Monday, April 27, 2009

A Real Relationship


Just finished an article about Nan and Gay Talese's marriage in New York magazine. Entitled A Nonfiction Marriage it seems to be an honest portrayal of a 50 year marriage, warts and all.

It focuses on the late 1970's when Mr. Talese was researching his book Thy Neighbor's Wife, about the sexual revolution. To say he got 'into' the research is something of an understatement. He managed a massage parlor and lived in a nudist colony. Needless to say his marriage to Ms Talese, a well-respected editor, suffered. Yet they remained together despite infidelities, two high profile careers and a great deal of negative press aimed at Gay.

What I found most interesting about the article were the twists and turns of this long term marriage. In their late 70s today, their 50 year marriage survived, and survived in the public eye. A real accomplishment. The two are able to discuss the role sex and infidelity played in the marriage, although admittedly he is more willing to discuss those aspects than she is.

This article highlighted what is lacking in both traditional and online media today - a discussion regarding mature marriages or long term partnerships and what makes them work. Regardless of the press outlet, no one talks about this subject. So rarely is it discussed one might believe that there is no such thing as a successful 30, 40 or 50 year-long marriage. We know this is not the case. Because of baby boomers, even with divorce rates, the percentage of long term marriages today is higher than it has ever been.

I believe the lack of discussion is rooted in our societal belief that people old enough to be married for 30, 40 or 50 years are not considered desirable, sexual, romantic or sadly, relevant.

This mind set could be excused when considering the generations prior to our parents. The odds of a 40 or 50 year marriage weren't that great. The average life expectancy, especially for men, insured that long term marriages were the exception rather than the rule. However, the baby boom generation and those that follow guarantee that, if marriage as an institution survives, people will routinely have 50, 60 or even 70 year-long marriages. If those involved in a marriage of this duration truly can't be desirable, sexual, romantic or relevant, then the institution of marriage is in jeopardy.

My husband and I married young by today's standards. I was barely out of my teens. He was only slightly older. Conceivably, we may be married 60 or even 65 years, before one of us dies. That's a long time to spend with one person and a critical factor that people approaching marriage should seriously contemplate. But it will feel even longer if maturing couples are isolated, out of touch or unimportant in their society. If the issues that matter to them are not explored. If frank discussions regarding fidelity, sexuality, physical changes and long-term contentment have no outlet, it may lead to isolation, misunderstanding and missed opportunity.

As children we all tend to think our parents had sex the exact number of times required to produce us and our siblings. I sometimes wonder if we ever outgrow that misconception. We look at people married for 20 or 30 years and make equally simplistic assumptions about their relationship. The one thing I am certain of is the longer you are married or in a committed relationship, the more experiences you live through as a couple, the richer, more complex and more rewarding your relationship becomes.

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