"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.

Mollie Wilson O’​Reilly is editor-at-large and columnist at Commonweal.

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