Today’s network news ran a feature story about how Middle Americans have been losing faith in marriage. I had to laugh out loud as I thought of John and Kathy, an amazing couple who recently celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary at the Pfister. First of all, I think all wedding anniversaries are to be congratulated. Life is stressful enough, but to combine your energies with a partner and navigate tough financial terrain and cultural circumstances (in an age where another news story says we’ve increased our whining and complaining) can be as taxing as it is rewarding so, whenever I meet a couple with significant years of marriage under their belt, I pay close attention. There are lessons to be learned there.
I sat with the pair, who also surprised me by mentioning they’re from the Chicago suburbs. Before I could even finish “Why are you vacationing in Milwaukee…” Kathy said, “Yeah, our friends all think we’re nuts for coming up here instead of going to the city. This is so much better though. We keep bringing them up here too, to show them.”
I had to smile. Just two years ago I had the same argument with a friend who was excited to plan a family vacation in Chicago and I worked hard to convince her Milwaukee was the better choice. When I asked, “What’s so special about Chicago?” she replied knowingly, “Uh, the pizza, the Field Museum, Lake Michigan?” I said, “Yup, in Milwaukee we have pizza, Discovery World, Miller Park and the same lake…”
Kathy and John know this. But it’s not their savvy in weekend getaways that drew me to them. The chemistry from this couple who knows each other so well was magnetic. That’s why I sat near them. They were talking pleasantly when I came upon them and neither asked a thing about me when I approached, they simply motioned for me to sit down and join them. I learned of their work life travels (together, the relocated for John’s work eight times in his career), I learned of their retirement adventures (visiting friends across the country and watching their daughter successfully navigate a now 18-year marriage—clearly wedded longevity runs in the family) and I learned that you never get to know how the story ends.
See, Kathy and John, it was revealed to me late in our conversation, knew each other back in elementary school on Long Island, NY. She was in first grade, he in fourth. But they weren’t sweethearts or dated until after high school when they married. Now, 45 years later, they still talk with old classmates, remember the same school buildings and recognize names of families by whichever siblings were in their class. This couple has been all around the country, but little did they know, their marriage started in the same school on Long Island.
On this night, they were treating themselves to a drink at the Pfister to kick off their anniversary. John asked, “So what is a Narrator?” and as I told him, I asked him more questions about his work…which Kathy gladly answered. John threw his hands up in mock exasperation—a dance the pair has clearly perfected over their many years together. I leaned in and teased John, “Wow, she’s really the narrator, isn’t she?” He smiled, nodded and said “Well, that’s one word for it…”
This rhythm and banter was so natural between them, when they left, I thanked them for setting the example. I told Kathy, I like seeing it, I like seeing couples showing us how it’s done. She nodded, patted me on the knee and said “Oh, honey, you gotta kiss a lot of frogs, but it’s well worth it!”