Readers share their own tales of happy marriages.

Published October 15, 2003 7:39PM (EDT)

[Read An Antique Institution, by Benjamin Cheever.]

I just read your article this morning at work while sipping coffee. I smiled.

Then my New Mail icon appeared. It was my husband:

Subject: My lover

Message: I love you ...

We've been married three or four years; I lose track. We don't celebrate our anniversary. We try not to be typical. We have sex at least twice a week. This is more important than anything else. We have one car and he drops me off at my job in the morning then drives halfway back home to his. I sit right next to him on the bench seat like a girlfriend. I am 45, he is 50. We don't watch TV.

We drink wine and read and talk at night. Sometimes our conversations are so passionate (we solve all the world's problems) I wonder if the neighbors think we're fighting. The house we own is smaller than the one we had before, our new car is older than the one we traded in. I do yoga in the morning so as to leave most negative things unsaid. I've read Byron, Tolstoy and Kundera and didn't think this was possible. But it is a second marriage; our teenagers live with the exes -- maybe that's it.

-- Nancy

When I read Benjamin Cheever's essay about his marriage, I was touched by one sentence in particular (though I enjoyed the whole essay):

"I think she must have a soul, because I love some part of her that can't be seen or touched."

When my husband and I met in college, we both had just finished intense relationships. We had been friends, and we were mutually attracted, and we were both horny. We each assured the other that we weren't seeking anything long-term. We started dating in August, and by the time I took him home for Christmas, I knew we should be married. The hubris of youth is an amazing thing; you can hold it responsible for so many short-term marriages. How can a 20-year-old have enough life experience to know, with so much certainty, that this is the person with whom she wants to spend the rest of her life?

But I was certain. I was certain that he was not going to find anyone better suited for him than I was. And I was reasonably certain I would not find anyone better suited for me than him.

He had documented in his journal his decision not to marry until he was 29. He was wiser than I, and assumed that he could not have enough life experience until then to know to make such an important decision. I spent much of his last year in undergraduate school trying to persuade him to the wisdom of my position. I tried to explain that you couldn't decide when you're going to meet the right person -- it simply happens. And you either take advantage of it, or you don't. But if you pass up on this opportunity, there are no guarantees you'll have another. That was probably the best and most sensible tack I tried. But in the end, it was probably his mother who clinched the deal. When we visited her, before he left for graduate school 2,500 miles away, she calmly told him that while he could certainly remain noncommittal, I would almost certainly find someone else in his absence. And that would be that.

I say his mother "clinched the deal." Actually, we had a couple of bumps on the way to the altar the following summer. Twice, with good reasoning, my future husband panicked and tried to raise the possibility that this was not the best course for us. He suggested that we wait. And I, with the continued conceit of my youth, felt sure of the rightness and told him that we were committed or we weren't, and that delays would not make this any more or less the right thing to do.

When we married, I believed that there was no such thing as one right person for each of us. I felt that you should find someone you loved and who loved you and -- this is the crucial part -- someone whose idiosyncrasies would not drive you nuts. I figured that in any long-term relationship, the passion would wax and it would wane, and during the waning times, you'd need to be able to stand being with this person. Being friends during those periods would prove essential.

For my husband's part, he used to talk about the law of diminishing returns from his economics courses. He explained how in all matters -- economic, political, romantic -- there was a period where the return was greater than the investment. But at some point, the investment is much greater than the returns, and so it would be in a marriage.

Twenty years later I am struck by how lucky we are that neither was entirely correct in our assumptions. I love him more than when we married. I love him more than when we courted. It's not the same love: It's not the heady passion of falling for someone and waiting to have that attention returned and then finding that they do and oh my! Is there anything better? But wait. Yes. There is something better.

I would never have guessed that it was this intangible that Mr. Cheever described so well. When I look at my husband, I see the man with whom I've shared so many wonderful and terrible experiences. But what I cannot see, but feel, is the goodness of this man's soul. It is very similar to the feeling I get when I look at pictures of him as a little boy. He's older and he can be cranky, tired and obnoxious. But he's also still, in his core, that sweet boy with a kind heart. I love each of those parts and the total sum of them, too.

