Many years ago, I sold a book idea on successful second marriages and I did all the research. I talked with over 200 people and learned some secrets about being happily married. I also learned what my friends and I were doing wrong.
The book was never published because of editorial staff changes but I got to keep my generous advance and I felt the research brought me new understanding. I’ve always wanted to share what I learned and today is the day.
I started out interviewing about 200 subjects of different ages who came from a wide variety of places. Each one had a unique story but there were common elements. No matter who they were, the happiness of their marriage seemed to depend at least partly on acceptance of themselves and their partners.
The marriages were not so much about romantic love as about gratitude and togetherness. Fewer second marriages end in divorce and second marriages are happier, according to many studies. I think it is because they are less tormented by dreams of Prince Charming or Princess Precious.
I talked to a dance teacher in her 70’s whose husband died, so she married the surviving spouse of her best friend right away. They were lonely and they knew they liked each other so the got married. Made sense to them.
I talked to a young woman with three kids and no support. She married her older boss who was happy to take her and her family on. He wasn’t the best looking or smoothest guy she could have had but she was glad to be with him and they seemed very affectionate together.
Generally, the people who made successful marriages knew what would and would not work for them. One Virginia woman who a good job in Washington DC was suddenly left alone with small kids and little money. The next month she went to Parents Without Partners, “to see what was out there.” She dated professional men with larger salaries but she said, “I like “good old boys” She chose a man with a service station and a truck. They hunt on weekends.
I talked to one engineer whose wife left him. He seemed bewildered, “She said she wanted more.” A neighbor lady invited him for dinner and they married when his divorce was final. I asked him if he’d dated other women. He answered, “Why? She was a nice woman”.
By design, none of the subjects were my immediate friends. As talked to the my subjects, I realized my friends were usually unhappily married or in tortured relationships. Birds of a feather flock together because I wasn’t very happy either.
I’d been widowed twice. I spent ten years between first and second marriage feeling sorry for myself and acting in self-destructive ways. At the time I was writing this book, I was desperately in love with a married man. All I really needed to do was read Dear Abby to figure out where that was going.
Researching the book helped me understand that I said I wanted to remarry but it wasn’t really true. My subjects were people who suffered a loss and then successfully pursued second chances. That didn’t describe me.
Here are some things I think are worth passing on to readers who seek a perfect right partner…
I learned that a partnership can’t be all about you. If you are not emotionally healthy it won’t work. People who have serious addictions or mental problems are not ready to look for a marriage.
I also learned that there is no perfect right partner. Anyone who believes the junk dialog in romantic movies like “You complete me,” is in for trouble. Love is wonderful and it cements a marriage. But marriage is also a partnership that needs to be comfortable. That means you have to be willing to solve some of your own stuff even if you have a helpmate.
I learned something else that was very important to me personally and led me to write books like Wise Women and Science of Mind Skills. Help is on bookstore shelves! Now it is also available for your Kindle.
Until I researched my unpublished book, I didn’t understand how much self-help books serve people as guides for moving forward with their lives. Time after time, I interviewed someone who said, “And then I read, How To Be Your Own Best Friend and I did just what it said to do”. It was a long time ago and that’s the title I remember but there were others that were just as effective. There are even more now. The trick is to follow their lead.
I also discovered that church singles groups are good places to meet men who are candidates for settling down. I’d once attended a Unitarian singles group for a few weeks and pronounced everyone losers but I was wrong. Lots of perfectly nice people meet each other in those groups. Previously, I’d met my men in college classrooms or bars. The ones I met in classes were the better candidates for marriage.
The people I interviewed knew what they wanted and they went where their prospective partners were. They were direct and open to compromise. They seemed to understand that they wouldn’t get everything they wanted in one package.
For years, I’d looked at marriages from the outside and wondered how some of them could stand each other. I also wondered why some seemed so happy with each other. In many cases, the happy couples seemed to genuinely like each other rather than being madly in love.
After over a year of interviewing 200 people, I saw that they considered marriage a comfortable and normal way to live and they wanted that. They weren’t ambivalent, or ashamed to go after they wanted, they weren’t drunk on drama, or too self-centered to really look at the other person.
They were straight-forward, good people who would rather be married than single. They understood that it would mean making room for another person in their lives. They understood that the excitement of romance wouldn’t be always so strong. They understood they would actually be living, sharing, loving, and supporting another person if they married.
I took an inventory of myself after that research and stopped complaining about being alone. I admitted I prefer solitude and independence most of the time. I have now been happily single for many years.
I believe that happiness is a choice. It doesn’t depend on your marital status or any other “fact”. You make your happiness happen. If you want a happy marriage, go for it and don’t waffle. Go straight for your goal.. You can go for it in your current marriage by modifying your behavior, and creating a win-win situation. You can also go for it by looking around for the perfect right partner – just make sure that you see him or her when you are looking in the mirror, as well.
