The Warmest Chord: Ten Things I Know About Marriage

I grew up in an era when Joni Mitchell’s declaration that “we don’t need no piece of paper from the city hall” seemed just about right, and the very idea of eschewing the shackles of conventional marriage was thrilling to us wild children of the times. Who needed contracts and rules and vows and all that other restrictive, limiting nonsense when we were so freeeeeee? And after all, if you managed to stay together without the bonds of marriage, wasn’t that even more of a testament to how truly committed you were? Love…that’s all we needed to keep away our lonesome blues.

But we did, didn’t we? We ultimately got married. Some of us older than younger, but we got married despite lyrics to the contrary. Which compels the question: why? It’s a fair question. In the last many decades since that heady time of sexual freedom, we’ve become a society of multiple divorces and cyclical re-marriages. We keep getting married despite apparent cluelessness on the topic but, frankly, it doesn’t seem that marriage has all that much to do with whether or not people stay together. Maybe Joni was on to something.

Marriage is on odd institution, oft-times just the fantasy idea, the romance dream of white gowns and handsome princes, frothy hoopla, large tiered cakes and even larger bills for the various parental units involved. Weddings can run the gamut from authentic celebrations of love and commitment, right up to the overpriced free-for-alls that set Pops back a second mortgage and conclude with the bride vomiting on the honeymoon duvet while the groom counts big bucks earned during the obligatory “money dance” set to the slightly hackneyed Al Green chestnut, “Let’s Stay Together.” Cynical, perhaps, but let’s face it, while I’ve seen and participated in some amazing ones (and you know who you are!), weddings have become an industry, and sometimes the whole “why we get married” part of the equation gets lost in the hullabaloo.

Me… I eloped. My old man and I went out and got ourselves a piece of paper from the city hall,  21 years of keeping’ away the blues. Well… there have been some blues, some kick-ass blues, actually, but still… we’re here. Amazingly, still here. Happy Anniversary to us.

And what have I learned in these last 21 years? What great kernels of wit and wisdom can I pass along as one of the wise old-marrieds?

Truth is, whatever wisdom I might have to offer, there are plenty of others who’ve had completely different experiences and will likely be far wiser than I. My marriage has been less a long and winding road than a roller coaster ride, so odds are I may have a remedy for motion sickness that won’t apply to those who’ve managed to avoid the bump and teeth-grind along the way. Or maybe it will; maybe every long marriage has its own wild rhythms that require deep breaths and even deeper soul searching regardless of the particulars. So to the question, what do I know? Only my own experience. And on this day of my 21st anniversary, allow me to put my very uncultured pearls into list form as a nod to this day and the man I chose in the grand institution of marriage:

P&L_Country1. Make sure you fall in love with someone who can ultimately be your friend. By your 21st year that friend will likely mean more to you than any lover ever could. And if you’re lucky enough to still have a buzz with each other at that point, you’ll be fully aware that six-pack abs, a full head of hair and the chiseled jaw of youth are all quite fabulous and chemistry-inducing as a starting point, but ultimately can’t shake a stick at that friend who knows all your physical and emotional sweet spots and loves you despite the outward lessening of your previously-held vixen status.

2. Make sure you marry someone who can be a good mate. Very different criteria than a good boyfriend/girlfriend/lover. It requires things like stellar work ethic (a good job and the wherewithal to keep it), admirable responsibility (like a solid sense of the point and purpose of saving money), age-appropriate skills (can pack own bag and knows how to run the dishwasher), initiative powers (able to plan a trip or wrangle a loan officer). The list goes on. You get the idea.

3. Don’t marry a boy-man or girl-woman. While you may want to raise a child at some point, you don’t ever want to raise a mate.

4. And if there is a plan for children, discuss ad nauseum prior to sending out “save the dates.” Make sure you’re not only on the same page, but the same paragraph, sentence, and word. Ascertain potential partner’s aptitude for managing all aspects of small, irascible human beings. Decide early on exactly how many (open for later discussion, but still decide), and be very receptive to stupid, trendy names brought to the table to argue over and hide from the family.

5. Be a metaphoric animal tamer and get every freakin’ elephant out into the middle of the living room to have at ’em. Discuss and clarify politics, sex, religion, race, family of origin, morality, mortality, gender politics, parenting philosophies; who expects what from whom on any given matter. Get the old boyfriend/girlfriend confessions out of the way (ALL of them), make sure you agree on how much to share on Facebook, and if there is a YouTube video floating around that bears some explaining, do it now (didn’t apply to us but, oh, I’ve heard some stories…!).

6. Be very clear that the most important and essential emotions on the table are— and will always be—love, empathy, joy, and compassion. Although fear of heights and strange aversions to disposable razors do bear some consideration.

7. Honor and integrity are non-negotiable, self-health habits a must, addictive behaviors are deal-breakers (unless the habit is Pinkberry or those amazing coconut shrimp at Pho Tien Long).

8. Have an unassailable sense of humor about pretty much everything. If you had a silly character who won your mate’s heart during the early days of hot sex and easy laughter, make sure that character sticks around for the less whimsical years when a good laugh can save the day. These characters, like you, only get better with age.

