances are never perfect. As we learn from Notting Hill,[iii] there will always be reasons to say no to love:
I believe in the importance of compatibility, but marrying your best friend doesn’t always result in a great marriage – and is certainly no guarantee for passion. Finding the “right” mate involves finding someone you can generally get along with, but also someone who turns you on. Maybe the best we can hope for is to find someone who excites us and loves us for whom we are and not some perfect person they want us to become. And interestingly, a person who loves us just the way we are, without saying a word, often motivates us to be a better person:
I love the message of that clip. Wanting to become a better person for our partner is one of the best compliments we can give them.
- A long-lasting relationship with somebody, usually requires a long-lasting relationship with somebodies. Whether we like it or not, when we marry, we not only marry our partner, we marry our partner’s family. And if it happens to be a second marriage with kids involved, it gets even more complicated. The Big Sick[iv] is a newly-released, charming movie about how a Pakistani-American comedian and an all-American young woman fall in love. But the comedian’s parents, immigrants from Pakistan, insist on their son following the Muslim tradition of arranged marriages. On the other hand, the comedian, although raised in America, is not entirely familiar with the culture of an American family, as illustrated by this scene:
What do we do, then, if we fall in love with someone with a different racial or cultural background, or even a different economic experience than ourselves? The best thing we can do is realize that different does not mean inferior, it’s just – different. And there can be great strength in diversity. Take the time to learn the history and culture of your partner’s family and embrace those parts of it that are beautiful and good. Listen and learn. Remember that listen and silent are spelled with the same letters.
But even without any language, ethnic or cultural barriers, extended family members can be troublesome sometimes. Take a look at this scene from Notting Hill:
How do you deal with bizarre in-laws? Someone once said a man shouldn’t be judged by the company he keeps, especially if they are his in-laws. And often, it’s not the by-laws of marriage that causes most domestic troubles – it’s the in-laws. One solution would be to move out-of-town! I often joke that I took a job in another city after I graduated partly to put some space between my mother and my family. But joking aside, I found our relationship worked better at a distance. Weekly phone calls and semiannual visits was just enough contact to keep all of us happy. I realize now what I was doing was tacitly setting up working boundaries between us. Sometimes, at the beginning of a relationship, we are so intent on being acceptable to extended family members that we let them walk all over us. But workable boundaries need to be set near the beginning of a relationship – but in a nice way. Sometimes we need to do as Julia Roberts did in the previous scene and just smile and go with it. And always remember, most of the quirky or threatening things extended family members do is more about them, and less about you. Tell yourself, that’s just the way they are. If something an in-law does makes you feel you are not accepted or good enough, talk to your partner or even the siblings of your partner. Chances are your in-laws have been that way their entire lives and treat their own children, their spouses or other extended family members the very same way they are treating you. But regardless, I have learned that if you treat them calmly with love and respect, in their own way, they will treat you with love and respect in return.
But what if children are involved, especially minor children? With in-laws and extended family, you can always move, or at least get away to your own home. But those minor children are going to go with you wherever you go. I have no experience in this area, so I have to draw on the experience of others – and movies of course. In Dan in Real Life,[v] Dan, a widower with three minor daughters, falls in love with his brother’s girlfriend. But he realizes that his daughters are more important to him than his love life:
You can never go wrong with honest conversations with your children. Let them know how you feel about someone, and let them express how they feel. Perhaps surprisingly, children want to be happy and feel secure, but they also want the same for you. So make your new love interest a family affair. Help your children realize this new beginning for you is also a new beginning for them, without necessarily destroying the old.
Well, it’s time to get off my soapbox. Thanks, dear readers, for listening. I would love to hear what your favorite romantic comedies are, and any tips you might have for dealing with love, marriage and all that goes with it.
And here’s to you, Janene, for 42 wonderful years of marriage, and hopefully, for at least 42 more.
[i] 50 First Dates
- Production Company: Columbia Pictures, Happy Madison Productions, Anonymous Content
- Director: Peter Segal
- Screenwriter: George Wing
- Starring: Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore
- Release date: February 13, 2004
- Production Company: Columbia Pictures
- Director: Fred Schepisi
- Screenwriter: Steve Martin
- Starring: Steve Martin and Darryl Hannah
- Release date: June 19, 1987
[iii] Notting Hill
- Production Company: Polygram Filmed Entertainment, Working Title Films
- Director: Roger Mitchell
- Screenwriter: Richard Curtis
- Starring: Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts
- Release date: May 28, 1999
[iv] The Big Sick
- Production Company: Apatow Productions, FilmNation Entertainment, Story Ink
- Director: Michael Showalter
- Screenwriter: Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani
- Starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter and Ray Romano
- Release date: July 14, 2017
[v] Dan in Real Life
- Production Company: Touchstone Pictures, Focus Features, Jon Shestack, Productions
- Director: Peter Hedges
- Screenwriter: Pierce Gardner and Peter Hedges
- Starring: Steve Carell and Juliette Binoche
- Release date: October 26, 2007