Todd Kashdan is a psychology professor, researcher, and author of the new book, Curious?: Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life. When I asked him in an interview what he wanted to explore in the future, he said he’s curious about what keeps some marriages vital and vibrant over the very long haul. He thought he might live long enough to get well past his diamond anniversary (6oth), so what could he learn from people who have kept their marriages good to the end.
Based on my own 28 years of experience being married, I nominate shared memories and frequent strong hugs.
My husband has a much better memory than mine, so he’s the one who can refresh me with stories about what happened when our children were born or what what the food was like when we splurged and ate lunch at the Tour d’Argent in Paris in 1981. I do remember the service there being like something out of a fairy tale — invisible hands anticipating every need.
I attach memories to things, which is why I’m sometimes loath to give them up, even when they are worn out. We have a couch we bought together about 30 years ago — after 18 months of searching through D.C. area furniture stores and sitting on a lot of surfaces that one thought were great and the other thought were either ugly or uncomfortable. We agreed on a Flexsteel model with soft, slightly fuzzy, dark russet upholstery. My husband says to this day that the salesperson said the fabric wasn’t suitable for small children, but I have trouble believing I would have agreed to that. I do remember right after it was delivered, when our old really really ugly couch needing a cinder block to support the middle was hauled away and we both had trouble sitting casually on something so new and pristine. We also felt we were so far apart — our old couch was a bit smaller, so we could each nest on one side and easily stretch out a leg to touch the other.
Since then, our couch has absorbed so many family memories. I lay on my left side on it for the last 3 months of my first pregnancy — doctor’s orders. I rested on it with baby daugher and broken ankle (another story!)My children made forts and tunnels and castles with the cushions. We all used it as a refuge when ill. During the years when my husband couldn’t sit flat in a chair and we stopped going out to theaters, we clocked many a Saturday night watching a movie and drinking fine wine while sitting on the couch. I learned how to stretch a little further to reach him with my foot. Now the buttons have disappeared inside the cushions and friends complain about how hard it is to get up from it, it sags so much. The fabric has survived 2 children remarkably well, but there a few places that are worn through, even a tear or two. We need a new couch. But what we want is this couch, just 25 years younger.
I have learned not to attach too much importance to objects. I made my wedding dress myself out of cream-colored wool challis that we found in an enormous fabric warehouse in Alexandria Virginia. It held memories too, for example, of the Thanksgiving when I put in what seemed like miles of hem while watching Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.I edged the hem with lace handmade by a friend. But after the wedding, I neglected to have it professionally boxed up, and a few years later found it full of moth holes. At the time, I thought “I hope this doesn’t say anything about our marriage” — and it hasn’t. But now I have only the memory of an object that holds memories…
Shared memories and lots of hugs — and shared curiosity.