9. Speaking of age, LOVE the aging process your mate is/will be going through, presuming you get to 21 years. It can be a brutal and self-negating process and there is nothing quite like looking at your partner on a day when he or she is feeling particularly heinous and saying, “you still look amazing to me.” Because if you followed Items 1-8, I guarantee, they will still look amazing to you.

10. If you do have the misfortune of falling in love with someone to whom Items 1-9 don’t apply, have loads of fun for as long as it lasts, but DON’T marry them.

Beyond these ten, I think we marry and stay married to the person we do mostly because we cannot imagine life without them. Because no matter what accidents happen, what brain injuries occur, careers sputter, asses widen, money eludes, or disappointments pile up, that person is the one you want to endure with. Fight the good fight with. Wake up to in the morning even after a night of sorrow and confusion. They give you a sense of place, of foundation, of home. The “institution” that marriage speaks of is real and tangible to you because being married to this person feels like something concrete and physical, a place you want to live. Because however love may change after 21 years, the way it reinvents itself in each new moment feels as urgent and powerful as the first heady incarnation. That’s why.

And since I started with Joni, let me end with her….”He’s the warmest chord I ever heard.”

That’s why I’m still married to my particular old man. Items 1 – 9 and he is, and has always been, the warmest chord I ever heard.

Wishing you all one as warm.

l__p_in_loveHappy Anniversary, Pete.

 Lyrics from Joni Mitchell’s My Old Man.

Photo of Joni Mitchell @ Wikimedia Commons
All other photos courtesy of Lorraine Devon Wilke 

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Visit for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

26 thoughts on “The Warmest Chord: Ten Things I Know About Marriage

  1. Lane Aldridge

    Simply perfect advice, Lorraine. And beyond that, it’s probably the most beautiful love letter I’ve ever read. Happy Anniversary to you and Pete.


  2. What a wonderful way you’ve shared advice that everyone should heed. I wish someone would’ve mentioned all of those things to me before my own two marriages. Glad to know there are two happy people out there who appear to have gotten it right! Congrats to you both.



    1. LDW

      Thank you, Mr. D! The only thing I can say is I waited till I was much older than some of our newly marrieds and in that time sorted some stuff out. A testament to later marriage? Maybe. Or just smarter ones? Either way, thank you for your good wishes. I’m delighted to have them! LDW P.S. You’re not so grumpy….! 🙂


  3. joane

    Some really good, heartfelt points. Everyone should consider your “list” before they even think of walking down the aisle. I have a feeling we’d have fewer divorces! Thanks.


  4. Jenn D

    Really nice, sweet piece. You are lucky to have found such a good relationship. Me, not so much. But maybe I need to be better about following your list! Funny but true. Thanks. JD


    1. LDW

      Thanks, Jenn. I think relationships are hard for most of us. It took me a long time to get it right (and sometimes it’s still a challenge!) so don’t be too hard on yourself! Keep trying and if the list helps, yes, give it a whirl…it might shift some thinking for you. I wish you the best and thanks for your comment. LDW


  5. Johnny Rathman

    that is great post. Really touching. I really like this entire website a lot. Great articles on interesting topics. I’ll be back soon. All the information is excellent. Thanks.


  6. Joan Schallhorn

    Good Day! I just want to thank you for this post. ! think that your works are quite interesting: funny, warm and informative, this one in particular. Thanks for nice blog! Keep safe.


  7. Araceli R

    Hello, My partner and I genuinely were moved by this story, a really good article on what makes a marriage work. I look forward to more, thank you.


    1. LDW

      Araceli: Thanks for your comment….if any of my perspective rings true for you and your partner, great. It’s all about being clear about what we really want and making sure we choose people who share the vision with us. Not always easy (as my earlier, less successful relationship would testify to!:), but worth the selectiveness in the long run. Best to you and thanks for the comment! LDW


  8. merranda K

    I just found all of your web site via google.The article is definitely pertinent to my life at present, since I’m in the midst of an engagement period. I’m pretty sure this is the guy, but boy, I have to think about this list of yours and see if I’m really being smart about this. So far so good but we haven’t gotten to the elephants I don’t think! But I’m actually glad I happened upon this webpage. Food for thought.


    1. LDW

      Merranda: Good for you for being open about the exploration, even at this stage of the game! That kind of honestly will ultimately work in your favor whatever way you end up going. I hope all elephants you drag out into the open will only clear the air and lead to a great big happy ending for you! Thank you for reading and best of luck in your engagement….LDW


  9. CM

    Thank you for the good article. As I supervise the bridal shower of my cousin and watch all the craziness going on with not a lot of discussion about what the point is to all this, I wonder if they’ll last long enough to eat the top of the cake. I forwarded this on to her. Hope she gets the point.


    1. LDW

      Berle: #5 is a pretty amazing one. I learned that one the hard way – by NOT applying too many times in my earlier life. This last time around? Made sure we took it all the way out! Best to you and thanks for your comment. LDW


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