Going the distance: There’s a lot to learn from 26 years of marriage

New York City, 1987. Photo courtesy Beth Herman. New York City, 1987. Photo courtesy Beth Herman.

I met my husband in New York City one Saturday afternoon in 1986. I was working, as I did every Friday and Saturday (Monday through Thursday I studied English at Hunter College), in a very small, very expensive men’s shop on Sixth Avenue called FrankStella. Arthur, an historian from the Midwest who had moved to New York City to become a stockbroker, saw me through the shop window. His decision to come into the store that afternoon to discover “who belonged to that face” changed both our lives.

“I’d like to buy this tie but it has a snag in it,” he said.

A year and a half after he uttered those words, we were married. Ask Arthur and he will tell you that he pursued me, but the truth is, I melted inside the moment he opened his mouth. Was it love at first sight? Absolutely.

I had not intended to get married; it wasn’t part of my plan. Not that I had anything against marriage. It was the concept of family I took issue with. My upbringing was emotionally harsh and unhappy, and I knew that traditional marriage and family were not for me. I was going to live my life alone in New York City, filling it with satisfying work (though what that was I hadn’t yet decided).

All that changed that Saturday afternoon in 1986. Arthur left the store with two very expensive ties and shirts, and my phone number. Frank’s wife Stella, an older sister to me, overheard the entire conversation. “That’s the one you are going to marry,” she said.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” I snapped. “You know I am not getting married.” She was right, of course. And to remind me, she and Frank went table to table at our Greenwich Village wedding reception, saying in their best Beth imitation, “I’m never getting married.”

Fast forward 26 years: Frank and Stella split up, the store was sold, but Arthur and I are still happily married.

What’s our secret? Here’s what’s worked for us:

First, we decided not to have children. That’s enabled us to do things like move a lot without worrying about what the schools are like, change our plans an hour before we leave the house, and keep our attention and affection focused on each another. It’s not for everybody, but it’s worked for us, which is the lesson in the story. It’s your marriage, not your parents’ or your best friend’s. So work to shape it in a way that suits you and your spouse.

Second, be true to yourself; marry someone who gets you. I’m quirky and creative, definitely nontraditional. Arthur is an intellectual with a Ph.D. who has published seven books, but he’s still happy to talk at length about my insanely curly hair, or spend an afternoon shopping for vintage salon chairs for my art studio.

Third, communicate! Keep talking and listening. It sounds like a cliché, but it works. Talk to your spouse about your needs, your wants, what’s making you happy, and what’s pissing you off. Then encourage them to do the same.

Fourth, do something together just the two of you, regularly. The magazines call it “date night,” but for us, it happens in the morning. Arthur and I run together for a couple of hours every other morning and we talk—about our goals, challenges in our work, or marketing ideas for his latest book. Some of our most creative and successful projects have crystalized during these morning runs.

Finally, try not to get upset about the small things. If your spouse is incapable of closing a drawer or turning off a light, let it go. Find time to laugh instead, especially at yourselves. Like we do when we remember that independent 23-year-old girl who swore she would never get married, and how she found her husband—or how he found her, depending who you ask—through a shop window on Sixth Avenue and 54th Street.

Beth Herman, an artist, essayist, and former fashion journalist, is based in Charlottesville.

Posted In:     Weddings


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