Sunday Lifestyle

Secrets of marriage

SECOND WIND - Barbara Gonzalez-Ventura - The Philippine Star

We went out to dinner. Three of us were very old friends. Zelda (let me call her that) and I had known each other from high school.   We are both only children, she more spoiled than I because both her parents were alive while my father was killed during the last world war. We both got married at 18. We both realized after a few years that we had made a mistake and we both walked out.

Then there was Ed who I met when he was visiting (that’s what men who were “courting” used to do) my cousin for a while. I must have been around 14 then and he was in his 20s. The newest addition was a man who was maybe a year younger than Ed. Both were widowers but one was loyal to his wife until she died around 10 years ago and the other left his wife more than 20 years ago and was now in a new relationship.

 It looked like a foursome but it was not. I invited all of them to dinner because Ed and I had accidentally run into each other and were delighted to rediscover our old friendship. We knew each other when we were newly married. Our eldest children were roughly the same age. His wife and I were good friends. We got together because we wanted to talk about our marriages that either went wrong or right, to try to figure out now, at the age of 70 and 80, what went wrong with our lives and why.

Zelda and I had both gotten married at 18, strange age to get married when you think of it. Back in the early ’60s, when we got married, it was the eve of the hippie movement, the eve of the Woodstock phenomenon, the eve of the toppling of what was then called The Establishment, the traditional institutions, including marriage, in the United States. Cosmopolitan magazine had not yet become the risqué magazine that featured American housewives who had one day walked out of their kitchen doors never to return again. I think maybe we were part of the last batch of romantics before everything came tumbling down. So we got married at 18 and walked out.

I grew up in that first marriage. I learned how to be a housewife, how to cook, how to bake, how to embroider and sew for my children.  My goodness, I suddenly remember even how to sew my husband’s pajamas. But that was in the first two years of marriage. After that I became generally unhappy. Now both Zelda and I think we grew up and suddenly the incompatibilities started to show. Zelda had married her next-door neighbor, a guy she knew well, grew up with, laughed a lot with. I married the eldest brother of childhood friends of mine, in whose home I had slept as a child, about whose life we had gossiped together because when he was 20 we were 10 years old and I considered him the playboy of all time. But when I was 18 and he was 28, we met and married after a whirlwind courtship.

Three of the four of us had walked out on our marriages at various times. The girls before eight years. Ed left after 18 years.  But Oscar stayed married until his wife passed away. He took his vow — “‘Til death do us part” — to heart. “You write about him,” Ed said, his voice a mixture of awe, respect and a different tone, one that implied that he never would have done such a thing. 

As Oscar told his story we realized that he had stayed with his wife even if she had been overtly unfaithful to him many times, had run off with another man and lived with him until he — the other man  — died. He had stayed and taken care of their many children alone then those of his wife when she returned, got sick and died of cancer. Zelda and I looked at him with admiration in our eyes. I had to lean my chin on my hand to keep my mouth from hanging open in wonder. He knew what his friends were saying about him, the usual things about walking around with some unpleasant thing on his mind.  He didn’t care. He had to take responsibility for her, he said, because she was his wife.

What did we learn that night? That marriages were strange arrangements, that it was the people who make the marriages survive, that often it was a choice between personal growth and staying trapped in a marriage crafted from wrong choices.

But once — perhaps once in a million years — there is an Oscar.  I could not help but admire him for what I thought was a most honorable thing to do: to be responsible for his wife regardless of what she had done against him. He will always be my admired friend.

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