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February 14, 1995

An old friend just stopped by to wish one and all a happy Valentine's Day. In the process, he unloaded a few philosophical reflections which you might find interesting. Lend an ear and see what you think. His ruminations follow.

Commenting on our modem society, he noted the obvious: a lot of couples just find it difficult to stay married these days. Many don't even bother with a legal or religious ceremony in the first place. The institution of marriage, under assault for some time now, seems to be diminishing at an alarming rate. Even those who do choose to take out a marriage license are finding it easy to dissolve the relationship by going to court.

One of the most popular grounds for divorce is something called "irreconcilable differences." In one of the recent "Shoe" comic strips, the Perfesser says irreconcilable differences is a legal term used in divorce, meaning "girlfriends." You read a lot about that. Unlike the "Shoe" comic strip character, my friend doesn't know exactly what the term means as it relates to married couples, but he says he has served a lot of them very well when they decided to split the blanket. (Someone needs to research the origin of THAT expression, also.)

My friend says this subject came up for discussion one evening in casual conversation which consisted mostly of small talk among a few friends, all of them married couples. With after-dinner coffee cups still in hand, one after another joined in the dialogue.

One of the men stated his personal observation: "You take most people who are about to get married, and see if they don't come with ready-made, built-in irreconcilable differences." Glancing at his wife across the table, he continued. "I know we did. She was a member of a mainstream religious denomination; I was from a very strict, conservative church background. She was from a family of liberal intellectuals who were politically active, while my folks tended to be on the conservative side. So in that regard, ours was one of those Maria Shriver-Arnold Schwarzenegger kinds of thing.

"She was a blonde and always had been. I had black hair at the time. Never mind what you see up there today. She graduated from a big city high school with an enrollment nearly as large as the population of Perry, and I was one of a handful of graduates in a small rural school. She liked light chocolates, I liked the dark ones. Her mother sliced sandwiches diagonally, but they were cut straight across at our house. We were real opposites, as you can see. But, opposites attract.

"So, we decided to get married in spite of all that, and you know, it's worked out okay for more than 30 years now. She's still all of those things and so am I, except my hair is mostly gray now, what's left of it.

"We never thought of those differences as irreconcilable anyway because we were too busy starting a family. Then our kids grew up, went to college and eventually each one chose attractive mates who made us proud. All of them launched upon successful careers, and in due time they produced some really extraordinary grandchildren, and I guess we just forgot about those basic things that once seemed so different between us. They must have become 'reconcilable' at some point without our ever noticing it.

"Would you have guessed at the outset that we would have a successful marriage, knowing all those differences? I don't think so. But becoming a grandparent, all by itself, just has a way of bringing old married folks together, even if there is some kind of fundamental difference at issue. When you see those charming baby eyes beaming, those disarming little smiles, and gasp at their first steps, realizing all the while that you don't have to potty train them or even change too many of the diapers, just spoil them rotten if you can, it does something to smooth out any other problems in a couple's life."

Turning toward his wife again, he said, "Works for us, so I guess we recommend it for everyone else. Don't we dear?" She nodded in agreement, along with all the others. Each had been listening intently. What they were testifying to was the need for a degree of tolerance for each other's peculiarities.

But, more than that and also implicit in each concurrence, was another element of a successful marriage: A foundation of love and respect for each other. I'm sorry, but it probably won't work without that. I'm not being judgmental. Each of us does what we have to do in the light of our individual circumstances.

Each of those at the table could have told a story very similar to the one sketched here. Perhaps you could, too. Sadly, all of us know some dear friends who have experienced heartache because they were not so fortunate.

But I appreciated my friend's thoughts on the subject. From me as well as from him, happy Valentine's Day to all of you.