Tuesday, June 8, 2010

For Better, for Worse

The Gore split first shocked people, then scared and saddened them.

But they seemed so good together! They were affectionate in public! They’d been through so much in their 40 years together! They’re throwing all of that away?!

Marriage is never a done deal, as Tara Parker-Pope notes in a New York Times piece reflecting on the breakup of Al and Tipper, who say they have simply grown apart. I read “grown apart” as meaning: We just don’t like hanging out together anymore.

Growing apart might seem like more of a bogeyman for age-gap couples like us. I’ve fretted over it, but I’ve found that sharing our different worlds has worked to our advantage.

Example: When Michael moved us from Montana to Arkansas for grad school, it had been more than dozen years since I’d gotten my own master’s degree. I was scared that his grad program would lure him away, that he’d leave me behind. So I made sure I went along for the ride. I went to work every day as a reporter and he went to learn about form and theory of fiction. But we shared the friends, the fun and, yes, the failures from our worlds. These are the tiny accretions from which a marriage grows. During our four years in Fayetteville, we watched same-age marriages crumble all around us among his fellow students. Not ours.

Parker-Pope writes that research reveals (SURPRISE!) that couples who share adventures are happier than those who live the same-old, same-old. As a quality test, she writes, people might ask themselves how many exciting experiences a partner brings to the relationship.

It seems to me it’s not so much about the number of exciting experiences Michael and I bring each other — even a Barnes & Noble date night can be exciting with him. So can watching cardinals at the bird feeder or skinny dipping in a Montana lake or listening to Van Morrison.

Rather, our 17-year age gap guarantees a life of adventures. We’ve always lived in different worlds. His career is gaining momentum; mine is winding down. He rocks out to Pearl Jam; I crank up Bob Dylan. He plays basketball; I do yoga. But those differences rooted in age keep our lives interesting: I’ve learned what a pick-and-roll is; he sometimes joins my yoga class.

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