Is Happily Ever After a Myth?

I spent my twenties chasing after “true love.”  I fell in love quickly and got swept away in the pink fog and passion.  The relationship would become all important, and I would lose myself in the process of melding into coupledom. I wanted love and commitment; most of the men I ended up with did not.  But I became addicted to the excitement, the passion, and the romantic high, and tended to cling to hope even after it became obvious that things were going nowhere.

I was a serial monogamist.  Barely recovered from the devastation of my latest break up, I repeatedly fell right back into another relationship, like an alcoholic falling off the wagon.  Each failed relationship left me reeling and disappointed, and wondering what was wrong with me.

As the end of my twenties loomed, I became somewhat obsessed with the gonging of my biological clock, and I was terrified that my dream of marriage and children would never come to fruition.

Two weeks after my 30th birthday, I had my first date with a guy my friend described as the “funniest guy she knew.”  She was right.  He was very funny, and we laughed our heads off through several dates.  I really enjoyed his company and friendship, but told my friend there just wasn’t any “bim bam boom” (her phrase for chemistry).

At some point, I decided maybe bim bam boom wasn’t what I needed.  Here was a guy who was nice, fun, and funny, and he seemed to like me a lot.  In fact, unlike other guys I had dated, he wanted to spend lots of time with me, and never left me wondering why he would rather be doing something with his friends than hanging out with me.  We were friends, and isn’t that what all the books say is important?  Your mate should be your best friend.  I had experienced plenty of passion, and every time it burned out in a blaze of glory, leaving me covered in ashes.  So I decided to go for it.  I convinced myself that he was the one.  And seven months later I married him.

We had our ups and downs.  We continued to share a lot of laughs.  We had two beautiful daughters, and we focused every bit of our love and energy on them.  I like to believe that we were good parents together.  There still wasn’t really any bim bam boom, but we had a wonderful family and that’s what I wanted to believe really mattered.

Until one day it wasn’t enough.  The girls were older and becoming more independent.  They didn’t need me every second of the day and night, and I could foresee a day when they would no longer be with me at all.  I started to feel myself emerging from the thick fog of 24/7 mothering and wondered who I was going to be when I was no longer first and foremost “Mommy.”

I knew for sure that I didn’t really feel like a complete woman.  I felt like “Mommy” had long ago left behind the ghost of the woman she had once been.  I didn’t feel beautiful; I didn’t feel sexy; I felt invisible.  And numb.  And realized I was not in love with my husband after all.

So, like many couples before us, and many couples after us, we divorced.  It was mostly amicable, and we both made it a priority to make it as easy as possible on the girls.

But as I look around at all my friends and acquaintances who have been married and divorced, some more than once or even twice, and I look at my other friends who are unhappy but stuck in lifeless marriages for various reasons, I have begun to wonder.

Is true, long-lasting love a myth?  Does happily-ever-after only happen in fairy tales?  Has our self-serving, pleasure-seeking culture out grown the idea of mating for life?  Can two people, who grow and change over decades, still be truly in love with the new person their mate has become, or are lasting marriages just marriages of inertia?  At some point is it just easier to stay together than to upset the apple cart with divorce, so happy or not, some couples stay together?

A year and a half ago I met a wonderful man at the gym.  He was watching me do some crazy plyometric exercises and said, “I wish I could do that, but I’m 93 years old.”    93 years old, and there, pumping iron, at the gym!  I was so impressed.  We chatted for a few minutes, and then he told me he’d been married to the same woman for 71 years.  “And she’s still beautiful!” he added, with a twinkle in his eye.

That impressed me even more than the fact that he was working out at the gym at 93 years old.  I felt a rush of something when he spoke so lovingly of his wife of 71 years–affection? jealousy?  hope?  wistfulness?  Maybe a little bit of all of those.  What a lucky woman to have a man still think she is beautiful after 71 years together.  How magical!  How rare!

About a month later, on a cold dark morning at the gym, we said our usual hellos, and commented on how cold and dark it was.   He smiled his adorable, sly smile, chuckled, and said, “I dragged myself out of a warm bed with a hot woman to come here this morning.”  And a few days after that, I commented to him that he was like a celebrity at the gym because everyone was so impressed that, at his age, he still comes and works out three mornings a week.  He replied, “I have a beautiful wife at home;  I’ve got to look good for her.”

I absolutely love this man!  I love that he is so positive and upbeat all the time, always smiling, always flirting, and still so obviously in love with his wife of (now) 72 years.

Today I had the pleasure of going to his house and interviewing him and his lovely wife, Dotti.  I told them that I woke up one morning and suddenly got the idea that I wanted to interview them, find out their secret to long and lasting love, and possibly share it with the world.  They graciously agreed.

