It’s Valentine’s month, when a not-so-young editor’s fancies turn to thoughts of love, including the best marital advice I ever heard: It was from a 70-year-old, who told a radio interviewer that the secret of his long and happy marriage was “alcohol and gardening.”
Brief yet utterly brilliant, and it got me thinking about the kind of self-help book that women of my generation really need. With more than half of all marriages now ending in divorce—a psychologist recently told me the rate is even higher in Sarasota—many of us have suffered through some bitter disappointments, but we’ve refused to give up on love. Like that 70-year-old, we may have traded youthful romanticism for rueful realism, but most of the women I know still want to share their life with someone, whether it’s for passion, companionship, or the reason a 55-year-old friend recently proffered: “I want to have someone to take me to the hospital in the coming years.”
Fortunately, age does bring a little wisdom along with all its horrors; many of us seem to be happier and smarter about our love life the second—or third, or fourth—time around. I sought out some friends who have managed to find and nurture love in midlife and beyond, promised them total anonymity, and asked them to forget the youthful platitudes and offer grown-up advice on men, marriage and making love work.
Before you get swept away, find out what he thinks of his mother. “I twice chose men who either ignored their mothers or were constantly fighting with them,” one friend said. “And guess what—after a while they each treated me like they treated her!” Now she’s blissfully happy with a man who’s as sweet and attentive to her as he is to his mom.
Yes, look for passion, but make sure you’re good friends, too. Young people can be so excited about sex and the idea of marriage that they don’t realize they have little in common. “One day I looked at him lying on the sofa and watching the Golf Channel with his hands glued to the remote control and I realized we had nothing to say to each other,” one friend recalled of her first husband. Her new man shares her love for shopping and travel, and they never run out of conversation.
But even if you love being together, allow yourselves time apart. One of the rewards of getting older and more secure is you don’t feel threatened by each other’s independence. My boyfriend, George, loves to drive out of town to hear great bands, and if I’m not in the mood to go, I’m happy to send him off alone. A friend who used to drag her introverted husband to every party says it’s liberated them both to finally realize that he can stay home in peace while she socializes to her heart’s content.
Invest in a great bed with all the trimmings—plush Italian sheets, down featherbeds, cuddly fleece throws, padded headboards and tons of comfy pillows. There’s a whole new world of luscious bedding out there, and getting into that wonderful bed will be the highlight of his day and a seductive retreat from all the shocks and stresses of life. It will do more for your love life than all the designer lingerie you used to buy—amortize it over the years and you’ll actually save money.
You don’t have to tell him everything you’re thinking and feeling. Yes, couples should communicate, but I’ve learned that some issues aren’t worth bringing up—and we’ve wrangled about others so much there’s really nothing left to say. Another lesson: If I wait until I’ve cooled down and can summon up a good feeling about him, we’ve got a better chance of solving a conflict than if I blurt everything out when I’m upset. And whether it’s weary resignation or enlightened acceptance, all those long, agonized discussions about “the relationship” that I loved to have when I was younger thankfully don’t interest me anymore.
The way—OK, a big part of the way—to a man’s heart really is through his stomach. A hungry guy is a grumpy guy, and that gets truer as they get older. I’ve learned that a handful of peanuts and a banana can calm many a gathering storm; and let’s face it—food is a basic sensual pleasure and makes people feel comfortable and safe. It doesn’t matter if you cook, he cooks or you eat in restaurants—just make sure that good food is an everyday part of your life together.
If you’re looking for perfection, read a romance novel or rent a Hollywood movie. George is great-looking, smart, charming, romantic and full of fun. But not too long after we were together, I began to notice—this may come as a surprise to some of you out there—that he’s not perfect. And I have been perfectly able to deal with that, because years of life experience, from my work screw-ups to my all-too-candid children, have finally taught me that I’m not perfect, either. If he’s willing to cut me a little slack, I’m more than ready to do the same for him.
Know the qualities you’re looking for, but don’t have preconceived ideas about the package they’ll come in. “I wanted smart and successful,” one professional woman confessed. “So for years I would only date lawyers and doctors.” But nothing ever clicked. Soon after she gave up that strategy, she started talking to an unassuming librarian at a party. He turned out to be the love of her life—and smart and successful to boot.
Buy candles and light dimmers. This strategy comes from a woman who was so self-conscious about her 45-year-old body that she dreaded getting close. Less light on the subject freed up her inhibitions. Of course, that wasn’t as drastic as the woman who told a Sarasota plastic surgeon that she wanted a facelift because—how can I put this in a family magazine?—she was afraid that if she didn’t stay flat on her back, he would be staring up at her saggy neck and wrinkles.
Make peace with the idea you may end up alone. In one of those maddening Catch-22s of life, the more desperate you are to find someone—anyone—the less likely it is to happen. Desperation is pathetic, and guys can smell it a mile away. Confidence and independence, on the other hand, are powerful attractors. “Only in my 40s, after I finally figured out that I could have friends, family and even buy a house on my own did I give up my fear of never getting married,” one friend said. As soon as she did—that Catch 22 again—she met the man who is now her husband.
Unless he’s a golden exception, don’t expect him to be as crazy about your kids as you are. He’s not their father, and while he may grow into their friend, he’s never going to see their virtues in the same rosy hues that you do—and he’s going to see their faults with greater clarity. If he’s kind, supportive and respects their major role in your life, that may be as good as it gets.
When all else fails, watch the Discovery Channel. Nursing a grudge against George, I stayed up late watching Supervolcano. In horrifying detail, it re-enacted the massive volcanic eruptions that have periodically filled the atmosphere with dark ash clouds, sending us into global winters and wiping out most life on earth. The last featured super-volcano was Yellowstone, where a vast reservoir of fiery magma is right now rising up and exerting enormous pressure on the fragile cap. The program ended with a warning that Yellowstone erupts every 600,000 years—and its last eruption was 640,000 years ago. I ran into the bedroom and clutched George, who remained happily asleep and unconscious of our impending doom, while I babbled on about the need to treasure each other for our fleeting, final days on earth.
Out of the Office
“My eyes stay glued to the center of the ring whenever Circus Sarasota (355-9805) brings in a quick-change duo. I never can figure out how they do it, but when the acclaimed Igor and Svetlana Sudarchikov make their U.S. debut here Feb. 2-25, I’ll be watching closely for clues.” —executive editor Kay Kipling
“I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Valentine’s than our kickoff for SARASOTA’s Hottest Husbands at Saks on Feb. 9. You can nominate your man, sip ‘hotinis’ and enjoy great food along with fun games and prizes. And it all benefits the men’s programs at the Wellness Community. Info: 921-5539.” —editorial director Pam Daniel
“After friends gave us some fresh Key limes, I made Guiltless Key Lime pies from the wonderful new Simply Sarasota Junior League cookbook ($24.95; call 954-5751). I must admit that instead of fat-free condensed milk, I used the fat kind, and I also added homemade whipped cream. Pure heaven.” —managing editor Ilene Denton