What do I want to change?
How might I try to change it?
Anything in this article make me think?
My blog readership is growing. That’s good! I have a goal I know I will reach because I am writing in integrity, love and joy. However, I sometimes think of “get popular quick schemes” and that means I’m pushing the river again. Addiction happens in peculiar ways!
No matter how much one loves a project, the joy will disappear when racing to an arbitrary goal becomes more important than the process itself. The whole point of this blog was to create something in freedom and offer it to anyone who wanted it. It is supposed to be fun.
So what does that have to do with counting numbers? I’m not working on commission or earning brownie points to get into heaven. Once again, I am reminding myself to let go and let God. I don’t ever need to struggle.
After all these years, I know myself pretty well and I know that one part of my personality part is accustomed and addicted to struggle. I call her “The Strider”. She says, “Not enough” or “It should be better,” quite often. The Strider can squeeze the fun out of any project if I am not aware of her tricks.
It is easy to slip into old ways if I am not watching. I struggled to get through college. I struggled to build a writing career. I struggled with alcohol and food and in many other things when I was younger. Truth is, I can use any goal as a piece of torture equipment if I’m not careful.
I have learned a lot about addiction and I have learned to watch out for the symptoms. Writing, for me, is particularly addictive, but I need to remember that I undertook this blog as a service to others and as a retirement hobby. In this moment, I release the need to count readers and I simply return to writing for fun. I don’t have to prove anything.
I am not alone. Work addiction of one sort or another happens to wonderful people. It sneaks up on you, even in your retirement years. In fact, so many ministers “fail retirement” that is kind of a joke.
Addictive personalities will push themselves at work, at home, on the road or in the studio. I have a good friend who was practicing yoga at age 65. She was a marvel. She could do so much, so easily, that she constantly amazed us all. We were all proud of her and she never seemed to show off or be ego driven about her expertise. She did, however, really want to stand on her head. We prayed for that in church. When she got so she could do that well, she upped the ante and wanted to stand on her head longer. One day her guru advised her, “Take the ambition out of your practice.”
When she shared that story with me, I thought, “I should take that advice myself.” Of course, I failed exercise class in the 7th grade and it didn’t bother me. I can’t bend over too well and I certainly don’t plan to stand on my head ever – at least in this lifetime. However, I do try to remember and take her teacher’s excellent advice. I do not want to be a slave to ambition. Do you?
We all know people who seem to be in a frenzy about how they are using their time and what they are or are not accomplishing. The idea of living in a frenzy doesn’t appeal to me. Does it appeal to you? Does the idea of taking the ambition out of your pursuits appeal to you? Sounds good to me.
Of course, ambition can be fine as long as we are making decisions that create a healthy, well-balanced life. But if you feel as though you are struggling to get it all done, you may want to make changes. One of the greatest gifts of our Religious Science teaching is knowing we always have a choice.
The question of how hard to work is one that touches all of us at some time or another. In our youth, our ambition may get us where we think we want to go but if we don’t balance it with loving connections to others, we become unhappy and distorted.
In our middle years, ambition takes many forms including working hard to persuade others, to train our children into our beliefs and to forge ahead in the workplace. Again, we get out of balance if we don’t take care of our bodies and our spiritual lives.
Retirement years are the biggest temptation for many of us. We have choices about how to spend our time and can very well end up staying so busy we neglect our spiritual practice and our bodies and minds. Inaction leads to disuse. Too much action leads to fatigue.
Throughout our lives, we face many questions about our goals and exactly how ambitious we should be. Should I persevere? Should I delay gratification until I get my goal? Should I pile up more money for the future? Should I keep exercising until I “feel the burn”? Should I stay in the marriage and find some way to make it work?
When you look at life’s big questions in the framework of whether or not to live for today or tomorrow, it seems as though life really is an art or dance. We each have to find our own balance. We have to make our own decisions. We have to decide how much energy to put into this or that project.
I talk to people all the time who are in a quandary about how to spend their time and money. I try to help them see they are always at choice, one way or another. There is always something we can choose to do and since balance is constant movement, there is always a need for adjustment.
Making new choices is easier than it looks. We can choose whatever is the apparent step in this moment to move us in the direction of our dreams and let God do the rest. We don’t need to torture ourselves with the past or try to control the future. We just move ahead a step at a time and enjoy life. We can feel good about what we are doing because God is good all the time.
When I get out of balance and start rushing, I remind myself to release the ambition and enjoy the process. The future will take care of itself. I have learned to envision a goal and believe in it and then give it to God to do the work. It is not necessary to struggle or worry about making it happen.
As of now, I am back in balance. This day I am simply writing what I know and sending it out with love. I know the perfect right readers will find it.
Am I struggling to make something happen?
Do I need a new balance?
What immediate choice am I able to make?
Do I want to release the ambition?