A Day To Remember Something Important

It’s February 14, in case you haven’t checked your calendar lately.  Today, with love and passion in the air, the daters among us will give each other gifts, send each other cards, and go out for a romantic dinner, and the jewelers, florists, candy shops, restaurants, and Hallmark stores will turn a few handsprings at the surge in sales.

vintage-valentine-clip-art_232457But what of those of us who have long since moved past the dating phase and have been happily married for years?  With our metabolisms slowing, we’ve made each other promise not to bring home that enormous, heart-shaped box of sinfully rich chocolates.  Because we’re in the perennial savings mode another piece of jewelry doesn’t seem like a smart move.  And a card stamped with some generic, manufactured sentiment doesn’t really seem to fill the bill, either . . . because a stilted, sappy poem can’t fully capture the depth of feeling generated by years of happiness, love, and devotion.  That leaves flowers and a nice dinner at a fine restaurant as the preferred option, for a delicate floral bouquet and a good meal and chance to spend some time together and talk about our world together is always welcome.

Valentine’s Day has its cheesy, commercialized elements, of course, but it’s also a helpful reminder of the huge difference a single person can make in your life.  And even in an ever-changing world, both those who are searching for that person, and those of us who are lucky enough to have found them, can remember that once again.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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The Monitor/Keyboard Tug Of War

You can always tell who in our household has been the last to use our upstairs desk and computer.

If it’s Kish, the  monitor and keyboard are positioned at the front of the desk.  She likes to get up close, almost to the nose-touching-the-screen position, when she’s checking her email and the New York Times. 

If it’s me, the monitor and keyboard are at the back of the desk, as far away as I can move them.  I’m like the squinting guy at the restaurant who can only read the menu if it’s held out at extended arm’s length.

So every night and every morning the computer gets repositioned, alternately scooted back or tugged forward.  We’re going to wear a groove in the surface of our desk, but that’s what happens when eyesight changes happen to a married couple.

The Matching Teddy Bear Outfits Test

Some years ago, our family was enjoying a trip out west.  We stopped at a diner in Arizona and were sitting at a table chatting when an older couple came through the front door and headed to a table, too.

I glanced at them and then did a double take.  The husband and wife were each wearing matching pink sweat pants and sweat shirt outfits, on which dozens of oh-so-cute teddy bear patches had been sewn.  The wife walked in first with a big smile on her face, with the husband trailing behind.  It looked as if she had created the outfits herself, perhaps in a sewing or crafts class at their nearby retirement community.  I’m sure she thought they were just frigging adorable, but they were so bright and saccharine and embarrassing it was painful to even look at them.  I pointed the couple out to Kish and the boys, and we all got a good chuckle about them as we sat at our table and ate our meal.

91aujzydxql-_sx466_Still, there was a serious aspect to this comical incident.  I felt sorry for this old guy, because I was reasonably confident from his demeanor that wearing matching pink teddy bear outfits with his wife to a local diner wasn’t his idea.  I’m sure he loved his wife, and I’m guessing that she wanted to make the outfits and brought it up until he yielded as the path of least resistance.  But there was an obvious issue of self-respect involved, too.  Once, I thought, this older gentleman had had a successful career as a business executive or banker, a man who was admired by his colleagues and neighbors.  Now he was out in public at an Arizona diner, wearing a garish, overly cute outfit that he wouldn’t have been caught dead in just a few years earlier.  It wasn’t a pretty picture.

Later that night, Kish and I talked about it.  We agreed that she would never suggest that we wear matching teddy bear outfits — or for that matter, any matching outfits — and I agreed that if I ever indicated an interest in doing so, she could put me away for good, because the matching teddy bear outfits test would show I had finally and irretrievably lost it.  It was one of those small but significant agreements and accommodations of which successful marriages are made.

Deleters Versus Retainers

They say that opposites attract.  It must be true, because Kish and I are complete opposites in one very important modern characteristic.

I am a dedicated email deleter.  She is a confirmed email retainer.

We get along well despite this significant difference in our approaches to modern communications.  It’s just one of those distinctions and behavioral quirks that we ignore in furtherance of the greater good and the ultimate goal of happy household harmony.

IMG_7439In reality, I try to avoid even looking at Kish’s email box when its on our home computer screen, because it usually provokes a grim sense of horror.  Even a casual glance tells me that her inbox is chock full of obvious deletion candidates, like that Williams-Sonoma solicitation for us to buy high-end knives — one of dozens of Williams-Sonoma emails that we’ve received since we bought some cookware there a few weeks ago and reluctantly agreed to track the delivery of our order on-line.  (Sigh.)

In my in-box, such unrequested solicitations and other junk emails would be identified, highlighted en masse, and deleted immediately, with great relish.  But in Kish’s emailbox they are examined, and then . . . accumulate and remain, apparently forever.  She is a gentle soul at heart, and no doubt is pained at the thought that whoever sent the email might be troubled by a quick deletion — especially a deletion without even being read.

