When my multiple-times-married Aunt Sophie was in her 80s, I remember her once lecturing me on what she was looking for in her next husband. At the time, I just smiled in amusement as she ticked off the list of attributes he would need to possess: Good character was a given, she said, but he also must be someone who could drive at night. He must love to dance -- make that be a good dancer (she was tired of men with no rhythm); he had to read books that they could later discuss; and he needed to understand the importance of foreplay. Yes, I blushed at that last.
Aunt Sophie had the marriage thing all figured out. She buried more husbands than she divorced, but she believed that as a woman ages, the things she needs in a mate change and ultimately the guy who you swept you off your feet in your 20s wasn't necessarily the perfect partner for you when you were in your 80s. Some women change husbands with the frequency with which they change shoes, and that certainly wasn't my aunt. But she definitely approached marriage with a kind of practicality that included emotion but didn't become a slave to it.
People and their needs change, she believed, and getting married required a commitment to the idea of marriage as much as a commitment to the person you wed. She didn't believe in infidelity and never strayed from whoever she was married to at the time. She preferred the honesty of divorcing them and then finding a new partner.
(This is where I stipulate that I love my husband, have no plans to divorce and hope that everyone takes note of the fact that even though he rarely reads what I write and hence isn't likely to see this, I am setting this forth anyway.)
But ala Aunt Sophie, I've started to think about subsequent husbands. Thanks to Gigi Levangie Grazer, we know there are starter wives. In the same vein, Aunt Sophie had a starter husband. With our starters, we make babies and if the starters have a good-enough salary, we are able to stay at home with our creations. Our starter husbands generally stick around through the soccer-team coaching period. Around eighth grade, when their daughters dump them as The Most Important Man In Their Life and math homework starts to be a killer, a few bolt. Mine has not, although he is definitely feeling the strain of algebra.
Many women find that locating a replacement husband at this point is difficult. Their kids need them, they lack the energy that getting to know someone new requires, and their flirting skills are rusty. Some wind up taking the louts back for this reason. Kudos to Demi Moore for not doing that, although I suspect that if everyone looked like Demi Moore there would be no second chances in marriages.
Once the kids have flown the nest is another point at which marriages need re-evaluation, opined Aunt Sophie. I know many women who welcome the opportunity to live alone. They married young, raised children, worked in demanding careers -- and the opportunity to live alone without the responsibility for others holds certain appeal.
This is also a time where you and your spouse need to be in agreement on one extremely important thing: How do you want to spend your disposable time and income? If one likes to travel and the other doesn't, there could be trouble. If one is a couch potato and the other wants to play tennis 24/7, that tennis instructor starts to look mighty good.
Further down the marriage line comes the part in the wedding vows that separates the barely connected from the deeply committed -- the "in sickness and in health" line. Unless there is a strong foundation to the marriage and lots of happy memories, people sometimes stumble when thrust into the role of caregiver for someone they can't stand but have been living with out of habit. Nothing like a stroke or the diagnoses of a serious illness to snap you out of complacency.
Me? I'm in it for the long haul. I love my husband and I love coupledom. I even remember the precise moment I knew I wanted to be married. I was standing in front of the Eiffel Tower on a solo trip to Paris and realized how totally alone I felt with no one to elbow and say "Look, it's the Eiffel Tower!"
I was a self-sufficient single career woman at the time. I had mastered dining out alone (bring a book, order a drink, make eye contact only if you mean it) and I had mastered solo home ownership (plumbing is easy if you remember to turn the water off first; electrical stuff, not so much), so my reaction surprised even me. But it was undeniable: I wanted to be part of a couple.
With no disrespect to the romantic love teenage girls want to believe in, getting married is as much about deciding you want to be married as it is finding a partner. And to some extent, Aunt Sophie nailed it when she said the timing of that decision -- and knowing what your needs are at that stage of your life -- is probably what counts the most.
Right now, with my kitchen faucet blown, the car needing new brakes, two sick kids at home, company coming for the holidays and at least three more stories to file, my man is looking mighty good. I love you honey, and thanks for reading this one to the end.