Relationships

Bonding with others is the spice of life

By Marvin Druger
Email: mdruger@syr.edu

Everyone is unique and complex. Yet, humans are social animals who need to relate to others to survive and prosper.

Everyone has a unique personality with desirable and undesirable traits. At social events, I often think about how two individuals relate to each other. I see people of all sizes, ages, colors and appearances that are married and presumably lead happy lives together. Every relationship has its bumps and bruises, and divorces are not uncommon; but, usually, the bruises heal and life goes on happily.

I sometimes wonder how two people can get along with each other for long periods of time. Even family relations can suffer strains. There is the old truism, “I can’t wait until my family visits me, and I can’t wait until they go home.” Life involves many adaptations. Not only do we have to adapt to our physical environment, but we also need to adapt to others and even to ourselves.

I am the fortunate product of a 60-year relationship with a wonderful woman who passed away a few years ago. Pat and I met at a party. I was president of Lyons House Plan at Brooklyn College. A house plan was like a fraternity, but members lived at home. I arranged three parties for Easter weekend. Two were with college sororities and one was with a high school sorority.

I told my friends, “I’m not going to the high school party. Those girls are too young for me.” Their response was, “If you don’t go, then we are not going either.” So, I went to the high school party.

I chatted with a lovely young lady at the party and asked, “Can I walk you home?” “OK,” she replied.

I walked with her in the middle of the street at night and she said,” Do you know how old I am?” I said, ”Probably 17 or 18.” “I’m 15,” she replied. I was so shocked that we walked around the block once more. Then I escorted her in the elevator to the apartment on the fifth floor where she lived with her parents. Pat’s apartment was at the end of the hallway. I said, “Good night. Nice meeting you,” and I walked back to the elevator.

“Nice girl,” I thought to myself, “But she’s too young for me. Going out with her would be like robbing the cradle.”

For some reason, Pat fumbled with her keys and, for some reason, the elevator was at a different floor. The time span must have been 10 seconds. I thought to myself, “She was really nice. Maybe I should ask her on a date.” So, I walked back to her and asked, “Would you like to go to a movie with me next Friday?” She unenthusiastically said, “OK.”

We went to a movie at the Fox Theater in downtown Brooklyn that Friday. In the movie, Pat put her arm around me. Wow! That was a cool and pleasant experience. Years later, she told me that she was fidgety and that she put her arm around the chair.

This experience eventually led to 60 years of a wonderful relationship, three children and seven grandchildren. I often think of what might have been if Pat had found the key to her apartment immediately and if the elevator had been stopped on the fifth floor. I didn’t know Pat’s last name and I didn’t know her phone number. I probably would never have seen her again, but luck favored me.

How can two people live together happily for 60 years? I jokingly tell people, “The secret is compromise. Do whatever she says and don’t ask questions.”

I also tell everyone: “Let her handle the money.” Thirdly, I jokingly say, “I make all the big decisions, and she decides the rest. I decide if we are going to have a war with another country, etc., while she decides everything else.”

Like all marriages, we had conflicts over this long span of living together, but they were relatively few and far between. We knew each other so well that we had silent arguments. I knew what got her angry, and vice versa. We would just be quiet and say nothing and the anger passed quickly.

I discovered that, in any relationship, we have to put disagreements in perspective and learn to let things go. On occasion, one of us is bound to say or do something that may be insulting or offensive. Love requires flexibility and adaptation. There are far worse things that can happen in life, so we have to learn to just let it go. Usually, the trauma will fade away: “This, too, shall pass.”

Golden verses

Love, sex, friendship and sharing experiences were important components of our long marriage. I loved Pat madly and wrote many poems to her. Here is one that I wrote on the occasion of our 50th wedding anniversary:

We’ve been married 50 years
And I am pleased to say
That the love that we have shared
Grows stronger every day

We’ve shared so many things,
And we’ve had so much fun,
Our special traits are different,
But in spirit we are one

Love and friendship last forever,
They never fade away,
We walk and talk together
And we laugh at life each day

Fifty years have passed,
They went by very fast,
But our love stays young,
And forever it will last

Happy 50th anniversary!

Sex is an expression of love, but true love goes far beyond sex. I truly wanted to share my life with her in all ways, but at the same time, recognize her uniqueness and special interests and activities. Pat earned a master’s degree in mathematics from Syracuse University, and she worked with me in teaching the introductory biology course at Syracuse University for many years. Then she served as an administrator in the writing program at SU.

Verbal expressions of love go a long way in a relationship. When Pat told me about a friend who complained about all the bad traits of her husband, I said, “There’s nothing that I don’t like about you.”

On another occasion, Pat told me that someone loved her colorful raincoat. I responded, “I love what’s in the raincoat.”

Before she became ill, Pat told me that she loved me and, on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the highest, that her life was a 10. I jokingly replied, “Mine was a six.”

If you truly love someone, why not tell them, “I love you?” This simple phrase can help avoid conflicts and can help a relationship last a long time. So, say it often.

Pat’s untimely death ended 60 years of love and happiness. I was desperately afraid of being alone, and I knew that Pat would want me to find a new relationship.

My granddaughter enrolled me in an online dating service. I met many women, and dated seven of them at the same time. All of them were very nice and seeking companionship. Then one day, I was shopping at Wegman’s in Dewitt. I was standing behind an attractive lady waiting to check out. She was buying all sorts of foods that I don’t eat. I commented, “My wife died last year, so I’m alone and I only have a bag of salad.”

For some reason she can’t explain, she gave me her business card (she is an audiologist) and said, “I’m alone too.” She had the appealing name of “Victoria.”

I didn’t need an eighth date, so I didn’t contact her for a while. After a few weeks, I thought, “Victoria was kind of nice. I’ll invite her to lunch.” So, I sent her an email asking if she would go out to lunch with a famous professor. She didn’t respond for a few weeks. Then she contacted me and told me that she had checked me out and that I was, indeed, a famous professor, and that she was willing to have lunch with me.

So, we met for lunch at Phoebe’s restaurant on East Genesee Street. It was an awkward situation. What do you talk about? Do you have any hobbies? Do you have any children? How’s your job? etc.”

But we had a pleasant time at lunch.

A few weeks later, I thought to myself, “She was really nice, but much younger than me. I’ll ask her to lunch again. What the heck!” Then, I discovered that she lives a few blocks from my house, and I offered to pick her up to drive in my car to the same restaurant.

We had lunch again at the restaurant. I came to like Victoria even more. We had a good conversation but, most important, she laughed at my jokes. After lunch, I got into my car, waved goodbye to Victoria and drove out of the parking lot. I forgot that I had driven her to the restaurant in my car. I’m sure Victoria was standing there thinking, “What the heck is he doing?” Fortunately, as I reached the street, I realized my error and drove back to get her.

This episode was the beginning of a new relationship. Victoria has been my companion for more than four years. We have traveled together and have had many adventures. After 60 years of being with Pat, developing a new relationship was not easy, but Victoria and I have adapted to each other. We enjoy being together.

Our age difference does not really seem important. Vincent Van Gogh died at 37; George Burns died at 100. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? So, my message is to live life as fully as possible. Cherish relationships with others. Make the most of the brief time we have on Earth.

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