For better or worse, but always for lunch

I like to read the acknowledgements section in books. I don’t like the listing of names I do not recognize, but I read the section for the end: for the person who matters most. At the end there is often a sentence or two or three about someone the author loved—typically the spouse, the one who put up with all the months (or years) of frustration and of being told, “I can’t go tonight after all. I have to finish this chapter.” Those sentences are about the person who stuck by the author but didn’t have to, the person who was not the editor or publisher or publicist or someone being paid to put up with ol’ ye-of-utter-grumpiness.

Those sentences are about real love. It’s why I always like to find them.

When I was younger, I made a copy of and kept—for years—an acknowledgements section from a particular book I read. I do not remember if I even liked the book itself, but I liked what the author said about his wife: that she had been his constant, that he had looked forward to seeing her every time he emerged from his office. At least this is what I remember. I recall he wrote: “For better or worse, but always for lunch.” 

Today I Googled the phrase and found it, but in the negative: “For better or worse, but never for lunch.” Maybe it’s a saying everyone knows, but I had never heard of it, and I liked that the author said it—with a positive twist. Back then I pictured him and his wife sitting next to each other at their kitchen counter while the kids were in school, stirring their bowls of hot soup and blowing on the steaming surface to cool it off, the snow falling outside their window. They were warm, and together.

I have always watched couples, fascinated by what draws two people together, what makes some marriages stick and others splinter. My own parents are the epitome of opposites attract. My mother is talkative while my father is quiet. She is bubbling with energy and spirit while he is calm and even. She is more skeptical, and he more trusting. She is more precise—she will catch the details of events, conversations, and stories. My father lives a very rich interior life, which means he might miss the specifics of the outer world.

But they both are adventurous eaters, both love language (he, English, and she Spanish, French, Russian, Italian), are both hard-working, honest, and kind to others, and they also both fell fast for each other. They met one October, got engaged seven months later, in May, and got married two months later in Chicago. Neither one of them is much for a big show: They wed before just a handful of witnesses from each of their families. My mother purchased her short, white dress for $11.95. My father bought the wedding license.

Over the years, without knowing it, they taught me what it meant to make a marriage work. When I was a child, they made relationships look easy. When they argued, they did so in private, so I was always kept from any issues they faced. But as I grew up, I realized that their marriage didn’t last because it was spared hardship and discord. It lasted because they chose to make it last, every day, every week, until the months piled into years, and those piled into decades, and here they are, 50 years into this golden marriage. It took me a long time—and a “starter” marriage and a divorce, in fact—to realize stick-to-it-ness, mutual respect, and the pure and simple friendship you have with the other person is what will get you through the hard days, the hard weeks, and sometimes the hard years. 

Fifty years later, my parents still hold hands. They still take walks together. They still have loving nicknames for each other. Their marriage was a marriage I envied, until I found someone who believed in what I did about what makes a marriage work. Now, I hope, I am building toward my own 50 years.

My parents’ love and friendship showed me what it meant to stick with someone for better or worse. And what the phrase meant: always for lunch.

This blog post was originally published in the Johnson City Press, Community Voices, on July 12, 2015.