February 12, 1998
‘Till Death Do Us Part’—Enough Already
Many of us who said, "Till death do us part,"never went the distance. Gary and Barbara did. They were a great lovestory. The fact that her parents didn't approve of their marriage,because he was a saxophone player, made it all the morepowerful.
From the moment Barbara was diagnosed with adebilitating illness, Gary never left her side. In the early days,that literally meant that she leaned on him whenever she walked. Butfew of us knew that she took his arm because she was ill. I alwaysthought that he was just being a gentleman.
Now an acclaimed composer, he has writtensymphonies and an award-winning Broadway show. When I visited lastyear, he was playing the piano for Barbara. She was still able toenjoy music and laugh at his jokes. By then, her condition was madeeven more painful with breast cancer and the onset of dementia. Shedied this past December, on his birthday, 15 years after she hadbecome ill.
When I talked to him recently, he said that he wassurprised by how many people, especially women, reacted to his caringfor his wife. "Oh, no," I said, "this is the behavior of a man-mensch-- a rare breed of human. It wasn't what you did; it was the elegancewith which you did it." Two weeks after Barbara's funeral, one ofGary's songwriter collaborators told him that she would lose 50pounds and kill her dog if he would consider her "relationshipmaterial."
Thirty years ago, marrying against your parents'wishes was a big deal. While we were blinded by hormones, our parentswere the screeners of unacceptable mates. Musicians were definitelyon the list. Anyone who drank liquor before dusk or had a closerelative whose picture was cut out of the family album wassuspect.
In my family, we never mentioned my grandmother'scousin, known as red-haired Annie, who put her husband's head in theoven. It was officially ruled a suicide. My grandmother's brother,Hymie, who was a no-goodnik gambler, also was persona nongrata.
Acceptable mates were the ones who were able tomake a living or had the potential to make a living. When answeringthe phone, my grandmother would hang up if it wasn't Barry theColumbia Medical School student. Barry, the future pediatrician, wasthe unanimous choice of my family.
I married Sandy, the one who didn't even own asport jacket and who lived at home with the mother who still cut uphis steak. Fortunately, he returned to law school after taking aleave of absence to try his luck at acting. Returning to law schooland the fact that he was a card player got him past the familyradar.
Barry, on the other hand, played bridge, went tothe symphony, studied opera, and was a ballet aficionado who lovedGershwin. But I wasn't attracted to Barry the provider, with thesophisticated tastes. I was drawn to Sandy the big spender, whoarranged our first vacation so that we would hit every racetrack onthe Eastern seaboard. Barry eventually married his nurse and is stillwith her.
My second marriage was to someone 20 years olderthan me. He was mature. Stable. Or "integrated," he likes to say. Heentered my life when I literally had nothing, when I was at my mostvulnerable. He was attracted to a 119-pound woman with three dogs,two college-aged children, no job, and a house in foreclosure. I wasattracted to someone who looked like my father and acted like afriend. Freud lives.
But I was, after all, my mother's daughter, andmore so -- a survivor with advanced graduate degrees. We come from along line of warrior women who not only won't be vanquished but willstrike back if someone's trying to exploit our vulnerabilities. Imarried for security and left after 18 months forself-preservation.
The fascinating thing about being single and inyour 50s is that there's a possible second 50 years more to live --if you're lucky. I don't see myself walking down yet another aisleand saying, "Till death do us part." I would much rather becompletely engaged. "This is my intended," he'd say. "This is myfriend," I'd say.
Columnist Linda Feldman is the co-author of"Where To Go From Here: Discovering Your Own Life's Wisdom" (Simon& Schuster).
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