Love & Sex

Before You Were Born: Married at Thirty-Nine

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Stories from our parents' surprisingly romantic youth: how two free spirits finally decided to settle down.

While some parents can tell you about going to prom together, my parents will do no such thing — they settled down at the ripe-young age of thirty-nine. Their shiny (only) bundle of joy, me, arrived two years later. While being single for such a long time may sound daunting, taking a little extra caution, in a country where the divorce rate is now something like fifty percent, seems wise to me.

When did you meet for the first time?
M: I think it was… was it a board meeting, Jeff? It was a board meeting for the condominium.

D: She was bookkeeper or something, and I was some kind of a director. I thought she was bubbly and intelligent and she knew how to handle a ledger.

M: We were friends first. We didn't start going out until August of '85, and we'd met maybe six months earlier. We used to go for walks around the complex. I used to go every night for exercise, and Daddy joined me a few times. Well, he wasn't Daddy then, but you know. I liked his shoulders and his eyes, and he was able to hold a meeting.

What made you eventually decide to ask Mom out on a date?
D: I was getting tired of the same old people. I was interested in who she was as a person. I'd never felt that way before. She had a personality and intellect, and all that was more important to me than anything else.

Mom, did you have any serious relationships before dad?
M: Yeah, but they were kind of in-betweens. You mean like marriage-worthy kinds of things? In all honesty, maybe there were two of those before in my life. One was kind of early on but I just felt like I didn't want to be married then. I felt like I was too young to be married — there were too many other things I wanted to do.

How old were you?
M: Twenty, twenty-two… someplace in there. The other one was in the '70s. It was a very good relationship and everything but I found out that the person — it's funny, it comes back to that — I found the person couldn't have children, so I kind of weaned myself away from the relationship.

When did you realize in your relationship that you started to move toward marriage?
D: She made me bread.

She made bread? You knew you wanted to marry her when she made bread?
M: We had been going out for a while. We were dating from August of '85; Daddy asked me to marry him on January 16, 1986.

D: I just generally had a good feeling throughout that time period. There was no "tipping point." It was just a consistent good feeling about our relationship.

That's all you felt you needed to get married?
M: Well, listen, when you're single for forty years…

D: At that time in my life, yeah.

M: He came up for dinner and I had baked some bread. This is kind of stupid, but he and his best friend Steve were into this song at the time, "Who's Zoomin' Who?" by Aretha Franklin. You know that that's our song, right? So Daddy sat down and said, "What is that?" I said, "It's bread." He said, "You made bread?" I said, "Yeah, I baked bread." He said, "Will you marry me?" So I laughed and I said, "No, I'm kind of busy tomorrow." And I looked back at him, and he was serious! And I went, "Oh my God, you're serious!" I went to the bar, I poured myself a glass of scotch — you know I don't drink scotch — and I said, "I'm sorry, I didn't realize." And then I said yes. And as soon as I said yes, "Who's Zoomin' Who?" came on the radio. It was like, "Uh-oh…"

How about you? When did you know that you wanted to marry Dad?
M: When I first laid eyes on him. I just had this feeling about him. I came down out of the elevator with my best friend, and he was at the mailboxes. And I started whispering to her — I said, "I think I'm going to marry that guy." She said, "You're out of your fucking mind." It was just really strange. There were some other comments that went on, but I'm not going to discuss it. Daddy was wearing a Speedo.

M: No, no, it didn't help. He had just gone swimming!

D: Shrinkage! Don't forget shrinkage!

Oh my God. I… okay, next question. What was it like to be single for so long?
D: I was just bored. I wasn't meeting the right people. The people I was meeting, it was all about sex, and it was all over after that.

M: It gets to be a point where you're having a lot of fun, you're wild and you're sowing your oats and everything, but after awhile, it's just "When is this going to be over already?" I was older and I did want to have a child — I didn't want to go too much longer. In fact, I had kind of canceled myself out — I said, "If don't have any children by thirty-five, I'm not having any children."

But you were forty-one when I was born.
M: As it worked out, you never give up the ship. Sometimes you just don't meet the right person. It doesn't matter if you want to get married or not. If you don't meet the right person, you're not just going to get married just to get married. I don't care how fast the clock is ticking.

Was it hard to live with someone after being single for so long?
M: We were kind of set in our ways. You have to get used to being with someone else on a daily basis.

D: We always kind of worked together and did things together. She allowed me to do my thing, and she was always able to do her thing. And I enjoyed her cooking, so that was good.

M: I remember one fight we had. I don't remember what it was about, but Daddy left, went to the movies, and came back, and he sat down at the table and we started to discuss it and everything. He said, "Aren't you glad we're not twenty years old so we don't have to continue to fight about this?"

What did people say when you finally did get married?
D: My mother hung up on me. I was disturbing her mah jongg game.

M: He had to call her three times.

D: She wouldn't take my call because she thought I was lying to her.

M: It's true! He called Grandma Peggy to tell her he was getting married, and she just said, "Jeffrey, leave me alone, I'm playing mah jongg." My mother didn't believe me, either. Even the rabbi didn't believe us. When we were getting married, we went to the rabbi and he asked Daddy how old he was, asked me how old I was, and said okay. And he said, "Well, do you both have a ghent?" — a Jewish divorce certificate. I said, "No, we've never been married before." He said, "Come on, you're thirty-nine years old. What do you mean you've never been married before?" At our wedding ceremony, he stood up there and said, "Because we've all waited so long for this marriage, I'm going to drag this out a little bit." If you see the pictures of the audience, everybody's hysterically laughing.

How do you feel now about getting married later in life than most people do? Today the average age of getting married is twenty-six, and that's actually higher than when you got married.
M: My grandmother had given up on me when I was seventeen!

D: I wasn't as mature in my twenties. I probably wouldn't have made a good husband at the time. It took me a while, but some men and women mature differently, at different times. It took me a little bit longer. I was having too good of a time to think of anything else. And there are times when I was pretty much being asked to marry rather than wanting to marry. That's very difficult.

M: My thing, like he said, I was having too good a time for a period there. Actually, I felt I was ready to get married when I was thirty-five. Of course, I didn't get married until four years later, but until that time I was really running around. I was traveling. Daddy was traveling too. Especially with me though, Grammy had been married so many times — seven — I wanted to know when I did it that I was going to be sure. I didn't want to do that. I didn't want to be married a lot of times. Or more than once, actually. Plus, Daddy's not too bad a guy, you know. And the shoulders, man. The shoulders! It was the shoulders first, the eyes second, and the brain third.