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Long-wed couples serve as lessons in love

As Valentine's Day draws nearer, look to the marriages that have stood the test of time.

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One of my favorite spectator sports involves watching long-married couples interact. Their gestures and mannerisms, comments and silences, form a private language, spoken and unspoken, that each pair has honed during their 50 or 60 years together.

Consider the way a husband absently pats his wife's shoulder as they walk, or the way she straightens his collar or brushes off a piece of lint, real or ima­gined, on his coat.

Watch the way he says, "Ready to go, Mother?" when they finish their meal in a restaurant. The way she smiles patiently as he tells a favorite story or joke for the thousandth time. And the way he opens her car door – a vestige of gallantry from an earlier age.

With their easy familiarity and quiet solicitude, these couples serve as unsuspecting examples of patience and enduring affection.

There can be moments of impatience, too, of course. You might see it in the "What's taking her so long?" look on a retired husband's face as he waits – and waits – on a shopping-mall bench for his wife. And you might hear it in a wife's voice as she chides her husband for forgetting something.

Sometimes there are late-life role reversals as well. Perhaps a wife does the driving now, while her husband plays an unaccustomed role as passenger. Or he takes on domestic duties by helping with the shopping and cooking.

Such are the accommodations of long-term marriage.

In this month of hearts and flowers, Valentine's Day may be regarded as a celebration largely for young lovers. But those who have celebrated 50 or 60 Valentine's Days, even if not always with cards and roses, offer persuasive evidence that this can also be an occasion to celebrate old love and the lessons it can teach.

These are couples who typically met the old-fashioned way – in person, perhaps at a party or at church or through friends or relatives.


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