with Beth-Ann Kozlovich
It’s almost July. Officially summer and wedding season. For all the couples who have decided that this is the year to launch their own adventure in the Land of the Married, I’ve got some some unsolicited advice ... But first a story, so bear with me. And this one has a very happy ending.
Once upon a day in my senior year of college, a seminar had been cancelled. It was a lovely afternoon and I was close to my grandparents’ condo, so I thought I’d go ‘round for a visit. I didn’t yet have a mobile phone. I did have a key and didn’t think there could be any reason to stop at a phone on campus to let them know I was on my way.
Walking into their living room, I was surprised to find my lovely grandmother, then in her 70s, curled up on the sofa, clad in a magnificent pale shrimp-colored peignoir trimmed with beige Alencon lace. If peignoir isn’t in your lexicon, look it up and educate someone—I recently had to explain what it was to a Neiman Marcus lingerie department saleswoman. Peignoir is too nice a word to have fall out of use.
Back to the story.
My grandmother looked up at me, surprised, but not taken aback, and asked what I was doing there.
Before I could answer, I heard my grandfather softly call her name from the bedroom. She glanced toward the hall and then directly at me. “Perhaps, darling, the next time you want to come over, you might call first.” She winked and I was out of there faster than an apology could escape my lips chased by the realization that my two favorite people in the world were not only still hot—but hot for each other. (Can I get another Amen?)
Two decades, one marriage, and three sons later later, I asked her if this were the reason why in the 65 years they had been married neither had ever strayed.
“Darling,” she said, “when you have a Rolls-Royce at home, you needn’t go out to test drive a Ford.”
Implicit in her comment was her assessment that not only was my grandfather the man of her dreams, she was the woman of his. And it had been up to both of them to fuel the reverie, and the reality, of the other.
At odds with my grandparents’ way of being was my mother’s 1960s “let it all hang out” generation. Mystery was out. With in-your-face sexuality, naturally, everything was in. No secrets. Some merits to that, to be sure, but as actor and author Julienne Davis says, “The way we have been dealing with our long-term relationships in society is not right, it’s not working, and this is why so many people cheat.”
In short, they say we’ve let so much hang out, we’ve managed to desexualize our mates. And best friends though they may still be, it’s tough to stay attracted.
Davis and Maggie Arana have co-authored Stop Calling Him Honey and Start Having Sex based on their conviction that a nothing love life in a monogamous relationship can often start with the often innocuous sweet nothing pet names we call our significant others and with behavior that doesn’t need to shared.
”Sometimes,” says Arana, “we get so casual when we live with our partners that we think that having them see us on the toilet—or the husband clipping the nose hair or something like that—doesn’t affect our feelings of being sexual with each other, but it does.”
Arana and Davis are not psychologists. They’re two women who have suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous love and then misfortune when familiarity became, if not contempt, at least complacent.
Arana watched her 20-year relationship evaporate. Davis made enough change in her marriage to save it. After 10 years of not exactly scientific research, they stand by their assertion: Language matters, behavior matters. Those two components of any long-term and deeply satisfying marriage (OK, I’m old fashioned, so cut me some slack, will you?) seem to be obvious. But given our obsession with finding love, our often failed attempts to grow it beyond just a few years, and our divorce rate, all testify to the fact that striking a balance of intimacy with another while maintaining a sense of privacy is far from easy.
Or, as Arana and Davis say, maybe we’ve become too easy.
There are other prescriptions for marital happiness, but both women say years worth of date night Saturdays and drawers full of lingerie can’t and won’t compensate for the daily undermining we do when we don’t watch the sterilizing language that trippingly and thoughtlessly comes out of our mouths and when we don’t remain vigilant about our at-home behavior. To be an adult is to talk and act like one; saying to your mate you’re going potty with no small children present or lapsing into babytalk with “Mr. Snookums” just doesn’t register on the adult sexual excitement meter.
The good news is that we have control over both what we say and what we do. The not-so-good news is that it takes more effort. We have to stay present and think before we talk or act, especially with our spouses or significant others—people with whom we usually think it’s okay to’just be ourselves.
Yes, we’ve all heard the whole communication argument before and Stop Calling Him Honey and Start Having Sex is by no means a definitive recipe for long lasting love. But there are ingredients worth noting—and some fun chapters worth reading aloud with your partner—that show the boundaries of substantive, intimate words and deeds. Arana and Davis advocate boundaries of personal privacy, respect, and dignity.
So it appears my grandmother may have been right, certainly about her and my grandfather; their marital happiness and not just in Whopeeland. Mystery is back, young lovers. And for some of the rest of us, too. And that’s worth yet another Amen.