After 49 Years

A story by Joanne Jagoda, December 2019

After retiring in 2009, one inspiring writing workshop in the Amherst method launched Joanne Jagoda of Oakland, California on an unexpected writing trajectory. Her short stories, poetry and creative nonfiction appear on-line and in numerous print anthologies including Gemini, Pure Slush, A Poet’s Siddur, the River Poets Anthology, and Better After 50. Her poem, “Mr. Avocado Man” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. In 2019/2020 her work will appear in Truth Serum Press, Heat the Grease We’re Frying up Some Poetry, and Awakening and other publications.. Joanne continues taking Bay Area writing workshops, enjoys Zumba, traveling and spoiling her seven grandchildren, who call her “Savta.”

My husband and I will be celebrating our 49th anniversary this year. Wow…that is a long time to be with one person. I think I’m qualified to give some valuable insights on how to have a long lasting relationship.

You might want to know how it all began for us. I was nineteen and convinced my older brother to take me to a Blue Monday party for Jewish singles on June 12, 1970 (of course I can’t forget the date) at a club in North Beach in San Francisco.  Though I was supposed to be twenty one, I looked older and got in no problem. I was wearing a two piece pantsuit; a black longish polyester top, with white pants. Polyester was big that year!! My hair was shoulder length, a sandy blonde. I was almost 5’8”, not  skinny,   pretty cute, and liked guys who were older than me, and they had to be tall. I had just completed my sophomore year at UC Berkeley.

            So when a tall guy with curly hair and glasses asked me to dance I figured… why not.  I found out later his friend dragged him there, bribing him with dinner before the party at a nearby Chinese restaurant he liked. When he saw an old girlfriend who had recently dumped him, he quickly asked me to dance. I suppose it was “bashert,” the Yiddish word for destined. It was meant to be. That night initially I wasn’t very impressed as he was wearing a torn sweater and didn’t have money to buy me a drink. He did get his friend to give me a ride home, and when he brought me up the stairs at my house he happened to meet my father who was coming home at the same time. They shook hands.  My dad liked him right away from that brief encounter. Hmmmm….

Within two days hecalled me for a date, and when he picked me up he did not have a torn sweater.  We went out a few more times then both of us had summer obligations. He was in the army reserves for two weeks of training  as this was during the Vietnam  war. I was away at a leadership training institute for a month. During those six weeks apart we wrote to each other… yes, old fashioned cards and letters.  There was something brewing in the sweet and cautious words we exchanged.  It was clear we liked each other and as soon as we both were back started steady dating. It did not take long until I met his parents and he met mine. Our families had lots in common and by September we were engaged after only knowing each other a few months

 What clicked for us? From the beginning, we knew we shared basic values of decency,  and honesty, and had a mutual attraction. We had a career path.  I was completing my teaching credential; he was already working in business with his father. We got married the following summer and have been blessed with a truly wonderful marriage which has withstood its share of ups and downs, joys and sorrows. We  raised three great daughters and are  now enjoying our seven grandchildren.

            So now you know how we met. Though I won’t claim to be an “expert” here are some thoughts I have on why our marriage has worked:

Be the best of friends. Have fun together. We still do even now after all these years.  Laugh often. Most importantly talk to each other; share what’s on your mind, the good and bad. Share your fears and your hopes and dreams. There will be occasions you’ll cry together too, but  your mate should always be your most trusted confidant.  Honesty and trust are the building blocks for  any successful relationship.

Don’t ever stop telling each other  I love you. I still do this every day, sometimes before we go to sleep, I’ll say, “You do know I love you.” He’ll answer half asleep, “uh huh.” Kiss a lot. Be kind to one other. Be playful. Make time to have a good sexual relationship even if it might be difficult with small kids or other distractions. We consider it the icing on the cake. Hold hands when you walk together or in the car. Be gentle and loving.

