Love and Marriage: It’s Never Too Late
My wife and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary this last weekend.
In the scheme of things, that is not long. I have friends who are closer to their 50th anniversary than their 40th. Still, I have them beat if you add up all the years I have been married – 49 years in total though that includes occasional periods of bachelorhood.
For the 10 years I taught at the University of Idaho, my checkered marriage history was something of a running joke. In lectures I would occasionally reference one ex-wife or another, lighthearted references that connected in some way to my course material.
Those references would lead the bolder students to ask directly how many times I have been married. I never told, and the guessing game became something of a cottage industry in my classes.
The fact is, I am on my fourth marriage. There is no brag in that statement. Three failed marriages are nothing to brag about. But when friends and family ask about my marriages, I tell them I finally got it right. And that is the truth. On my fourth try, at the age of 60, I found my forever partner. Our marriage is a happy one, stronger now even after a year of COVID-caused isolation.
Given this checkered history, why would anyone listen to me when it comes to matters of love and marriage?
The answer is simple enough. Only a hopeless, clueless, pie-eyed romantic could go through four marriages without learning something of value. That also is the truth. Some people find their answers and make good choices early. Those are the 50-year marriages some of my friends are close to celebrating.
Others of us, for one reason or another, are too thick headed, stubborn or relationship stupid to learn early. Our missteps add up. If we are lucky, we figure it out before the end.
My first wife was a professional opera singer. I was a newspaper reporter. We married too young, tried to replicate the married lives of our parents, and then grew apart as her singing career took off. Lesson: At the core of any relationship there must be some significant common interests.
My second wife, and the mother of my children, was a professional colleague, a newspaper designer and editor. She was ahead of me on the career ladder when, in our 30s, we had children. Her career stalled, mine took off. Over the next decade and a half, I moved the family four times pursuing career opportunities. Yes, my career advanced. But my failed marriage was the price paid. Lesson: Sometimes career ambitions must be compromised in the interest of family.
My third wife was a former flight attendant turned business entrepreneur. She was looking for financial security and I was looking for a stepmother to my children. We were both disappointed. Lesson: I did not need to marry for my kids’ sake, I needed to marry for mine.
Then came Carla. I had resigned myself to living out my days alone. Three strikes, after all.
Carla was a senior editor in my newsroom, reporting to me through the managing editor. Romance in such circumstances presents practical and ethical issues. But I loved her from just about the first moment we met. It took a few years to sort things out. Our relationship developed just as I was preparing to leave my newspaper job. Carla followed me out the door a short time later.
Ten years ago, last Friday, we were married. My fourth but her first. Lesson: It is never, ever too late.
We had a wonderful marriage ceremony at the Davenport where both of us have family ties. We were married by a good friend, in front of good friends and my two children, both in their 20s at the time.
Some who know us are somewhat surprised we have managed to make our marriage work. It is me they doubt, not Carla.
She and I are both bullheaded, stubborn to a fault, total alphas. When she gets truly angry, maybe once every six weeks give or take, it is like a Mt. Vesuvius eruption, fitting given her Sicilian heritage. I just get quiet until the eruption has ended. Somehow that dynamic seems to work. Lesson: Learn how to argue right because there always will be arguments.
There were times in my past when I tried to the boss at home just as I was the boss at work. Carla did not like being told what to do on the job, would absolutely bridle at that prospect at home. Struggling to retain control can be exhausting, and on both partners. There is great value in the phrase, “Yes dear.” Lesson: Marriage is about finding ways to share control.
We share professional interests, but her current career path and my time as a university professor provided needed professional distance. Lesson: Separate work from home life as much as possible; find something fresh to talk about.
We try to be present in moments of self-doubt or family crisis. I did not always feel that support, certainly did not always offer it. But in Carla I found a fierce protector, an unflinching supporter. I hope she found that in me. Lesson: Partners need to have each other’s back.
Last, she always looks great, dressing down for yardwork or dressing up for the office. Lesson: “No, that outfit absolutely does NOT make you look fat.”
Yes, I finally got it right.
I am not a religious person. Those who read my columns know that. But I have learned late in life that marriage is all about a kind of faith, strong faith in another individual. Easy to say, hard to do. That sort of faith requires sacrifice, the surrender of some individuality in service to the partnership. Some people figure that out early, some later.
That is me.
To those who might have asked, I can say truthfully that I am a three-time loser when it comes to marriage, but a winner the fourth time when it mattered most.
Happy anniversary, baby.
Steven A. Smith is clinical associate professor emeritus in the School of Journalism and Mass Media at the University of Idaho having retired from full time teaching at the end of May 2020.
Smith is former editor of The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington. As editor, Smith supervised all news and editorial operations on all platforms with a staff ranging from more than 140 in 2002 to 104 at the time of his resignation in October 2008. Prior to joining The Spokesman-Review, Smith was editor for two years at The Statesman Journal, a Gannett newspaper in Salem, Oregon, and was for five years editor and vice president of The Gazette, a Freedom Communications newspaper in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Newspaper Management Center Advanced Executive Program and a mid-career development program at Duke University. He holds an MA in communication from The Ohio State University where he was a Kiplinger Fellow, and a BS in journalism from the University of Oregon.
Smith serves on the SpokaneFāVS Board.