My bodyguard

Age does not protect you from love, but love to some extent protects you from age — Jeanne Moreau

Those who read the comments to yesterday’s post noted certain elbow-to-the-rib pokes by my offspring and friends, who have always delighted in pointing out the fact that when my husband and I married, I was 44 and he was 24.

The double standard still exists, my friends. A man picking up a trophy wife is considered studly, while a middle-aged single mom lawyer taking on a young man and his three children under the age of five is just…nuts? (Well, that’s a point we may have to argue. Later.)

That was the spring I was cast as Ouiser in Steel Magnolias, and when my fellow thespians got wind of the match, our director delightedly christened E “The Cabana Boy.” It went downhill from there.

Although E remembers with great pride, the moment when my daughter’s college friends heard the news and cheered, “Go, your mom!”

Age wasn’t something that mattered, when we met on the Internet through a science fiction RPG. We’d both grown up addicted to Star Trek–of course, mine was Captain Kirk, his was The Next Generation. We’d both been responsible for raising our siblings, with single dads too occupied to pay attention much. We both loved kids. We even had the same favorite flavors of pie and pudding. Our similiarities were uncanny, actually.

He acted older than his age most of the time, probably because he’d had to be a parent in his birth family. Coming off my association with all these children, I never have acted my age, so we met when we were each about the theoretical age of 34. Perfect.

We married on stage at the end of Steel Magnolias, when I had nine bridesmaids, just like Shelby in the show, and E’s best “man” was his lesbian friend Peg. The newspaper covered it for their June wedding tab. K wore the last dress I’ve ever seen her in. Maybe the last one she’ll ever wear. It was wild, wacky and suited us just fine.

Past the seven-year itch now, we have come a long way. I’ve taken down many personal walls that I kept for years, and have kids to devote myself to again. He’s gotten through school and teaches now, surrounded all day by computer geeks like himself, in isolinear chip heaven. Aware of each other’s shortcomings, we face them cheerfully (mostly) every day. He puts up with the growing impingement of my fibromyalgia during the winter months, and I’ve invested in stock for his ADD medications. We’re both challenged with all our children’s issues, but we work through them, one day at a time.

The ribbing continues about trading him in for the latest Cabana Boy, and I do point them out every so often, just to keep his ego in line. I’m not really looking. I mean, I’ve got this one trained just right! What do you think I am, nuts? (Oh yeah… you do.)

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What makes a marriage?

A friend of mine recently decided in order to preserve her marriage, she needed to leave the marital home. She and her husband now live in two homes in the same city, while they work through counselors to cure the issues that separated them. So they see each other a couple times a week and share joint activities with their children.

Sounds like dating to me.

I know other families where one of the spouses works 60 or more hours a week to keep the bills paid, sometimes in town, sometimes out on the road, leaving the other to stay home and handle the domestic situation all alone.

Sounds like single parenthood to me.

There are even a few families I know in the “Leave it to Beaver” mode, where mom and dad cooperate to work and raise the family together.

Sounds like a pipe dream to most people–I know.

I didn’t grow up in a family like that, at least for not more than a year or two at a time. When my parents were still together, for a few years anyway, and then with my one step-mother for about another 18 months, there were two parents, each contributing and caring for the children. It wasn’t always 50-50 for each category, but it was cooperative.

My office files are filled with the broken dreams of those who hoped to achieve that goal, but found their relationships wanting. Many tried to work and compromise to produce a successful marriage, but because of some outside influence–alcohol, drugs, a paramour– they couldn’t keep it up. Some found that after years went by, that early shine on their mate that they’d found attractive had worn thin, like the veneer on a well-used coffee table. Others realized too late that they’d married for the wrong reasons and could never make it work.

So what does it take?

I’m probably no expert (though I’ve taken the plunge three times). There are some common themes: mutual respect, tolerance and a commitment to endure. The first shows you have the ability to trust the other person with the joint aspects of your life, including the children, the finances and your own insecurities. The second demonstrates the willingness to accept that neither of you are perfect–will never be–but that you can still accept your partner as they are, even when they don’t come up to “Prince Charming” standards. The third embodies the words of the wedding vows, keeping in mind that a marriage is not about that first fire of passion, but the glow of the embers that keep you warm for years to come, through wealth and poverty, health and illness, and all the events that the two of you face together.

Along with a generous slice of sense of humor and an occasional garnish of joy, this is what gets me through. That, and the fact that my husband is destined for sainthood. 🙂

How about you?