I’ve been summoned to give wedding advice. Well, I along with 156 other wedding guests. Two of my friends are marrying each other in Upstate New York. And while they’ve known each other since their Hebrew School days they’ve only begun dating as adults. It’s all very sweet and loving and good.
This week they sent out an email to their wedding guests letting us know about a Quaker tradition that will be incorporated into their Jewish wedding: Before the blessing of the rings, guests will be able to offer well-wishes and advice to this couple, based on the religious tradition of “witnessing.”
I want to be a part of this ritual. But as an unmarried person I felt that any advice I could offer would be tempered by my marital status. After all, isn’t the best part of advice that it comes from someone else’s lived experiences?
So I called up my mom, who’s been married for 41 years, four months and three days (but who’s counting?) for a bit of wisdom I could pass along to my friends.
But before I tell you what she said, please consider this: My mother is the Advice Maven. She doles it out whether it’s solicited, unsolicited and anything in between. But when I asked her about what words she might have for my friends, she was uncharacteristically mute.
“I’ll have to think about it,” she said.
I didn’t ask for the reason behind her hesitancy but I’ve encountered that sometimes there’s a “code of silence” when it comes to marriage. Sure it’s easy to gripe about the marital institution but it’s a lot harder dishing out heartfelt, genuine advice. That’s why I’m looking forward to this sharing circle, and even more why I wanted to hear what my mother, with her 41 years, four months and three days worth of marriage experience, had to say.
And then her golden tongue returned: “Accept all of his foibles. You can’t change them and they’re just part of his personality,” my mom said in a rush.
It sounded deceptively simple. It sounded obvious. And it sounded hard.
The next day I spoke to my dad. I wanted to know how he’s lived with my mother’s foibles for more than four decades.
“Accept the whole package,” my father said. When your spouse’s little annoyances become big annoyances, remember that it’s all part of what makes this person who he or she is.
When I reflect on my parents’ advice, it sounds like they’re saying people should ease up on the impulse to control their partner. And that folks should put the kibosh on the nudging and the nagging. I will happily deliver this message to the couple this weekend. It sounds to me like it’s advice worth heeding. But, as my father added, it may take a bit — okay, a lot — of teeth gritting along the way.
Hinda Mandell is a writer living in Syracuse, N.Y.