Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Way It Was

I don’t remember what brought it up, but there we were standing around talking in the kitchen about how old we were when we got married or had kids. I think it may have started out with me mentioning the Eew Equation, a formula that one of my students taught me about how old the youngest person is that you can go out with, without people thinking it was gross. That formula is half your age, plus 7.

So at 14 you can go out with another 14-year-old, because half your age is 7. Then when you add 7 to that, you end up right back at 14. At 30 you can date someone who’s 22, and at 56, I could date someone who’s 34 without people thinking it was totally disgusting.

Now, my 10-year-old daughter loves to point out that the formula doesn’t work if you’re younger than 14. If you’re 12, then half your age is 6, and when you add 7 to that, you end up with a 13-year-old as the “youngest” person you can date. But we seem to have gone off on a little tangent here.

As I said, we were talking about how old we were when we got married or had kids. I was the old guy in the group in many ways. Not only was I the oldest, at 56, but I was 32 when I got married, and 36 when my first daughter was born. The youngest person in the room was 33, and got married and had her son when she was 21 (and according to the formula, she’s also just a year too young for me to date).

But wait, there’s more. Her mother had her when she was 19, and her grandmother had her mother when she was 17. Being the math person that I am, I figured that if this patterned continued, her son should have his first child when he’s 23.

Then one woman mentioned that her great-grandmother got married at 16. Yes…16. Now intellectually, we all know that people did things a lot younger all those years ago, and especially in certain parts of the country, but it was still a little jarring to us, because we tend to think of 16-year-olds as being gum-chewing, iPod-toting, high school kids who don't have the common sense that God gave a broom handle. But it wasn’t always so. In fact, there’s a wonderful story behind her great-grandmother’s marriage.

It seems that one day great-grandma’s boyfriend showed up at the house and asked to speak to her father. He wanted to marry her. Her father figured that he had gotten her pregnant and wanted to “do the right thing,” so he said yes. A quiet little ceremony was arranged a few weeks later, and the rest of the family sat back and waited for the baby.

And waited. And waited.

A year and a half later, a baby arrived.

Great-grandma’s family was a little confused. “We thought you wanted to get married because you were pregnant,” they said.

“No,” she replied, “we wanted to get married because we loved each other.”

Now, while that’s a touching good story, it’s important for what it implies. And what it implies is that back in great-grandma’s day, people assumed that with all the time the kids had taking long walks near the creek and such, with all the time that they had together without being under the watchful eye of some sort of chaperone, it was only reasonable to assume that some of them…maybe even a lot of them…were going to have sex. And if the girl didn’t get pregnant, that was fine, but if she did, the boy was expected to “do the right thing” and marry her.

My friend’s great-great-grandparents were no fools. They knew what was going on around them. And they probably knew what was going on around them because they had done it too, as had their parents before them.

But something changed in the generations after that. For some reason we began to officially pretend that people didn’t do that before they were married…at least good people didn’t. Or maybe it was “good people” of a certain social class. And as a result, all kinds of pain, sorrow, and hypocrisy followed in its wake.

Now, however…we seem to be back to the days of great-grandmother and her parents. 16-year-olds being what they are these days, none of us thinks it’s a good idea for them to be having sex yet. But as I’ve said before, if you’re 26 and have been seeing someone for more than six months, we all pretty much assume that you’re having sex, and no judgments are made. In fact, we’re sort of surprised if we find out that you aren’t. Some people may not like it, but at least the hypocrisy is gone.

I’m glad that the way it was has become the way it is again.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

He Never Really Loved Me

Many years ago I read a letter to one of the two twin sisters of advice…Abby and Ann…from a woman who was totally devastated after the death of her husband of 50 or so years; a man who was well-respected in the community and with whom she had an almost fairytale marriage. No, not because of his death itself, which is to be expected, especially after that long of a marriage. But because of what she found out in the weeks after the funeral.

You see, after her husband was dead, someone felt free to tell her about the many affairs he had during those 50 years, and that he had worked very hard to keep her from finding out about.

Now, before I go on, we will all pause to virtually smack that person upside the head with a 2 x 4. Why? I mean really, just what did this person hope to accomplish? What good did this person think would come from this? Was getting this long-held secret off their chest worth the price of what it would do to her? I’m guessing that you can figure out my answer.

When this woman wrote to the twins, one of the things she said was that when she learned this, she realized that her whole life was a sham, and that her husband never really loved her anyway.

Wait. Time out. Hold it. Stop. It’s logical fallacy time. It’s also time for me to introduce you to a little cognitive dissonance.

