I walked along the beach with my 90 year old grandfather over the weekend. He lost his wife, my beloved grandmother, on January 1st of this year. The entire family has been reeling from her passing but, obviously, no one more so than my grandpa. As we walked along the water and watched young couples and families enjoy the beautiful sunshine, he reminisced about their life together. As a couple for 70 years, they spent a very active and full life together filled with the ups and downs of business ownership, moving across country, world travel and adventures, and the joys (and pains) of parenthood, grand-parenthood, and even great-grand-parenthood.
Now that my grandmother is gone, the grandfather I once knew is missing as well. A man who was quick to laugh and share funny stories has become more subdued. A man who worked well into his 70′s and prided himself on his excellent health is now slowing down quickly. He complains about the everyday life of living in an old man’s body. He can’t sleep and he doesn’t enjoy the same things he used to, like even a walk on the beach. That was something he and grandma would do together everyday. As we walked along, it was evident that all he could think about was her and their life together. “My partner is gone” he told me as we looked out across the ocean, “it doesn’t matter anymore.”
I didn’t ask him to elaborate what “it” meant. I knew.
His pain is the kind of pain that only the luckiest people in the world will ever know. It’s the kind of pain that I can only hope either the Dude or myself will actually experience one day, hopefully not until many many years down the road. To know this pain means that you have known a deep love that only partners in a very long and loving relationship can possibly experience.
To get to the place where my grandfather is doesn’t only take luck. Luck is simply meeting someone special. He’ll be the first to tell you that. My grandpa often tells us that he was the luckiest man in the world when he met my grandma on the beach of Coney Island back in 1940. It was also my luck when I canceled a date and instead met up with my sister at her friend’s house – that friend being the Dude. But luck doesn’t get you through 68 years of marriage. Or, in my case, even 5 years.
I often asked my grandparents about the secret to their exceptionally long marriage. My grandmother would joke that she stayed married so long because he kept her feet warm at night. My grandpa would say it was her beautiful legs. In reality, they were simply compatible and they complemented each other well. They brought out the best in each other. They enjoyed the same things, had similar values, and shared many goals. They laughed together. Often. They could keep up with each other, both sharing a keen wit and honest (sometimes brutally honest) perspective on things. They were also of the same religion and, more importantly, also shared a similar level of faith. Sure, they fought like any other couple and disagreed about many things, but they were always able to move past their disagreements. There were moments when they did not treat each other as kindly as they should have, but neither of them let those moments go unnoticed. One thing was for sure, when one was upset with the other, they would know it. And then they would move on.
People often wonder what it means to be truly compatible with someone. Does your partner have to be the mirror version of yourself? No. That would be boring and boring doesn’t make for a good relationship. Successful and healthy relationships must have three essential components that most of us already know: trust, communication, and respect. But there are other things that help sustain a lasting union and most of those things fall into the compatibility department.
When it comes to compatibility, the recipe is quite simple: similar interests, values, expectations, and life-goals. Chances are, those are some of the same things that draw you to your friends. I strongly believe that a great friendship is key to a happy marriage. When asked who is the first person you want to talk to about something or the person you want to spend the most time with, I would hope the answer is your husband/wife/partner. Now, do the two of you need to be BFF’s that do everything together? No, of course not. It’s highly unlikely that a couple shares every interest. With that said, it’s important to support outside interests and hobbies and maintain and nurture other friendships. However, what I find to be key for long-term relationships is that there are things that the couple loves doing together. Just like walking the beach everyday was my grandparent’s “thing”, it’s important to have at least one “thing” with your partner.
Most of what I know about marriage comes from my grandparents. They didn’t tell me how to have a happy marriage, they showed me. My grandparents certainly didn’t live some kind of fairytale life. No one has a perfect marriage. But there are those as-good-as-it-gets type of marriages, which I think easily sums up their union. We should all be so fortunate to meet someone that complements us so well and brings out the best in us. And, when we do, we should all be so dedicated to our partner and our marriage. If we’re lucky enough one day, many years down the road, some of us will fully realize what my grandfather now knows: Our life doesn’t have the same meaning without that person in it.