Although John and I are nowhere near the 30-year partnership shared by Thomas and Donahue, it occurs to me that I nevertheless learned a fundamental secret to a happy marriage—or relationship—soon after meeting John. I keep these words close to my heart and even closer to my consciousness, because they map an objective I want to reach every day:
I want to out-love him.
John and I both divorced after long first marriages. We know that the statistics for successful second marriages aren’t great. But we are determined that ours be a union that will not only survive, but thrive. The notion of out-loving one another comes from John. He sets the standard. I just try to catch up.
He learned about out-loving from a premarital counseling class he took, ironically, prior to his first marriage. An older couple, married for decades, was advising the neophytes. The man was asked the secret to a happy marriage. He replied:
I can’t and won’t speak for my wife, but I can tell you my secret to a happy marriage: I just try to out-love her.
Wow. Who was this man? And is it too late to harvest his DNA?
Given the grim statistics of divorce in the U.S., it is apparent that not too many partners are trying to out-love their mates. But John shared this anecdote with me soon after we started dating. And boy, does he live up to it.
I call him an outlier of out-loving, to borrow Malcolm Gladwell’s term. An outlier is one who possesses characteristics outside the norm of the majority. The ability to out-love another can seem as rare as a pink diamond.
I sometimes have to remind myself that this is not a competition. Love—and the gestures, kindnesses, and consideration that stem from love—should come naturally, no? And it does, but to a point, and that point is usually when one partner is over-tired, over-worked, or over-stressed. It is human nature for patience to run ragged. It is human nature to become preoccupied and distracted. It is human nature to sometimes lack mindfulness.
It takes mindfulness to out-love one’s partner. Mindfulness of the bond that holds you close, mindfulness of the trust each of you places in the other, mindfulness of the fragility of life.
My objective in finding my soul-mate was to find the one man whose face was the last thing I want to see before taking my last breath. I’m one of the lucky ones; I found him. At our wedding, my friend, the wonderful poet Lynn Powell, read Wendell Berry’s “The Country of Marriage.” Here is an excerpt:
… We are more together
than we know, how else could we keep on discovering
we are more together than we thought?
You are the known way leading always to the unknown,
and you are the known place to which the unknown is always
leading me back. More blessed in you than I know,
I possess nothing worthy to give you, nothing
not belittled by my saying that I possess it.
More than any pink diamond, the gift of John’s love is more precious to me than any possession. I have no idea how many years we will have together, and so I want each day to count. This is especially true, I think, for couples who marry later in life. We are more aware, I think, of our mortality. I therefore want to spend what time we have together out-loving him. Every precious day.