CLAY: As another Valentine’s Day beckons, what pops into my mind is a cross-stitch piece that my wife, Meg, and I put together for a relative’s wedding decades ago. It had this phrase: “Love, honor and negotiate.” That twist on a cliché undergirds the experience of the four couples we’re profiling in this edition of Pacific NW.
JEAN: Agreed. It also conveys another requirement for a loving long-term relationship: a keen sense of humor. After four decades of marriage, Karen and I still laugh (and sometimes groan) at the same jokes. Here’s one: We both witnessed an attempted murder the other day — two crows on a wire!
CLAY: Back in the 1980s, after Meg and I looked at and rejected an apartment to rent, she insisted its living-room carpet was green, while I firmly remembered it as brown. Whenever that comes up, usually in shorthand, it always produces a smile along with an eye-roll.
JEAN: Beyond the humor, we try to remain open to exploration and discovery. Another human being, no matter how deeply and intimately you’ve known each other, is still largely uncharted territory. And it’s not all smooth sailing. Terra incognita often requires the sextant of …
CLAY: … negotiation! And unlike portrayals in TV sitcoms or Hollywood rom-coms, one person doesn’t win and the other loses. If it’s done right, both win.
JEAN: Tolstoy famously began “Anna Karenina” with the phrase “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” But I’m convinced he got it bassackwards. Each hard-won path to happiness seems unique. Along with our four happy — and very different — couples, we offer our own marriages into evidence. But do we all share common threads?
CLAY: I’d say it’s the big “c” word: commitment. It certainly transcends the fetching courtship stage. There’s something to be said for making a decision and sticking to it.
JEAN: Lest we sound smug, some credit also must be given to plain good luck. I mean — whoa — happily ever after, warts (or wrinkles) and all? It’s like drawing an inside straight. How ‘bout we finish with another joke?
CLAY: Fifty-two years ago, I walked into my college paper’s newsroom looking to do a story. I ended up meeting my future partner and creating a lifetime story. No joke!
JEAN: Happy Valentine’s Day to one and all.