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Fifty Years of Love and Friendship

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What does it take to love a person for fifty years? Now that I’ve done it, maybe I can provide some insights.

Most of you who’ve been reading Contra for any length of time know the story: I met Carol at a Teen Club event in our church basement on July 31, 1969. I asked her out to see 2001: A Space Odyssey, but since it wasn’t playing anywhere convenient anymore, we settled on Yellow Submarine. No matter. We clicked, and date followed upon date and months became years. I asked her to marry me in July 1975. We married in October 1976. And here we are, fifty years on from that fateful night, having lived in six states, every bit as much in love as ever, and then some. We’ve learned a few things about relationships along the way. Let me throw out some of the most important ones:

1. It helps to want the same things.

This is part luck and part persistence. I had three (and maybe four, depending on your definitions) failed relationships before I met Carol, and they all failed because the girls involved didn’t want the same things I did. Fersure, a good part of that is just being young, and in truth (in my case, at least) dating worked as designed. I wasn’t completely sure what I wanted when I was 17. My hunch was that I wanted a friend who would become a girlfriend and then a best friend. My father told me this when I was 15: “If you’re lucky and smart, you’ll marry your best friend.” I wasn’t thinking about marriage by any means, but I wanted the same sort of warm friendship my parents had. When I met Carol I hit the jackpot: She wanted a friend who would be good company and good conversation. We were both interested in science, although she leaned toward biology and I leaned toward astronomy and electronics. We had a lot to talk about, and our relationship was founded on fascinating conversation. When I remember our early years, that’s what I most clearly recall.

2. Allow yourself to be changed.

This is easier at 17 than at 27 or 37, fersure. Over our early years, Carol gently pulled me away from my borderline manic eccentricity. I helped her get past her shyness. She taught me to dance. (More or less; lacking a strong sence of rhythm, I’ve never been good at it.) In countless ways we adapted to one another, on the one hand looking past each other’s quirks, and on the other minimizing our quirks so that over time there was less to look past.

3. Give each other time and room to grow.

This is the other half of allowing yourself to be changed: giving your loved one time and space to integrate those changes. Not being posessive is part of this. We both dated other people here and there for the first few years we knew one another. We were smart enough to understand that love is not the same as infatuation. We allowed our physical relationship to grow at its own pace. Social relationships with other people illuminated what we already had, and helped us put the forces that bear on a relationship into perspective.

4. Learn apology and forgiveness.

We had arguments here and there, and it’s telling that I now barely remember what most of them were about. We learned to ask forgiveness, and we learned to forgive. Our skills in conversation here helped a great deal: Being able to talk from the heart helps to heal hearts that are aching.

5. Want, offer, and appreciate committment.

Finally, commit to one another. Love powers committment; committment shapes love. It took a number of years for us to become absolutely certain that we both wanted a lifetime committment. It should take that long, because infatuation has to burn out, and the relationship has to have time to grow strong enough to last a lifetime. I grant that this is a hard thing to gauge without previous experience. Sometimes relationships fail, and those who value love at all will learn from their failed relationships. Although I know a lot of people in successful second marriages, I know very few in third or fourth marriages. Divorce is a hard lesson.

Ours didn’t fail. In fact, it has succeeded beyond our wildest imaginings. We wanted warmth, and found it in one another. When we were old enough to harness the fire that emerges from the primal differences between boy and girl, that fire happened. When we understood what lifetime promises actually meant, we made those promises.

And here we are. Fifty years. Yes, we were lucky, but hard work is the best luck amplifier going. Friendship is the cornerstone of the human spirit. We built a lifetime on that cornerstone.

And we are by no means done yet!

The first picture ever taken of Jeff & Carol together: Labor day 1969

Above: The first photo ever taken of us together, Labor Day 1969.


  1. Tom Roderick says:

    Congratulations and Joy and Love forever to you both!

    My late wife and I had a very similar relationship, but in our case our 28 year “engagement” was much too long. Neither of us planned it that way, but sometimes fate is not what you had planned. Herman Wouk wrote, “But talk, not sex, constitutes most of the intercourse between a man and his wife.” Now that she has gone before me, it is the TALK that I miss most.

    1. Roy Harvey says:

      “Now that she has gone before me, it is the TALK that I miss most.”

      And laughter. There is nobody to laugh with me now.

      1. Tom Roderick says:

        Yes, our talk often ended in laughter, frequently began with it and was always waiting to break out during it at any time.

  2. Jim Dodd says:

    Congratulations, Carol and Jeff. When I think of people being married 50 years, I don’t think of them looking as young as you two. Half of it is thinking young.

    I like your list.

    1. I need to clarify here: We’re celebrating having met 50 years ago. We married in 1976, and it’ll be 43 years in October. Back in July 1969 she had just turned 16 (two weeks earlier) and I had just turned 17 at the end of June. We’re now 66 and 67. We’ve aged reasonably well, which I ascribe to abundant mutual emotional support, and plenty of sleep. We also feel better now that we’ve cut way back on carbs. I miss potato chips, but I don’t miss the 7 or 8 pounds that I lost when I gave them up. Polenta too–but we have some every so often. Being retired means that we can cook at home as often as we want, and eat precisely what we intend to eat, and only as much as we need. Taken together, that’s our strategy for staying alive. So far so good.

      1. Jim Dodd says:

        Oops – I misread. But you look young even for 42 (soon to be 43) years of marriage. That takes a couple that builds each other up.

  3. James Fuerstenberg says:

    Congratulations to both of you!

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