In our culture, we make the mistake of confusing love and fidelity, and maybe they’re not always the same thing. Maybe you can love someone with all your heart, and not be able to be faithful to him or her, as hard as you might try. I can see that some of you aren’t buying this, so let me give you a different example.

Suppose someone said “If you really love me, then you’ll learn how to play the piano?” And suppose you just happen to be tone deaf? You could love that person with all your heart and soul, but not be able to play Heart and Soul. Does your inability to play even the most rudimentary piece of music, despite getting the rest of the relationship right, mean that you don’t love that person? I know this is an imperfect example, but can you see my point?

Conversely, in the song Silver Threads and Golden Needles, the singer says that she doesn’t care about his stupid mansion or all his money. She wants him to stop fooling around with other women and love her again. Um…I hate to ruin her pretty little picture, but his being faithful to her wouldn’t  necessarily mean that he loved her again, but simply that he was following the rules because they were the rules.

Is it reasonable to ask, nay, demand, that the person who claims that they love us be faithful? I’ll give you a definite “maybe” on that. Perhaps it can be done most of the time. And perhaps we modern westerners are a little to tough on ourselves. Look at the story of Jacob from Genesis. He was counted as being faithful while having two wives and being able to get it from the maidservants.

But let’s go back to the beginning. The letter-writer claimed that all of this showed that her husband never really loved her anyway. I beg to differ, and this is where the cognitive dissonance kicks in. I can see him as really loving, really adoring, his wife, but knowing that no matter how hard he tried, he could never be faithful. And I can see him working very hard to make sure that she never found out, so that he could preserve the world she knew…precisely because he loved her.

And then along comes some well-meaning dolt who feels that they have to tell her the truth.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Piece of Paper

It was the late 60s and early 70s, the time of “love and piece,” and especially of love. Couples had openly started living together without being married, and not merely as a temporary arrangement either to test out the relationship or while planning the wedding. I’m talking about the people who had moved in together with absolutely no plan of ever getting married. Their battle cry (or should I say love cry) was “We don’t need no stinkin’ piece of paper,” which was pretty much what Joni Mitchell sang in her 1970 song My Old Man.

That’s right, they didn’t need a piece of paper to validate their love for each other. They didn’t need to get city hall or the county clerk involved in their relationship. Their love would stand the test of time, thank you very much, and so they didn’t need that little piece of paperwork called a marriage license…and a simple civil ceremony in the county clerk’s office.

Delaney and Bonnie famously sang “I’ve got a never-ending love for you” in 1971 and that’s what they believed. Long before Neil Sedaka wrote it and the Captain and Tennille sang it, they believed that love would keep them together.

Frankly, even at age 15, I thought that was kind of naïve, but then what did I know? Maybe the world was changing, and these people were right.

And then it happened. The famous Michelle Triola Marvin “palimony” case of 1976. When it first broke, my reaction was pretty much along the lines of, “Excuse me, but you didn’t need no stinkin’ piece of paper, and now you’re suing for the rights that it would’ve given you? I don’t think so.” I wasn’t vindictive, I was simply a realist. That “little piece of paper” gives each person certain rights and protections in the event of an unfortunate breakup. That “little piece of paper” ideally protects each party from being unfairly taken advantage of by the other. That “little piece of paper” prevents his or her relatives, who never liked you in the first place, from throwing you out on the street in the event of a fatal accident that leaves you alone in the house that you had shared, but that they’re the legal heirs to.

That “little piece of paper” would’ve given Michelle Triola Marvin a legal leg to stand on. But because she joined the throngs of people crying out that they didn’t need it, it made perfect sense to me that she didn’t get the protections that it would’ve given her. The judge apparently felt the same way I did, and denied her the $1.8 million she had asked for.

That “little piece of paper” is not only very important, but it’s a bargain. Right now a marriage license in Syracuse is $40. That’s far less than the hundreds of dollars that I know some people spend to draw up non-marriage contracts that give them the same rights, but without “the interference of the state in their private affairs.”

Ladies and gentlemen, this isn’t about “morality.” I really don’t care whether or not two grown people are married when they’re having sex. For me it’s all about practicality and taking care of each other. I feel that if you love each other enough to move in together, then you really oughta spring for that $40 piece of paper. Both to protect yourself and each other.

Amazingly, after the disaster with Lee Marvin, Michelle Triola moved in with actor Dick Van Dyke, without getting married. He says in his autobiography, My Lucky Life, that he asked her to marry him several times, but she just never got around to it. They did, however, have contracts drawn up to avoid what happened to her earlier, but you know…I think the $40 would’ve been cheaper.

Oh, and by the way, despite the sentiment of the song, Delaney and Bonnie got divorced in 1973.