I like the idea of keeping a crisp, limited in-box, so that the important emails aren’t mixed in with a bunch of crap and unable to be promptly located amidst the clutter.  And, candidly, I enjoy the little thrill of accomplishment that comes from highlighting and deleting an entire screen of junk and then hitting the garbage can icon.  It gives me the same sense of control and glow of basic achievement that also comes from rinsing off the dirty dishes in the kitchen sink, putting them in the dishwasher, and wiping off the counter, or sweeping off the back patio to remove the debris falling from the trees overhead.  “Begone, solicitations, and Twitter announcements, and Facebook notifications!,” I think.

I can’t understand why someone wouldn’t want to experience the joys of regular email deletion — but I guess such differences make the world go round.

Final Thoughts On Same-Sex Marriage, And America

The Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling has America talking.  It’s one of those events that can’t help but cause people of all persuasions and perspectives to stop and reflect — not so much on the relative merit of the Supreme Court’s opinion as a matter of constitutional jurisprudence, but rather on the fascinating, shifting, never-set-in-stone course of public opinion in our country.

In many recent conversations with friends, people have shaken their heads in wonderment at the speed with which people in the country have accepted the concept of same-sex relationships and, ultimately, same-sex marriage.  It’s hard to think of any other issue, during my lifetime, where prevailing public opinion seems to have shifted more rapidly.  Millennials have had a lot to do with this change.  At a recent dinner party, one of our friends was relating a conversation she had with her Millennial son about sexual orientation, and he said:  “Mom, to us it’s like being left-handed.”  I thought that was a really interesting — and encouraging — perspective.

On another level, the issue of same-sex marriage shows that, in America, if you wait long enough and pay attention, you’ll notice that things often come full circle.

Those of us who lived through the ’60s and ’70s remember that the avant garde, liberal position in those days was that marriage was passe.  Some people advocated free love and “open relationships” and argued that true commitment couldn’t really be based on a mere piece of paper, others derided marriage as a quaint throwback to the outdated notions of prior generations that could only stifle personal expression, still others pointed to the increasing divorce statistics and argued that the realities of the modern world meant that old-fashioned marriage simply could not work in the fast-paced modern world.  Of course, those arguments didn’t stop most of us from getting married, anyway.

During the ’60s and ’70s who would have predicted that, decades later, the issue of the right to engage in a legal marriage, in all of its get a license from a public agency, say your vows in front of the world, traditional glory, would be at the very forefront of the social change agenda?

The Value Of Marriage

I’ve long supported same-sex marriage because I think marriage is a great institution.  It has made my life immeasurably better — so why shouldn’t every couple have the opportunity to enjoy its timeless benefits?  I simply don’t understand the objection to couples who want to legally declare and formalize their fidelity to each other.

I was therefore struck by the fact that Justice Kennedy’s majority decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, where the Court held that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to legally marry their partner, extols the value of marriage.  In fact, the opinion concludes with a ringing endorsement of the core, intrinsic value of marriage:

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

I am thrilled for my same-sex friends, and happy for every couple that will now have the ability to explore and revel in the wonders of a happy marriage.

Why Are Marriage Rates Hitting New Lows?

The latest census data show that the rate of marriage in America is still declining.  In fact, the marriage rate has hit an all-time low, and the number of Americans over 25 who have never been married has hit an all-time high.  In 1960, nine of ten Americans over 25 had been married; in 2012, half of that population segment had never been married.

Why is this so?  The article linked above discusses three possible reasons, two of which seem totally off-base and the third of which may be looking in the wrong direction.

The first is the economy and issues of “financial security,” which some young people cite as reasons to defer marriage.  There no doubt are people who want to be settled, in terms of their jobs and careers, before they get married, and the current economy is making that settling process more challenging.  However, the decline in marriage is a long-term trend, not a temporary blip that tracks economic performance.  Moreover, data shows that married couples, with their pooled resources and shared expenses, are far more likely to be wealthy than their unmarried or divorced counterparts.  No one should get married for purely economic reasons, of course, but if you are in love, getting married and staying married is far more likely to produce financial security than any other course.

The second is whether the increasing availability of same-sex marriage has caused rates of marriage to fall.  I think it is far more likely that the opposite is true.  As a mathematical matter, the fact that couples who previously could not marry are now part of the potential marriage pool is bound to increase marriage rates, and the zeal with which loving gay couples have pursued their right to marry assigns a value to the institution that should encourage more people to make that commitment, not the other way around.  It also seems implausible that those people who vigorously resist any change to “traditional concepts of marriage” are going to eschew getting married simply because gay people now have that right.

The final potential reason is the eradication of taboos on unmarried cohabitation and having out-of-wedlock children.  Those taboos, too, have been gone for a long time and therefore wouldn’t explain recent changes in marriage rates.  I think other, less noticeable long-term social forces provide an explanation.  It’s not the eradication of sex-related taboos that is at work, but rather increasing acceptance of the concept of being alone, both by the individuals in question and society as a whole.  Whether it is because they enjoy their private, internet-focused lives, or because they find their work far more rewarding than awkward social interaction, or because they don’t want the pressure of a permanent relationship, more people are perfectly comfortable with being single.  Decades ago, their families and friends would have put enormous pressure on them to get married; now those forces don’t exist.