They sat side by side on the couch, snuggled next to each other comfortably, sometimes holding hands, finishing each other’s sentences, and giggling together as they reminisced about their lives.

They shared many pearls of wisdom about life, love, and raising wonderful children, and you have to see the video to truly appreciate their obvious love.  Murrell is still quite taken by Dotti’s beauty, which gives hope to this middle-aged, freaking-out-about-getting-old 50 year old who often feels like only 18-year-old super models are considered beautiful in this culture.  At one point, after the taping was over, he confided, “It’s so great to wake up in the morning with a beautiful woman.  And then you want to get your hands on her!”  And during the video he happily boasted, “We’re both kind of passionate lovers, really, and it makes life pleasant.”

Murrell believes that people are too quick to jump ship in their marriages today, and that just about everything can be worked out if both people want to work at it.

So am I one of those who jumped ship too soon?

My ex-husband is a good guy.  He’s a kind man, a loving man, a great and involved dad, and a good “team mate.”  He remembered every anniversary, and always gave me a home-made card, in which he told me he was so lucky to have me on his team, or to have me as his team mate.

Occasionally I feel guilty about tossing away a 14-year marriage to such a good person.   But you know what?  I hate sports!  I never wanted to be on a team or be anyone’s team mate!  I wanted a husband who loved and adored me and made me feel beautiful and sexy.  I wanted bim bam boom!

I recently took a quiz in Oprah Magazine (there’s that magazine again!) entitled, “What Do You Really Need in a Relationship?”  It claims that research has shown that every couple must share at least three essential qualities to feel fulfilled in a partnership.  They call them the nonnegotiables, and the quiz is designed to help you understand your own “bedrock emotional needs.”  The categories identified in the quiz were companionship, spontaneity, emotional support, teamwork, communication, trust and intimacy, affirmation, and passion.  Of course, I want all of those things, but when I took the quiz, my number one need was passion!  Tied for second place were affirmation (being told I’m beautiful!) and companionship, with trust/intimacy and emotional support following close behind.  Teamwork lagged way behind.

Wow… did I ever get off track when I chose my “lifetime” partner.  He’s a great guy on paper, and hopefully a great match for his new wife.  But our marriage did not meet some of my most “bedrock emotional needs.”  Maybe I could have tried harder to make it work, but with those deep values missing at the very core, I don’t think I ever could have been truly happy.

I think that’s why I am so enamored with Murrell and his relationship with his wife.  He seems to epitomize passion, affirmation, and companionship (I don’t think I mentioned that he and Dotti go out to breakfast together every single morning, since 1987 when she informed him she was no longer going to make breakfast!).

We have definitely become a throw-away culture.  We no longer darn our ragged socks; we throw them away and buy new ones.  We “need” a new cell phone every two years, and even that can seem like an eternity when something newer and fancier comes out every few months.  Has our ability to keep something that is no longer new and fresh and shiny been so diminished that we aren’t even willing to work on our fraying marriage, but instead want to trade it for a newer, better model?

Maybe.  But I also believe that sometimes, in order to be true to our deepest selves, we have to admit we’ve made a mistake, and try to find someone who does meet our nonnegotiable, bedrock emotional needs.

Murrell and Dotti are lucky.  They found each other more than 72 years ago, and they seem as happy together as anyone I’ve ever met.  Murrell is a man who seems to intuitively understand what many women need and want.  One time I told him that I was sure Dotti appreciates him telling her every day that she is beautiful, and that she probably never gets tired of hearing it, because I know I don’t.  He chuckled and replied, “You ladies are all alike.”

But what I came away with today, after spending time with Dotti and Murrell, is a renewed hope that true love really does exist, at least for a lucky few.  And maybe it just takes some of us more tries than others to find it.



Click on the link below to see highlights from my video interview with Murrell and Dotti.  I promise, you are in for a real treat!

Murrell and Dotti HIghlights from Holly Dodson on Vimeo.


5 thoughts on “Is Happily Ever After a Myth?

  1. LOVE this. I think you hit the nail on the head. Those essential equalities are key as is the ability to grow and change together. Maybe, not all relationships are meant to be forever and those of us who are smart recognize it and move on just like you did.

  2. What a lovely, heartwarming story about a lovely couple. And how nice you were able to come away with renewed faith and the knowledge that deep, committed love really doe exist. Love, Mom

  3. I loved this, Holly! You did a beautiful job with expressing this issue, which so many people struggle with. It gives me hope too see such a lovely couple continue to live what we all want. Thank you!

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