Linda: Many young people fear they will be trapped in a marriage that has become stale, predictable, and boring. The term commitment phobic often refers to a terror of being stuck in a lifeless relationship that leaves both partners empty, resentful, or both. Pearl and Seymour are living proof that such a fate is not inevitable, and that love, passion, and vitality can continue to grow even when a couple has been together for nearly seven decades.
They have been married for 65 years and are still madly in love. Unlike many retired couples whose lives and interests have narrowed down to a small number of friends and activities, they continue to live on a broad playing field. For them, now well into their eighties, life is still very much about play. Not play in the literal sense of amusing activities, but play in the sense of approaching all of life’s circumstances with an open mind and a desire to experience learning, fun, and engagement with others.
This couple was definitely not made with the same cookie cutter, and over the years they’ve become not more like each other but more themselves. They appreciate their differences and are thankful for them. According to Pearl, “It’s not despite our differences that we have succeeded in creating such a rich life together, but because of them.”
Our earliest experiences can shape our commitments
Although this couple has spent about percent of the past sixty-two years together, the first three years of their marriage was quite different. Seymour was twenty-one when they got married; Pearl was eighteen and just out of high school. They were a couple of kids. Six months after their wedding, Seymour joined the army, and three months after that he was sent to China. Being separated for so long was difficult for both of them. Pearl lived with my family while he was overseas, but the pain of their separation was great.
They stayed in very close touch while separated. Seymour wrote letters every single day. There were no emails in those days, and they couldn’t make telephone calls, so those letters were their lifelines. Between the two of them, they wrote over two thousand. When Seymour finally came home, Pearl was overwhelmed with happiness. They didn’t want to be separated ever again. That three-year separation provided a powerful lesson about the preciousness of their connection and their desire to do whatever was necessary to sustain and deepen it.
It’s not enough to say “I love you”
Both Pearl and Seymour agree that it’s not enough to just say “I love you.” They say this to each other on a daily basis, and in addition to speaking the words they stress the importance of displaying love through acts of kindness, caring, and generosity. They kiss, hug, cuddle and make love in all kinds of creative ways to share their love. One of their favorite rituals is Seymour placing a love note under the windshield wiper of her car. He says he imagines Pearl coming back to her car after playing gold to find a love note and gets a big kick out of imagining Pearl smiling as she reads it.
Seymour told me that they are still very much in love, and that the flame of romance has not only continued to burn brightly but is stronger than ever. In his words; “We don’t just say, ‘I love you’; we show it in every imaginable way at every opportunity. We are still enjoying our life together tremendously. We stay very busy. If I had advice to give young people today, it would be to love and respect each other always. And remember that love isn’t just about the physical. It’s my wife’s kind personality that makes me love her. Praise your spouse’s good points. Don’t focus on any negative qualities. Emphasize the positive. Oh, and don’t forget to have fun.”
And Pearl has advice for younger couples, too: “Don’t forget to remind each other of what you admire. Marriage is something you have to work at. You can’t take the other person for granted. You can’t just expect that because you’re married, you don’t have to continue to be as loving and attentive as you were before the wedding. It’s important to show interest in what your spouse is interested in. Expressing my love to Seymour makes me love him more. Don’t hold back.”
Seymour and Pearl say they stay youthful and vital “by continuing to do the things we love to do.” One of those things is to affirm their love for each other. They have been doing this for decades, and they never tire of it. An essential aspect of their play is to come up with new and creative ways to demonstrate their love.
Our newest book, That Which Doesn’t Kill Us: How One Couple Got Stronger at the Broken Places, has just been published by Sacred Life Publishers.