In case you wondered, this picture doesn't show how I got Cathy to marry me -- though if it was, I'd never tell.
Saturday, Cathy and I went to the Desert Star Theater and saw a play entitled "Harry Poppins" about what might have happened if a disgruntled Harry Potter had been fired from the Ministry of Magic and forced to take a minimum wage job as a nanny in the muggle world in place of Mary Poppins -- with a couple of Star Wars references thrown in for good measure. It was not great literature but certainly great for some laughs. The Desert Star has a fun Old West - Vaudeville kind of atmosphere.
While the cast was changing costumes for their post-play Vaudeville show, the guy on stage called out "Jeff and Cathy" and recognized that we were there celebrating our third anniversary. He then had us dance to "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" in front of the entire audience. So it turned our date into a story -- which I'm sharing with you now.
The point of saying all of this is that having fun is a good thing. When you are dating, you build a relationship by having fun together. Often people get married and the fun somehow becomes a luxury they can't afford anymore -- in terms of time and money. They have sex a lot at first but it tapers off to almost nothing in some marriages. Many seem to be able to fill the day with tasks until the moment their head hits the pillow at night. I don't need to go on. Many of you have lived it and you already know.
I grew up in a family where my parents were pretty serious people. Life was about hard work and you could have a little fun when the work was done -- but not too much. (When is the work ever "done"?) Even when we had fun, they had a way of turning it into work. For example, when we went skiing, our dad would say "Hey let's all watch each other ski and and give each other pointers." Kind of takes the fun out of it huh? (I think he secretly wanted to show off his skiing skills.)
It's interesting though. My dad has a brother who was always totally fun-motivated. He was a ski bum for a year during college, and in his 60s is still a great skier. He's spent several years on the ski patrol at their local resort. Despite being only 5 ft 5 in tall, he played college football, returning punts and as a kicker. Once when he was on his mission, he had the opportunity to walk out onto a high school football field in his suit in Alaska and kick a 50-yard field goal in his dress shoes. (He made it too!)
My uncle picked his profession (teaching and coaching) because he thought it would be fun. He is retiring this year after more than 40 years as an elementary school teacher and high school basketball, football, and track coach. He was once National Coach of the Year in basketball. He won 10 state championships in basketball and several more in the other sports. He is in the Hall of Fame. He's touched thousands of lives with his teaching. He taught and coached all of his own kids as they moved up through the school system. One of his former athletes is now his boss -- as principal of the school where he teaches.
Contrary to the teachings of my childhood, my uncle's orientation toward fun did not make him a bum lying around on the couch unemployed and playing video games. He became highly successful because he did something for his career that he thought would be fun for him. While he was living this life, he went to the NCAA track championships every year. I know that raising eight kids on a teacher's salary can't have been easy for him and his wife. But they figured things out together. They grew a huge garden every year and ate from it for much of the year. They have a greenhouse and can grow fresh produce year round. I know they found a lot of other creative ways to save money. Of course they found ways to make it all fun. His wife ran marathons and is one of the most fit 60 somethings I know.
My point in all of this is that having fun builds relationships. You can have a meaningful life and still make it fun. You can even do this as a single parent. Sometimes, I'm afraid that mid-singles go through so much trauma that life can become all about bills and keeping body and soul together. A lot of people who might like to date tell themselves they don't have the time -- when a little adult company might be just what the doctor ordered and the thing that would help them be an even better parent.
I know many mid-singles have made intentional decisions to make life more fun. My cousin, Cynthia (a member of our "Love in Later Years" Facebook group and mid-single) went from being an active wrestling parent to coaching. (She is also a teacher like our uncle.) She has a blast going to tournaments with her kids. Cynthia and I both knew our Great Grandpa Brady who was one of the most positive people I've ever met. But when our Aunt asked him what he would do different if he could live life again, he said to her in his 90s that he would have had more fun. He had that pioneer work ethic in spades too.
My challenge to you is to have fun. Intentionally think about how to make everything you do more fun. And take time away from all that productivity to just focus on your loved ones and do something enjoyable together.
I hear a lot of mid-singles say "I hate dating." Of course you're going to hate dating if 90% of your thoughts about it involve being rejected, getting your heart broken, investing in someone who is a "player," etc. But let's imagine just for a minute that you approach dating as an opportunity to have fun. Think of it as a chance to get to know interesting people and do fun things with them. Leave the question of whether they are the one you want to marry until you've known them a little longer. At first focus on having fun and getting to know somebody. I think, if you do that, the larger questions will start to take care of themselves after a while. Our desire to know the end from the beginning and not "waste time" puts a lot of pressure on a new relationship. When I think about my mid-single years, I dated a lot of people and I consider very few of them a "waste of time." They all taught me valuable things and added to my happiness temporarily. Some of them are still friends to Cathy and me. With almost all, I can look back and remember fun times. If you look back on all of your dating relationships and see nothing but drama, maybe it is time for a change in perspective -- which begins with a change in your thoughts about dating.
