Love + Sex, Love

Words of wisdom from a couple that’s been married 60 years

“You can’t fight with silence."

My grandparents set the bar for relationships high. They met in Cambridge in the 1950s and we celebrated their 60th anniversary earlier this year.

Sixty years is a number that’s hard for me to fathom. My longest relationship lasted three years, and it ended on a sour note. I haven’t even been alive half of sixty years, yet I can’t remember a time where I’ve seen my grandparents fight or exchange angry words. This sharply contrasts with my other set of grandparents, who had a tumultuous marriage that ended bitterly.  Over the years, I’ve collected some golden relationship advice from the successful set. Here are some of the tools to an enduring relationship that I’ve learned from the beautiful couple below:

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1. They didn’t force a long-distance relationship.

My grandmother is a smart lady. A few months after they met, she left for Italy and Africa on a Fulbright scholarship. She didn’t put her dreams on hold for him, but he also didn’t ask her to. They respected each other’s ambitions even when it took their lives in two different directions. When she returned a year later, they picked up where they had left off.

2. She keeps him healthy by being hard on him.

My grandparents came over for dinner the other night and my grandfather had a coughing fit at the table. While my mother wanted to give him the Heimlich, my grandmother had a different response. She gave what my dad called a Grandmomiam Diagnosis: my grandfather had “sat around too much today.” She monitors what he eats, “only one cookie darling,” but still lets him indulge.

3. They keep things interesting.

My grandparents love to travel. They’ve been all over the world, from China to Canada. Their stories, including partying with the Marcos’ at their palace in the Philippines, always ignite dinner table conversations. They’re tied together by their memories.

4. They don’t fight in public.

Recently, my grandmother told the story of a party she went to in her 20s where she was propositioned by a man to hook up with his partner for the first man’s viewing pleasure, much to her dismay. This sparked a dinnertime conversation about polyamory and the fluidity of sexuality. It ended up being a battle of the generations, my sister and I butting ideological heads with our parents. There was a lot my grandfather could’ve said but instead he maintained the peace. “Needless to say, she turned them down,” my grandfather ended the story by saying. They keep their relationship private, particularly when there are differences of opinions.

5. He keeps his cool.

There’s nothing more irritating than a person who comments on every bit of your driving. My grandmother can be a terrible backseat driver, but my grandfather doesn’t get too mad. On occasion I’ve heard my grandfather amplify his tone but overall he maintains composure under stress. He doesn’t get aggressive, which is something that can ruin a relationship.

6. They’re each other’s biggest fans.

I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve heard my grandparents praise one another. “Well your grandmother, she’s the smartest/most beautiful/sweetest woman I know,” are common refrains. My grandmother loves to speak to my grandfather’s intelligence- he graduated summa cum laude from Harvard- but she manages to do so in a way that’s tasteful and not boastful.

7. He doesn’t undermine her.

I’ve never seen my grandfather interrupt my grandmother, although the reverse has occurred. Even though they were married at a time when patriarchal values still reigned supreme, they made important decisions together. When my grandfather was offered his dream job in New York City, he turned it down because my grandmother didn’t want to raise a family there.

8. “You can’t fight with silence.”

When I ask my grandparents how they’ve done it all these years, my grandfather always brings up what happens when they fight. My grandmother doesn’t bait him or try to argue. She says her piece and leaves it at that. Instead of tensions building, this gives them both time to think things through. By the time they talk about the problem, they’re able to do it rationally, not under the impetus of emotion.

9. They’re affectionate, but not in a PDA way.

My grandfather will often put his hand on my grandmother’s leg or reach for her hand. They refer to one another in terms of endearment (“Glenna, she’s my sweetheart”). I can count the number of times I’ve seen them kiss on one hand. Yet, they don’t overdo it with oversaturated words or over-the-top affectation.

10. They keep active.

Seriously though, my sister and I joke that my grandparents have a more active social life than we do. They’re out most nights of the week, attending everything from operas to Wizards basketball games. They’re both doers, and as a result, their lifestyles are compatible.

11. Same taste in alcohol.

They both love a good Argentinian Malbec but start with a scotch & soda. Every time  we go out to dinner, my grandmother makes sure his Macallan gets ordered while he’s parking the car so it’s there when he sits down at the table. Because sometimes, it’s the little things that make all the difference.

12. “She’s my best friend.”

As they’ve grown older, they’ve lost people near and dear to them, but they still have each other.

My grandparents have grown old gracefully. I’m forever thankful for them for teaching me not to accept a love that’s less.