With this ring

August 10, 2023   ·   0 Comments

By Anthony Carnovale

Last week, my parents celebrated 53 years of marriage. Let me repeat that: Fifty. Three. Years. Of. Marriage. (I still can’t get my head around that number). The week before their actual anniversary, they spent the night at Niagara Falls. They took in an Elvis show and played the slots (they can’t agree on how much my mother won).

On the day of, we had dinner at my parent’s house. With a wry smile, I asked my father what he did for my mother to celebrate the special day. He said he picked up a McDonald’s coffee for the both of them and had a quiet breakfast. A simple celebration of a half-century relationship. Later on, I asked what they remembered most about the day they got married. They both said: It was hot; we needed to find air conditioners; there were over 400 people.

Fifty-three years. I had to do the math: 2023-53 years = 1970. Damn.

1970: the same year that TVO Ontario started broadcasting, Bernie Parent and Jacques Plante played goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs (they didn’t win the cup that year, either). In 1970, only 20 per cent of people approved of interracial marriage; homosexuality was illegal. “Like a Bridge Over Troubled Water” was the number one song on Billboard; “I’ll Be There” by the Jackson 5 was number seven. From rotary phones to cellphones, encyclopedias to Wikipedia, stations wagons to minivans.

53 years. Married.

Over coffee and dessert, I asked them what the secret to staying married was.

My mother: “I kept my mouth shut.” We laughed (we probably shouldn’t have laughed).

My father: “We were never cats and dogs until I retired. Now, we’re together all the time. Of course, we’re going to get on each other’s nerves.”

53 years.

As a kid, I only saw my parents as parents— as mom and dad — without thinking much about how they related to one another, worked with one another, survived one another. Like most childhood memories, I remember only fragments, pieces, never whole (meaning comes later).

This is what I saw:

My father worked outside of the house; my mother worked inside the house. My father took care of the bills and expenses; my mother babysat other kids, took care of my sisters and me, and tended to the house. My father played the accordion; my mother played bingo — every Thursday night (sometimes on weekends). When we asked where she was going, she’d say: “I’m going crazy. Want to come?” They took a few vacations and spent a lot of time driving us to hockey practices and dance recitals. Dinner was always at five. Church every Sunday.

53 years.

In a world where we tend to give up on things rather easily, where a person can get cancelled for uttering a single word, where we throw a piece of fruit away because of a small bruise or return an item because of a little scratch, my parents kept it together for 19,345 days. I’m sure it wasn’t easy. I know it wasn’t easy — I’ve been married for 4,745 days.

In his book “The Science of Happily Ever After,” Ty Tashiro reports that only three in ten marriages remain healthy and happy. It would appear that most couples stay in relationships long past their expiration date.

Anton Checkov wrote: If you are afraid of loneliness, don’t marry.

Margaret Atwood: ‘Longed for him. Got him. Shit’.

Abraham Lincoln described marriage as a type of purgatory, neither heaven nor hell.

53 years.

If so many people have such a bleak view of marriage, why do some couples stay the course?

Perhaps, some people don’t know how to end things; perhaps, they’re too afraid. Kids? Finances? Or, maybe, just maybe, some people are willing to put in the work to make things work. Perhaps, some people believe in commitment and understand that things aren’t easy, and don’t always have to be easy. Maybe, marriage is more of a process. Perhaps falling in love means never landing, just falling and falling into love (or something like it). We build up something long enough until it begins to wear itself down. If there’s enough energy, enough desire, enough love, you build it back up. Until it breaks back down again. Resilience? Stubbornness? Maybe marriage is not really ever knowing your partner but always finding a new person in that familiar face that sits across from you at the table. Or, maybe, it’s about having something predictable in a chaotic, rather unpredictable world. Marriage means different things to different people. Marriage is a complicated thing, man.

A few years ago, my parents decided to touch up their wedding portrait —after so many years, the image was fading (53 years will do that). The touched-up portrait hangs on their living room wall. It’s a testament to their commitment to one another, to the vows they took over half a century ago. I truly admire and respect my parents for what they’ve done together. As a couple. As husband and wife. I do; I really, really do.

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