Most baby boomers who have a companion have had that companion for along … long … long time. So how do you keep the spark? Well, public relations executive and essayist Bob Brody, of Forest Hills, New York, has found the formula for his own marriage. He says, Clowning Around, We Still Click.
In almost 28 years of marriage, my wife and I have often joked about how deeply I’m in her debt. In debt, of course, more for her love, patience, wisdom, and advice than for those six dollars she lent me in 1987 that I just never got around to paying back.
Luckily enough, the other day I finally found the opportunity to bring this running joke home. As my wife sat at the desk in our bedroom paying bills, I noticed her calculator nearby. I stepped over and pecked in a few numbers, pretending to be doing some important figuring.
“Hey, guess what?” I said.
“What?” she asked.
“Hold on a second. Let me double-check.” And I poked at the calculator again.
“Well, what do you know. It’s true after all.”
“It’s just as you’ve always claimed. I really do owe you everything.”
Every Valentine’s Day the experts weigh in about how romance starts, and they offer the keys to keeping it going. Biologists cite pheromones and psychologists the whispering of sweet nothings into the ear. All well and good, but let’s remember a sense of humor.
I happen to know this to be true. Years ago I met a young woman named Elvira. Quickly I realized that, besides being cute, smart, and kind, she was endowed with an excellent sense of humor.
Elvira invented nonsense words and did silly walks and made faces and mimicked Bette Davis in “All About Eve.” I learned from her mother that once, as a teenager, she traipsed out in front of her family with a basket of artificial fruit propped on her head, imitating Carmen Miranda singing “The Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat.”
As it turned out, her brand of humor suited me just fine. I, too, had certain tendencies in this direction. Thanks to my cracking wise and pretending to walk into doors, my fellow high school students elected me class clown (male division). I kept playing court jester well after college, too, and generally showed few signs that adulthood was even remotely imminent.
Elvira and I clicked, big-time. I asked for her hand and nuptials ensued. Over the years, we’ve made fun of anything and everything, including the world, each other, and ourselves.
Our humor, mine and hers, is born of pain. Mine, because my mother was born profoundly deaf and never heard my voice, hers because her mother slaved to make a living to raise her without much help from anyone.
We’ve gone through our share of crises as adults, too, from a daughter hospitalized at age 3 to my getting laid off twice. Our disappointment, frustration, and anger seep out through our pores as jokes.
“I’d ask you how you are,” I once said to her, “but I’m worried you’d tell me.”
“Hey,” she retorted, “did I ever let you know that meeting you back in 1976 was doubt at first sight?”
“You’re the only person I know,” I came back, “who usually needs a second chance to make a good first impression.”
“Listen,” she concluded, “look on the bright side: Nobody’s killed you yet.”
Once, after I misbehaved, she gave me a sympathy card. Inside, she had written, “Because you are so annoying, my heart goes out to you.”
Through it all, humor has promoted a sense ofunity for us. You might almost say we married for funny.
Researchers, too, now recognize that a sense of humor can act as a kind of medicine for a couple. A dose of humor, taken regularly, can alleviate suffering of all sorts, everything from anxiety to grief, potent enough, even to safeguard against alienation and divorce.
Studies show, for example, that the husbands and wives who are most satisfied with life together give each other high marks for humor, and that couples who share private jokes thereby enhance intimacy.
So here’s my advice to couples: Humor each other. You know what they say: Laugh, and someone else may too.
Take it from us. We’re still kidding each other, still laughing together after 30 years. My wife and I have long since learned how best to settle an argument. We take a mature approach. We call each other stupid heads.
Why, just last week, during yet another domestic dispute, Elvira joked once again about how much she looks forward to the day she gets to collect on my life insurance policy. Seeking forgiveness, I asked her what I could do, right now, that would make her happy. “You mean,” she said, “other than your immediate demise?”
Thus does humor remain the most valuable tool in our personal survival kit. And I think we know why. Our love for each other is much too serious for us to take too seriously.