Last week I wrote about my ongoing quest for advice on the perfect marriage. The advice began rolling in as soon as it went up online, from well-wishers and naysayers, people who dashed out a quick comment online and people who took the time to e-mail an article or the story of their own love life. One person said marriage takes work but is worth it; another reader, who's been married 50 years, wrote a laundry list of requirements for the ideal marriage, things like learn all about him – especially his temper, make sure he agrees on all the really important things, discuss spending decisions before taking action. Check, check and check. I even got an e-mail from a person who, after reading my line that acknowledged there isn't a manual for marriage, wrote to say, "Actually, there IS a marriage manual," before launching into a lengthy pitch about a book he wrote called – you guessed it – "The Marriage Manual."
Just as the feedback was beginning to subside, advertisers and journalists alike began gearing up for Valentine's Day. One recent article on MSN offered advice from couples married 50 years or more. Some talked about following their parents' example or about traveling to new places to keep things exciting. One woman said, "We don't read newspapers at breakfast. We talk to each other." Accompanying that story was an article about a recent relationship study, which found that the more goofy nicknames and code language a couple uses, the higher their relationship satisfaction. And then, of course, there are the commercials – jewelry stores with Valentine's gimmicks ("Diamonds or chocolate? How about both!"), flower delivery companies, teddy bears with names like the "love bandit" – practically shouting at couples to embrace Valentine's Day in all its cheesiness – or else. Reese and I have never made much of the holiday, declaring half-jokingly that we should love each other all year round. But maybe this year, maybe being engaged, and maybe seeking all the help we can get as we launch into married life, we should pay more attention. Not by dropping $100 on a dinner out or picking out a heart-shaped box of red foil-wrapped candy, but by taking a look at what's really important in love. Maybe I should rethink my statement that there's no manual for marriage. Maybe there is. It's all around us, written into the affectionate ribbing of couples married for decades and the simple routines and silly nicknames that draw couples closer. Maybe the trick is knowing what chapters to read and which to simply skim.
But I know I'll especially remember what a relative wrote me recently, "There is nothing better in this life than a good marriage," not only this Valentine’s Day, but all year long.