As the couples go by

Whoever they are, they’re sweet

I deleted a very nasty comment earlier today — luckily it was caught in the spam trap and not out there for all the world to see. The comment wasn’t about me. Rather, it was about one of the happy couples whose story and picture I put up on the blog days, months, or years ago. It made me feel cynical and sad, and when I feel cynical and sad I usually spend a little time looking for something that will made me feel good in equal measure. Balance, and all that.

What I found was an old essay by Herbert Stein, published in 1997 in Slate. Entitled ‘Watching the couples go by,’ it really touched my heart, so I thought I’d share some of it here.

I am concentrating on the married couples. How do I know that those men and women walking two-by-two up to the Kennedy Center are married to each other? Well, 75 percent of all men between the ages of 30 and 75 are married, so if you see a man in that age group walking with a woman to the Kennedy Center—which is not exactly Club Med—it’s a good bet that the two are married, and almost certainly to each other.

I look particularly at the women in those couples. They are not glamorous. There are no Marlene Dietrichs, Marilyn Monroes, or Vivien Leighs among them. (It is a sign of my age that I can’t think of the name of a single living glamorous movie actress.) Some of them are pretty, but many would be considered plain. Since they are on their way to the Kennedy Center, presumably to attend a play, an opera, or a concert, one may assume that they are somewhat above average in cultural literacy. But in other respects one must assume that they are, like most people, average.

But to the man whose hand or arm she is holding, she is not “average.” She is the whole world to him. They may argue occasionally, or even frequently. He may have an eye for the cute intern in his office. But that is superficial. Fundamentally, she is the most valuable thing in his life.

So this “ordinary” woman—one like about 50 million others in America—has this great value to this man she is going to the theater with. He surely does not make a calculation—doesn’t mark her to market. He probably never says how much he values her, to himself or to her. But he acts as if he knows it.

I see that I have written these views entirely from the point of view of the man. That is only natural for me. But I don’t for a minute think that the relationship I have been trying to describe is one-sided. On the contrary, I am sure it is reciprocal.

I can hear you saying: “How do you know all this? You are only an economist, practitioner of the dismal science. You aren’t Ann Landers.” That is all true. But my wife and I walked up that hill to the Kennedy Center many times.

Isn’t that sweet?

6 Responses to “As the couples go by”

  1. amy says:

    that’s lovely. i hope my fiance and i are still in love enough to stroll arm-in-arm together after we’ve been together for however many decades.

  2. Twistie says:

    Many years ago now, I worked in the restaurant of a department store. It was a crap, entry-level job that I was glad to leave when I got a chance at something better elsewhere. All the same, there are some regular customers I’ve remembered fondly.

    Possibly my favorite was a couple who came in nearly every day. They were quite elderly. I’d have been surprised to learn that either was under eighty. But they came in every single day, got two cups of coffee, and shared one dessert between them. They always held hands. They always looked at one another with the sort of affection and understanding it’s impossible to feign.

    This picture and this essay made me think of them again today. Now my heart feels full. It’s a wonderful feeling.

    What’s more, I can’t wait for Mr. Twistie to get home.

  3. La Petite Acadienne says:

    Awww…I love that picture. A couple cuddling while walking, a very stylish coat on the woman, and a Lhasa Apso on the end of that leash! What’s not to love?

    And if you need another story to make you feel good, here’s mine. It’s a little long, but I think it’ll cheer you up:

    My step-grandmother, Dorothy, was a very unique woman. Very smart and very independent. She knew my step-grandfather, Cyril, while growing up, and they went their separate ways as teens. He went off to war (WWI) and she went to university to become a dietician. After graduating, she bought a car and drove to New York by herself to find work. After the war was over, Cyril was on his way back from Europe, and found out that Dorothy was in New York and so decided to meet up with her. She took one look at him and said (and I quote), “Cyril, you look like hell. Come marry me and I’ll take care of you.”

    They married, travelled, had kids, and grew very, very old together. And they always had so much light in their eyes when they looked at each other. Many years later, their son, after a failed first marriage, met and married my mother. My mom and my stepdad look at each other with that same light in their eyes. As Cyril and Dorothy grew older, Cyril was no longer able to climb the stairs to get to their bedroom, so there was talk of putting a single bed down in the den for him. Dorothy put her foot down and said, “I’ve been sleeping next to this man for decades and I’m damn well not stopping now.” A double bed was put in the den. They died within two months of each other, at age 95.

    I’m recently married, and always swore that I would find the man who looked at me the way that Cyril looked at Dorothy. The way that my stepdad looks at my mom. I did — I often catch my husband looking at me that way. And when I have kids, I’m going to teach them to accept no less in their own marriages.

  4. Never teh Bride says:

    Aw, those are some sweet tales, guys.

  5. Ninjarina says:

    I never have to look far to see the cutest couple I know – my parents.

    I remember a few months ago, I told my dad they were really cute in their routines. One particular one is that after a long day at work (they run a mom and pop corner store), he always offers her his arm as they walk to the car. He told me that he always does that because “what if she falls and hurts herself?” My mother is perfectly mobile but I thought it was so sweet that he’s so protective of her.

    Also, every night when they come home, I hear them bickering from the stairs but it’s really cute old married couple banter. He’s always ragging on her for “being such an old country woman” but he never talks down to her or belittles her and she certainly has the wit and fire to counter him. I want a relationship like that one day.

    Oddly enough, I’ve only ever seem them kiss on the lips ONE time in my entire life. I’ve never even seen them hug each other.

  6. Never teh Bride says:

    As odd as it sounds to me, Ninjarina, some people just aren’t the kissy-huggy type. Or they prefer to get their smooch on in private. Different strokes for different folks — it sure seems to be working for them 😉