There’s no ‘ideal’ courtship, marriage


The Sunday paper is one alternative. I always start with the announcements page filled with engagements and weddings.

For me, it’s a game. I study the couples’ pictures and try to guess four things: where they’re from, what they do, where they’re going to honeymoon and where they’re going to live.

I usually end up creating pseudo lives for them by the time I read their real story.

I also like to predict if they’ll stay married. That’s dark, I suppose, and I’ll never know if I was right or wrong, but I can’t help myself.

Of course, nobody can foretell which marriages will last by a photo or a newspaper clipping. And definitely not by how closely they meet a marriage “ideal.”

Gertrude Janeway was 16 when she met a man who desperately wanted to marry her. But Gertrude’s mother refused to sign any paper allowing her to marry until she was 18.

In Gertrude’s words, “So my man says, well, I’ll wait for her until you won’t have to.” And he did.

After three years of courting, 18-year-old Gertrude married John Janeway, who was 81. Reportedly, they were happily married until he died from pneumonia 10 years later.

The significance, other than the age difference, is that Gertrude was one of a number of teenage girls who married elderly Civil War soldiers. She was the last known widow of a Union veteran. Maybe it was the era, or more likely the personal circumstances of the two, but the odds are always against a 63-year age difference.

Until her death in 2003, Gertrude (who never remarried) lived in their shared log cabin and referred to “her man” John as the love of her life.

There’s no ideal courtship and there’s no ideal marriage. The word “ideal” has no real practical meaning. It’s a concept.

When my sister was 20, she hit it off with a guy she met at work. Sure, he was older than her with a little more life experience. Oh, and he was her boss. And there was also the matter of an ex-wife and his two teenagers, who he had full custody of. But he was a good guy. And she told our parents so. And they were thrilled.

Well, maybe not thrilled. Distraught might be a better word.

The uneasiness continued for awhile—until she married him and became a wife and a mother to two teenage boys at age 22.

I suspect if my parents were the betting type (which at times, they have been) they would have wagered on eventual heart-break for their daughter. But instead, next February my sister and brother-in-law will wrap up year 23.

You can’t discount a commitment’s endurance.

Or it’s brittleness.

(I know, you can’t predict it either. That’s strictly for entertainment value.)

My sister credits her successful marriage to shared interests. A friend of mine, who offered the opening quote, lightly credits theirs to shared boredom. Every couple has the same amount of time to work with, but there are many different directions each one can move throughout that time.

Apparently there’s something to be said for sitting on the couch alternately staring blankly at the TV and each other. And the same could be said for road trips or date nights or patio chairs. As long as there’s room for two, no one’s crowded and no one’s outed.

A picture in the Sunday paper can’t forecast the future. But an image of one of those couples sitting on a bench pointing and laughing at passers-by and neighbors for the next 50 years? Well, they’re probably just people-watching.

And I think someone once said that the couple that points and laughs together—stays together.


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