By Sandra Dempsey Post
Expressions of love vary from light-hearted to serious to romantic with many detours in between. Sonnet writer Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 1806 to 1861, asked “How Do I Love Thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach. I love thee freely, purely, with passion, and with my childhood’s faith,” continuing with additional formalities that many of us find inspiring. What was considered profound then for expressing affection has changed considerably today. Our society places greater emphasis on brevity with more light-heartedness.
Even 50 years ago, when my handsome groom Terry, who was 26 and I was exactly three weeks away from 23, exchanged wedding vows on April 17, 1971, our commitment to each other was less formal. Weddings had not evolved into the elaborate events of today, but the intent remained the same. Two people promised to love, honor, and cherish each other all the days of their lives, and I always believed couples left the church or courthouse feeling exhilarated and eager to begin their lives together. I learned much later that wasn’t exactly the sentiment all brides and grooms experienced, but sometimes not knowing is easier, even if only briefly.
As one who loves to ask questions, I felt it was my personal obligation to know as much as possible before marriage about this person I was planning to spend the rest of my life with so I wouldn’t experience shocking surprises. An ambitious plan and while I’ve never regretted my efforts, I realized much after the fact no one can know everything about someone. It’s nearly impossible to predict responses to certain circumstances until actually confronting the challenges. Terry never complained about my continual curiosity, or if he did, I don’t remember it, but he did tell me once I could analyze the life right out of something. No matter how I chose to focus on his statement, I’m fairly certain he wasn’t complimenting me.
He was more the strong, quieter type who enjoyed challenges of taking things apart to see how they worked, and putting them back together again. I’ve never had that interest or talent. He didn’t need lots of verbal details while I thrived on them. He was a loving, involved husband and father, but didn’t worry ahead of time about possible problems. When we rented the cozy three-room apartment for our first home, I was concerned in April about where we’d put the Christmas tree given our limited space. It never crossed his mind. Not long after we were married, I bought five pairs of shoes in one shopping trip. I am uncertain if anyone in his family ever purchased anything in multiples of five. His response was more like stunned silence. I wasn’t trying to prove a point; I needed shoes, they were on sale and it was a money saving opportunity. He likely doesn’t remember the incident; I’ve never forgotten it.
On really important issues, we had few conflicts. We shared many joyful moments, times when loving feelings overflowed. I was an impractical romantic; he believed silence indicated approval. Compliments were nice, he agreed, but actions speak more profoundly than words. He grew up in a rural area, believing if something edible could be grown, we should grow it. I believed restaurant dining was lovely. We both knew how to cook and we weren’t fussy eaters, but I wasn’t prepared for the lengthy growing season and harvesting of all that grew.
One of the most beautiful gifts, I believe, is giving another the freedom and confidence to grow and sometimes change. Love can energize another to become an even better person. I learned to look beyond the present. Romance is easy for an evening, but much more difficult if involving babies with colic; cars that come to a sputtering stop miles from home; basement floors that squish during spring rains; and bank accounts that fall short of optimistic expectations.
Love allows for diversity, and marriage often magnifies differences. Through them a husband and wife learn love is not one size fits all. Couples can either wear each other out or break each other in, and I’m grateful for the latter. There’s a vast difference between intensity and genuineness; romantic love and mature love; novelty and consistency. Observing young people in love is almost enviable until remembering all the wisdom needed through the years. They must negotiate decisions about children; in-laws; career changes; health concerns; where to live; social obligations; financial concerns; unexpected catastrophic events; and countless decisions that seem easy but can escalate quickly. It’s part of life, but even seemingly simple situations require patience, tolerance, compromise, and love.
In 50 years of marriage neither of us considered divorce. One time I said out loud, “I see why people leave.” I wasn’t planning to leave but the frustration over various issues helped me understand why some might think it’s easier to walk out. It takes two people to make a marriage work, and if one is unwilling to put forth the effort, that leaves the other without options. Divorce must be very painful and even more so if people pass judgment without knowing actual circumstances.
How it’s possible that 50 years have gone by since that beautiful sunny day in 1971, I’m not sure, but I am forever grateful for our good fortune. Marriage isn’t just a two-person accomplishment. It requires faith, optimism, gratitude, and unselfish concern for each other. We are blest by the many people who have shared our lives, especially our children, their spouses, and our grandchildren. It is with great joy that we celebrate our 50th anniversary, hoping and praying for many more years together.
Postscript: “In sickness and in health” assumes new meaning for long ago promised marriage vows when sickness happens nearly 50 years later. It’s been said, usually humorously, that a person’s character is measured by simple things like dealing with tangled Christmas lights or the three-day flu that lasts longer. I would add how a husband provides care for his wife after a cancer diagnosis. Never thought about that until some eight months before our 50th Wedding Anniversary. Such a serious situation is life changing, magnifying even small details and eliciting gratitude for kindnesses previously taken for granted. I have learned through my husband’s thoughtfulness and concern not to worry about why this happened, but to ask how can I help since it did happen. I will be forever grateful for lessons learned and love shared.
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