Don’t make each other wait. Be on time. It’s about respect. Compliment each other and when you have to, criticize gently. Yes, you will have disagreements, it is natural.  But never be cruel to each other. An insult cannot be taken back. Harsh words can leave a lasting imprint. Of course we have had our squabbles and still do, but thankfully they are always little.  Some examples, he hates that I buy food we already have in the pantry. His mantra is “TAKE INVENTORY.”

I can’t stand that he is basically messy. He lets his clothes pile up in our bedroom until he finally hangs them up. He will leave open kitchen cabinets and is not very helpful around the house. My son in laws are much more hands on in terms of helping around the house.   I love to shop and buy way too many shoes, but he has learned not to bug me about it. He will happily wear the same clothes for years. Big picture….these are small problems, annoyances and the realization we are different people.  Bottom line is we say our piece then get over it. I will pout for a while.  He claims he always gives in. I’m not sure that’s true. We follow the cliché of not going to bed mad and as corny as it might seem, it is a good rule.

 Of course there are situations where couples face really serious problems. Don’t be afraid to get professional help or seek therapy or do what is necessary to work through the hurdles you might be facing. It’s also crucial to live within your means and work out your finances together. That could mean setting up a budget or figuring out who will pay the monthly bills and strategies for saving and investing. Again this is a really important area where you need to talk things over, set goals and be on the same page.  You don’t want to be strangled by credit card debt.

You don’t have to do everything together or do all of the same things. It is great to have some similar interests, but I like to think we each have our “departments”, things we enjoy either alone or with friends. It makes one stronger and happier to have individual interests and time apart. Now that we are both retired, we more than ever need our own gigs as well as things we enjoy doing together. I am a writer and poet and take several different writing workshops, go to Zumba and play mahjong. My husband volunteers four days a week and loves it. For him Wednesday night poker is sacrosanct, and he goes to a gym three days a week. We love to go for walks, catch movies, travel, enjoy our seven grandchildren and help out with them frequently. We also share the same religious values which are a priority in our home and provided a solid foundation for how we raised our children and live our life.

This is important. Don’t enter a relationship thinking it will ever be 50/50. When our three children were small, my husband travelled every week. I put my career aspirations aside which took the pressure off of us both working.   We knew that one of us had to be there and because I was willing to stay home he was able to travel without worrying. A good marriage is a  partnership  of working together and sharing responsibilities but realizing that things can’t always be equal. These days in many cases both partners have to work and as I see with my children life is stressful. Couples need to cooperate more than ever and sometimes that means sacrifices.

There are many times when one of the partners is more needy for whatever reason. We supported each other when we lost our parents and through my brother’s illness. I helped my husband through a major transition when he decided to close our business, and I had to find a new career and be the major earner. I knew that he was burned out and it turned out to be a great opportunity for both of us because I was able to get out in the work force and do something different and he did not feel as pressured and took jobs he enjoyed without so much stress. It is important to support each other and talk over those difficult life-changing decisions.

     The last few years have brought us some tough challenges as a couple. I think of life as a road one travels with unexpected detours, potholes and switchbacks that you have to negotiate. My husband stood by my side when unexpectedly I found out I had breast cancer. It was a shock as I had no family history and was perfectly healthy. He cheered me on through all of it, took me to every chemo appointment, told me I was beautiful when I lost all my hair, brought me Cheerios in bed at 11PM when that was all I could swallow. I put him through a lot.

Then he returned the” favor” two years ago when he had bypass surgery and unexpected complications putting him in the hospital for six weeks when I never left his side. One night in intensive care he teetered between life and death with compromised breathing. Thankfully he made it through, and I took care of him at home until he could walk and breathe again and gradually returned to good health. Some couples crack when they face a crisis, the fault lines of their relationship raw and exposed, but we became closer.  We learned the hard way how fragile life can be and try to appreciate each other and live each day.

So just know that a good marriage takes effort, kindness and understanding, and never forget that no one is perfect. If you stay best friends, work together, talk things out, keep kissing and laughing, you will have a good chance to succeed.