The following is one of the articles I wrote for The New York Times a million years ago, or actually more recently than that – on Sunday, August 12, 1990.
Maybe, you haven’t read yesterday’s blog, Report Card of My Marriage - it explains the reason for this reprint….I, like so many widows and divorcees review my marriage with today’s head and heart and I see how I’ve come up short here and there.
My insistence that my husband and I continue to meet and go out with new couples is one of those wishful do-overs. I’m not going to jump in the bay over it, but it’s much more than just a shrug.
Oh, in those days, in everything I wrote I refer to Jimmy as Frankie.
My best friend hates my husband. Her husband hates me and I’m not too crazy about him. We’re all going out on Saturday night. Single women moan and cry and search desperately for “the right one.” Finally, they meet, they mesh, they wed. Now they have to do it all over again – as couples, with couples.
Romeo and Juliet had the good sense to kill themselves before they officially became a couple. No one approved of them. Whom would they go out with?
Throughout fairy tale history, Prince Charming whisks away the princess, they ride off into the sunset to live happily ever after, and we read – the end. But you and I know that it’s just the beginning. A month later, they arrive at the castle (A horse can only so go fast.) Here Prince Charmings’s choice must be approved by his princely peers and his circle of friends at the round table.
The movie “When Harry Met Sally” ended happily, but I have a hunch that after a few Saturday nights alone together, Sally got tired of going to the ladies’ room by herself , and Harry needed another guy there to talk about how “women always go in pairs.”
In real life, too, there is a need for couple chemistry. What makes me such an expert? After 18 years of marriage, Frankie and I have dumped and been dumped plenty. Sometimes it seems we’ve done more double dumping than double dating.
Changing couple friends is kind of like cleaning out your closet. If my sweater – I’ll call it Janet – and it’s matching pants – let’s call them Steve – have not called us in more than two seasons, the chances are they won’t, and if they did, they probably wouldn’t fit us anymore.
Now, maybe the Janet and Steve were a great outfit but we simply got into the habit of putting on the Linda and Bob jumpsuit or the trendy Jennifer and Jared silk walking shorts. Possibly we didn’t have an occasion for the Janet and Steve, but it would have been a shame to throw them out or give them to Goodwill. As my mother used to say, “A good classic outfit always lasts and withstands the fads.”
That almost makes me want to call Janet and Steve. As predictable and boring as old friends are, there’s comfort in knowing we can fall asleep at their table, break their favorite coffee mug and still be confident that they’ll sing the loudest at our 25th anniversary party.
But I also like to meet new couples. Frankie has a different attitude. ”We have enough friends,” he says. “Don’t bring anymore home.”
I don’t pay attention to him. I meet a woman. We like each other. We have lunch at the diner. Between decaf coffee and counter mints, one of us says, “Do you think the guys will get along?” I lie. ”Oh, Frankie gets along with everyone.” I leave out, “As long as he doesn’t have to meet them.”
But of course he does have to meet them. My new friend and I compare calendars and make a date for the next Saturday night we are both available. ”Both available” can be tricky. Couples, like singles, want to seem popular. So we fill our calendars with our children’s soccer schedule and mark up Saturday nights with plans to go to a party that we overheard may be happening and that we might be invited to. If we are not, each spouse blames the other. For many of us this rerouting-of-fault clause is reason enough to marry.
If we are invited, Frankie barrages me with questions the day of the party. “Who are Joyce and Lenny again? What does he do? Why are we going?” Fifteen minutes before the doorbell rings, Frankie breaks out in a cold sweat.
“Why are you making me do this? What are we going to talk to them about?”
“Whatever we talk about with Janet and Steve.”
“But I like them.”
“You hate them.”
“Yeah, but at least I know them.”
“Before you met them you didn’t know them.”
“I’m comfortable with them. I could break their favorite coffee mug and they’d still sing the loudest at our 25th anniversary party.”
“I read that somewhere…”
Frankie steps out of his puddle of perspiration and becomes Mr. Charm. I look closely. It’s not an act. He likes Lenny. He shows him his electric trains. He lets him wear his conductor’s hat.
There was no discussion of power tools, but it was truly an evening of male bonding. I look at Joyce. She smiles at me. We feel satisfied. Mission accomplished.
There will many Sunday afternoon barbecues, Friday night card games, shared vacations. They’ll dance at our daughters’ wedding and everyone will say, “Joyce and Lenny? They’re just like family.”
There’s only two things wrong. They probably won’t get along with Janet and Steve – and I wish I liked Joyce more.
Back to the present: I’m sorry, Frankie…