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"Making It Last"

Not until this week did I take note of the New York Times's ongoing "Making It Last" feature, which "profiles baby boomer couples who have been together 25 years or more." (It's a project of their "Booming" section, which I also had not noticed -- I'm not in the target audience, but maybe you are?)

This week "Making It Last," by Erika Allen, tells the story of Carol and Bob Kelly under the tantalizing headline "Poised to Enter a Convent, Then She Fell in Love." The interview itself is less sensationalist than that headline might suggest. I bring it to your attention because I think many of you will find a lot in common with the Kellys (including, I believe, the healthy habit of reading Commonweal). Theirs is the kind of story, and in particular the kind of Catholic story, that people think the NYT doesn't tell -- and as such it's an antidote to some of the worst excesses of "Vows" (or "Modern Love").

Granted, this, from the interview, is exactly the sort of question you'd expect the NYT to ask:

"Are there aspects of Catholicism that you do not agree with? Issues like birth control, abortion and female priests?" But the Kellys answer with a lot more nuance than you'll find in your average NYT columnist's take, and the faith journeys they trace -- as individuals and as a couple -- are revealing and relatable.

I'm not so enthusiastic about the editing of this interview or the others in the series; I find them strangely hard to follow, neither truly conversational nor clearly "written." But when I started looking through the "Making It Last" archives I found a handful that focused on Catholic couples (including another foiled religious vocation: "On Path to Priesthood, and Then He Fell for Her") or touched on specifically Catholic themes. This one paragraph, from a profile of a mixed-race couple, is a story all by itself:

When we told them we were engaged we thought we were prepared to answer all the questions they would have. Then they asked, “Is he going to convert?” My family had been all different forms of Protestantism and her family is Catholic, but I just said yes and I have been pretty devout ever since. I go to Mass every week; Anne doesn’t go to church anymore.

Here's a couple that decided not to go through with a Catholic baptism rather than lie about their intentions to raise their child in the faith. And here's a couple who, though not Catholic, were helped by the church's ministry to married couples: "When we were young and pigheaded we would fight and I would say, 'I want to divorce,' but I was immature in thinking that everything was supposed to be smooth all of the time.... Then he brought me to a program sponsored by the Catholic church where we wrote letters about what was wrong and what we appreciated." Retrouvaille? Marriage Encounter (also mentioned by another couple)? Something else?

And then there's the husband -- deployed to Afghanistan -- who says, "Our Catholicism has been important. I go to Mass every week here, even if the priest isn’t particularly good."

Reading about the Kellys, and the other "Making It Last" couples, is not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon. It's good to be reminded that, cultural rot notwithstanding, there are lots of ordinary people out there going about the ordinary work of committing to each other, and making a success of it. And I'm glad the NYT is telling their stories.

About the Author

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is an editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.



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25 years is a good start.  Let's hope they last.

That's from the perspective of 41 years.

Indulge a small whine, though:

Would this be because enough attention has not yet been paid to the Boomers?

As for a relationship something more than a friendship I easily find reasons to envy those at the beginning of it all and those nearing the end of it all.  But for very different reasons, I believe.  It certainly seems to me Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn did it pretty well start to finish.  The scene in "Cocoon" where he slyly and affectionately encourages her into his bed is for me a memory that lingers.

Steven, perhaps you underestimate the power of such examples for people contemplating marriage or in the midst of an early marital crisis?  Most people who are entering their 25th year of marriage (like I am) are baby boomers.  Now, if they are entering their 50th, they are officially from the previous generation.  But I celebrated the 40th wedding anniversary of a friend of mine -- and he's definitely in the "Big Chill" segment of the baby boomer generation. 

Around 18 months ago I was replacing my phone and I was chatting with the very friendly salesman, and as I was explaining my family's complicated telephone service, he deduced that I was married.  He told me that he and his girlfriend were considering marriage and without him saying so, it was clear he was a little gun shy.  I would say he was around 25.  He asked me how long I had been married and gave me a high five when I told him 23 years.  Well, it certainly made me feel good at the time! 

The divorce rate has, in some places, doubled for those in their 50s and 60s. These stats need more examination, but it appears that many Baby Boomers stuck it out for the sake of the children, those GenXers and Millennials who are always whining about our being spoiled brats who get too much attention.

Raber and I have been married 30 years, and it's been an adventure in which we're discovering new things about each other all the time. For example, he recently discovered that my degenerating ability to hear is really irritating (I can hear volume just fine, but words sound garbled. It's as I always suspected; people really ARE talking gibberish). I recently discovered that there is no topic that he can't turn into an argument about why I should go back to church.

Those for whom marriage has not been a "success" (a word that strikes me as more applicable to financial investments and souffles) might find the NYT's feature about the value of suffering of interest:


We are now celebrating our 50th anniversary. We were just kids recently graduated from college when we married. We did what we knew how to and had a great many adventures, raised 3 kids, sent them all to college and are now happily retired. I was ordained a deacon in 1983 but that seemed like a normal progression for both of us as we were well-involved in both church and community activities. Reflecting back, we had our ups and downs, funny and sad moments, disappointments and accomplishments, good friends and several priests that we became close to. Now it is companionship and knowing nods that bind us together. We each have our own ministries, can't spend too much time with the kids and grandkids who are scattered all over and besides, we like to travel, anywhere, especially by cruise ship. Life remains good, hopefully health will sustain, and we get by ok on state retirement and social security income. Still driving old cars and living in a modest home for California, but it's big enough for us and will last until we move on to a new subdivision in heaven. Maybe marital happiness depends a bit on your expectations. Sometimes we tell each other that we must be boring to onlookers. Still, we sleep soundly next to each other. That is always comforting.

FWIW, in August , the NYT started a new feature on their Booming blog about couples who had long marriages and divorced in their 50s....

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