-- Karen McKeown

I had returned to college to finish my last semester. On campus I stumbled upon a girl I'd dated in the past. She now lived with two other women I'd dated in the past. She thought it funny to invite me to a party at the house they were renting.

They decided it would be highly amusing to introduce me to a woman who was the president of the college women's association. They thought it would be interesting to see the fur fly. So we talked and talked. Her ride left. I asked her if she could drive a standard and gave her my car keys. We went to her apartment. I decided I liked her too much to stay the night and left while offering to take her out to dinner the next night.

So off we went to a pizza place. When the check came I panicked. I didn't know if I should pick up the whole tab, split it with her, or wait for her to pay. She was a feminist, after all, and I didn't want to blow it. Flustered, I grabbed the check, looked at her and said, "You got five bucks?"

She replied how that was real smooth. I then explained my angst, whereupon she grabbed the check and stormed off to pay it. There at the counter, I can see her with her hands waving around. It appears she did not have enough money to pay for it, and needed some additional money. I came up behind her and hung $5 out for her, saying, "You in need of this?" She grabbed the bill from my hand, turned, pointed a finger at me and said, "Don't start, Geoffrey."

That was 23 years ago. We lived in sin for a few years and got married 21 years ago this June. We have kids aged 15, 13, 11 and 5.

When we went back to her 20th college reunion, we returned to the house where we met. An old couple was there who let us into the house while our children screeched and ran around in the front yard.

We'll fight and bicker over trivial matters, but we come together in crisis. Life with four kids is controlled chaos, but we do our best to steal some time away together, if only for dinner and a movie.

Like Mr. Cheever, I love her more today than ever -- even in those rare instances when the blood returns to my brain.

-- Geoff Woollacott

After reading the story, which I enjoyed, I spent some time thinking about the state of my union. I never think about the "state" of my union. We are married, have been for over eight years (I married at 25, husband at 28), and it is going just the way I thought it might. I never played out scenarios in my head while we were dating; I just enjoyed our time together. We are in love -- I don't use "still" because I don't anticipate my feelings of love ending, but who really can predict the future. Sometimes we just fuck, other times have sex, and occasionally make love. Lovemaking takes more time nowadays and we need hours -- a beginning, middle, back to beginning, middle, and end.

We just had our first child in January (bye-bye lovemaking for now!), bought our first house last year in an up-and-coming (read: bad 'hood hopefully going good after a few years of gentrification) Philadelphia neighborhood. We are excited at our prospects and cautious of our debt but know if the world goes to shit tomorrow, we'll have lived full, rewarding lives. We grow richer from our bad experiences and are thankful for the good ones. We talk to each other like people, not customers you want to avoid. And arguing is a waste of energy; we like to debate and see who can outsmart, outfact or outsource the other. We look forward to everything.

When my husband proposed to me, I was ecstatic and logical. We wasted no time with drawn-out wedding plans. We never got caught up in "the wedding day" because it is a day that was really for our parents. Their happiness and joy at seeing us get married was worth it. We couldn't afford a honeymoon so we didn't go on one. We went a few years later. A lot of my friends are all about the dreaded "day" and a lot of those same friends have long been divorced. It sucks. For some people, weddings are their 15 minutes. And after that, couples hole themselves up, close themselves up to new experiences and get on that standard living, vanilla script of life. Marriage should not suck the life out of people the way it does.

Will I be married in 25 years? Who knows, who cares, I am damn glad today. I look forward to new adventures and experiences and when I go home tonight, after we put the baby to bed, I just may want to get fucked by my husband because I am in love with him.

We live in an illusion of control. Let it go and be true to yourself.

-- Anne Hillman

P.S. It is not the union of two souls that become one. It is two people who respect each other's individuality enough to live with and love the other person no matter what. I never changed, my husband never changed. Just our filing status and a few worthless opinions.

By Salon Staff

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