Marriage of opposites endures in spirit of compromise

June 07, 1995|By MIKE LITTWIN

We were not quite 30 minutes into our honeymoon when Susie suggested, with some urgency, that I pull the car over.

Fortunately, I honored and obeyed. Because she immediately opened the door to my brand-new MG, only the most important possession in my life, and proceeded to throw up.

Ah, I thought, suddenly atremble. So this is what marriage is like.

That was 25 years ago this month. My father used to kid about marriage. His theory was this: When a criminal draws a life sentence, he's eligible for parole after 20 years. Old Dad figured marriage should work the same way.

(My father had other fascinating theories. When my sister was 13 and wanted to go out with boys, he'd say, "Look at your mother. She's in her 30s and she still doesn't date.")

In any case, like Charles Manson, it looks like I'm not getting parole. There are the familiar reasons for staying together: love, respect, inertia. Oh, and community-property laws (like, what if she got half the Beatles albums?).

You probably know the grisly statistics: Fifty percent of marriages end in divorce. Why have we stayed together?

It sure isn't because we're compatible. I'm a slob. My sneakers have holes in them. My pants are frayed. My desk looks like a landfill. My wife, on the other hand, was Martha Stewart before there was a Martha Stewart. She likes her napkins cloth and her music classical (as opposed to classic rock).

When people see us walking down the street together, they naturally assume that I'm out on work release and she's been kidnapped.

So, what is it? Here are the keys to a successful marriage. Write them down.

* Compromise.

* Compromise.

* Compromise.

For example, when Susie had the remote one recent evening, I let her stay on the same channel for, well, it had to be three minutes. That's how marriages work.

In our case, though, I'm convinced the real reason for our staying together -- and the reason for Susie's stomach distress that day -- was our wedding.

When we reminisce about that day -- and we almost never do -- I always remind her that I wanted to elope. Susie didn't. That was our first compromise.

We were both only 21 years old, and even though neither of us was from West Virginia, we were determined to marry. Our parents were horrified, as you might guess. If you have a kid who's 21, you'll understand. I had a friend whose 21-year-old recently got married. He wore a Samurai outfit. The marriage lasted six months.

Being young wasn't the half of it. I was a long-haired hippie. My father-in-law was an engineer from Kansas. Our relationship was not much different from the one in "All in the Family." I played the Meathead role.

And still that wasn't the half of it.

There was the religion problem. I'm Jewish. Susie is what my grandmother would call a shiksa. To say that neither side of the family was happy about this difference is to say that Shaquille O'Neal is kind of tall.

We couldn't get married by a rabbi. That would stun her family. We couldn't get married in a church. It would kill mine.

We were stumped until, after many tears, we hit upon a solution. We would do what anyone would do. We would lie.

Susie was a social worker, prepared to save the world (come on, it was the '60s, or 1970 anyway, which was the same thing). And one of her social-worker colleagues was a former minister, Jim, who still had -- he claimed -- the right to marry people. We didn't check.

We held the wedding at Susie's house. She was beautiful. I had gotten a haircut. In the spirit of the times, we wrote our own ceremony -- no honoring and no obeying, except in emergencies, like with the car. It was mostly about love and peace and dialectical materialism. I told you, it was the '60s.

All that part was mostly true. The lying part came when we had to identify Jim. We told her family that the guy was a minister. We told my family he was a justice of the peace. And everything would have gone smoothly except an aunt who knew the truth spilled the beans. The rest of the night was like something out of "Pulp Fiction," only more grisly. I played the John Travolta role.

What I mean is, the next day, Susie was still throwing up. And yet, 25 years later, we're still together. It must be love.

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