If you remember nothing else from this essay remember this: Having fun is not a waste of time.
ABOUT GRATITUDE. Yesterday Cathy
and I went to lunch as part of celebrating our third anniversary. I remarked to her that one of the advantages of being a divorcee is that I take our marriage less for granted.
I got married the first time when I was 26 years old. We had a child 11 months later. To some degree, I was going through the motions of what American Latter-day Saints do. I graduated from high school, served a mission, went to college, and got married when I was in graduate school. It's kind of the life plan we all expect to follow. I loved my first wife and my family, but I think I kind of just expected it would always be there for me. I took it too much for granted. Perhaps I thought what I was doing and the way I was living was just normal. But normal isn't special.
Having a lengthy marriage and then getting divorced woke me up to the fact that we are not simply entitled to marriage. Our spouses ALWAYS have choices. Even if you feel really solid with someone, that is partly a result of their devotion and conscious choice to be with you. That is a great blessing and a high honor. We should really never take it for granted. We should celebrate it every day, and not just on anniversaries.
Cathy and I dated for a good chunk of 2016 and were "just friends" for all of 2017. At the end of that year (literally the last day of the year) I wrote her a letter and asked her to date me for marriage. I didn't know it at the time, but she was dating two good men, who both had serious intentions, and trying to decide between them. So I complicated her life. Even with the great options she had and even though we had stopped dating a year prior, Cathy chose me. I don't take that for granted. She could have chosen otherwise. So I consider it a great blessing that she chose me.
Before I even met Cathy, I learned that we can only enjoy something to the extent that we are grateful for it. Our enjoyment is directly proportional to our gratitude. I enjoy my marriage and the love that we share so much because I am deeply grateful for it. I am grateful for another chance at life and happiness in marriage. I am grateful for someone to love everyday in a special way. I am grateful for the kind of family life that I once took for granted as being "just normal." Because I feel abundantly blessed, I feel abundantly happy. That is the secret my friends.
Be grateful for what you have. Be happy for others when good things happen to them. Be enthusiastic and embrace your life for its possibilities. Life is not merely to be endured. It is to be lived. So take chances, have adventures, love deeply, and live it well.
17th century English poet Robert Herrick penned these immortal words about a very mortal subject:
Gather ye rose-buds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.
The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.
That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.
Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry;
For having lost but once your prime,
You may forever tarry.
(Robert Herrick,To the Virgins to Make Much of Time.) One of the great advantages of middle-age is that you are old enough to know but young enough to do. The great disadvantage of middle-age is being painfully aware of how fleeting it is. Childhood felt like one eternal summer. Youth passed more quickly but still seemed to go on for a good long while. Middle age snuck up on me. I don't believe there was one day when I woke up and just realized, "Okay, I am no longer a young man. I am now middle-aged."
So what rosebuds will you gather while you still have time? What kind of memories will you make with your children if you have them? What contribution will you make to the world?
Will you follow Herrick's advice, "Then be not coy, but use your time, And while ye may, go marry"? (I think a lot of us are pretty "coy" when the subject of marriage arises. Nothing makes a middle aged single feel more vulnerable.) When Cathy and I were married I was 50 years old -- which is three years younger than I am now. I don't lament that I didn't meet her when I was a newly returned missionary. (She was only 9 anyway.) I am glad that we have an eternity because we started a little late. With an eternal perspective, starting at 50 isn't much different from 21.
On the other hand, however old you are today, you are younger than you will ever be again. It is ok if you went through some trauma and don't feel ready to get married yet -- as long as you know what you want long-term, and don't become complacent about it.
We started Love in Later Years in part to encourage you to live the second half of your life with more enthusiasm than the first half. We want you to rediscover the belief that marriage and family life can be joyful and rewarding. So take that trip to Disneyland with your kids, take those art classes you always wanted to take when it never seemed practical, get that college degree, start that business, and pluck up the courage to ask that beautiful or handsome friend to have dinner with you.
We often talk about the trials that inevitably come in every human life. But life is to be lived, not merely endured. So gather your rosebuds and live it well.