07/28/2014 11:49 am ET Updated Sep 27, 2014

33 Years and Counting on a Happy Marriage

Maura Sweeney

"A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person." - Mignon McLaughlin

Our happy life started nearly 37 years ago, but 33 feels like a rounder and more significant number. I'm marking our 33rd wedding anniversary with some fond reflections on fidelity.

The above quote provides an apt way to describe our lengthy union. We're a couple that continues to fall in love, but always with each other.

An unlikely pair, Jimmy and I met in early September 1977 on a back-to-school booze cruise as we were both beginning our sophomore year at Boston College. I arrived aboard with my roommate and my guitar. We harmonized to familiar songs until a common friend introduced me to Jim Sweeney.

I spent most of my freshman year in the library while Jimmy was leading a separate life as a freshman starter for the Boston College basketball team. I heard his name mentioned in our girls' dorm, but had no interest in sports. He's probably some dumb jock with an ego, I reasoned.

The athlete who stood before me on the cruise that night was soft-spoken, neatly dressed and a complete disruption to any stereotype I'd imagined. We spent the rest of the evening chatting as the Boston skyline passed before us, Jimmy with a Coke and I sipping on 7 Up. He was intelligent, full of good humor and possessed an ease of conversation; his persona was as beautiful as it was refreshing.

He invited me on a date the following Saturday and we've been a couple ever since.

Marriage was not on my radar and I carried no romantic fantasies; I relegated the institution to something I could enter into when I turned 30. Jimmy claims he wanted to marry me the first time we met. We tied the proverbial knot one year after graduation, a formality that publicly decreed and socially legitimized our partnership.

Looking back, I made a terrible bride. Though not a feminist, I refused scripture readings at our wedding suggesting women "obey" their husbands. Are you kidding? I thought. I'd rather stay single. I didn't always wear my wedding rings when heading to work and my ultimate kick in the pants was an admonition: "Jimmy, don't ever let me hear you referring to me as your wife." It was stuff that only a highly secure man could handle.

We are still together today, 33 years after exchanging "I do's" and nearly 37 years since our meeting aboard that Boston College harbor cruise.

Jimmy claims he fell in love with my mind, but I fell in love with a man who could offer me a new life. A product of convention, I was attracted to Jimmy's sense of freedom. His plans included playing basketball after college followed by teaching at a prep school back in New Jersey. I hardly desired a future in New Jersey, but was drawn to this man who felt no pressure to conform to anyone's expectations but his own.

"I'm just happy being me," he informed me during an early exchange. I never forgot his words and regularly noted how he lived according to that mantra.

The union that began in July of 1981 has whizzed by, but it has continually delivered us benefits. Our lives have been alternately couple-centered, family-focused and individually enriching. We've pursued our own careers, yet collaborated three times in business. As parents, we've hosted exchange students from Spain, Russia and Japan and home-schooled our daughter, who now works out of London.

Over the years, we've pushed and prodded each another into new spaces. We have also sparred. We inspire and perplex each other, but always with deep respect. I've played the wife who refuses to allow her husband to leave a single dream untapped. Jimmy's played the husband who continuously challenges me beyond my comfort zones.

Jimmy jokes that we get along great, except when we don't. Apparently, we're designed for the dichotomy of this relationship: it keeps us fresh, relevant and ever-evolving.

We're older than we were in 1981, but our spirits remain energized. Jimmy still plays basketball. Admittedly, he runs at a slower and more "age-appropriate" level, but the sport remains his social and physical lifeline. I've continued to pursue my musical interests and started dancing when I turned 50. We're lifelong learners who find strength in continual growth and world travelers fueled by new horizons.

As empty nesters, we've turned our personal passions into lifestyle careers. Jimmy created his own alter ego and authors a unique series called MIKE Sports Comic books. I've emerged as a self-made journalist and midlife cultural anthropologist inspiring others to live happily from the inside out.

Our daughter observed a few months ago, "Mom, you and Dad are never satisfied." I wondered if we'd disappointed her thoughts about marriage and aging, perhaps proving ourselves a poor example.

Instead, she found us inspiring. "You and Dad are constantly looking for new ways to grow. I've never seen a couple so crazy about each other and who respect each other like you two do."

Growing and challenging one another keeps us happy and in love, over and over again.

Whatever reasons you choose to marry, may they keep you happy and in love -- over and over again, too!