Friday, August 31, 2012

What Makes a Successful Marriage

 Today's Geezer: Alan Zendell

Are you one of the half-million Americans who know what happened on August 26, 1965?  If you’re reading this, you’re old enough to remember.
At 5:00 pm eastern time, with our involvement in Vietnam growing at an alarming rate, President Lyndon Johnson announced that every man eligible for the draft lottery who was unmarried at the end of that day would have a draft status of 1-A.  Not coincidentally, my wife and I were married four hours later.  About a quarter million other couples did the same thing. 
Last Sunday was our forty-seventh anniversary, in case you were wondering. 
You might ask whether that was a good reason to get married, and you wouldn’t be the only one.  Some people were still asking on August 26, 2000.  A lot of statistics were generated in honor of the new millennium, among which were the results of a study done by one of the major news networks.  I wish I could remember which one, but then, there are a lot of things I wish I could remember.
A producer who was also married on that day convinced the network to let her put together a special report.  She contacted over a thousand couples on what would have been their thirty-fifth anniversaries to find out how things had worked out.  The network gave her a full hour of airtime.
There are many ways to measure success in marriage, or lack of it.  The most obvious is the divorce rate, but people also look at the health and longevity of both spouses, their standard of living, how many children they have, how well they do in school, and so on.  I’d be the first to admit that you can’t measure the quality of a marriage with statistics, but nonetheless, the results of the study were startling.
By every measure available, couples married on August 26, 1965 have had happier, healthier, longer marriages than other Americans, despite the fact that during the period 1975-1990, the divorce rate in the United States was higher than at any other time in our history.
There are a lot of reasons people marry.  We like to think that most people marry for love, but the reality is that people also marry for money and security, because of an unintended pregnancy, or because they’re tired of being alone.  Many marriages are arranged and others are simply for convenience.  But conventional wisdom has always maintained that the decision to marry should never be impulsive. 
How, then, can we explain why marriages triggered by an event like the President’s speech that day were so successful?  There’s no doubt that the sample size was significant. 
When the people presenting the results were asked, they said they didn’t really know.  They talked about how difficult it is to have a successful marriage, and how important it is that couples be compatible before they embark on a life together.  We tend to think of compatibility in terms of age, religion, race, income status, education level, attractiveness, and similarity of likes and dislikes. 
I have my own theory.  I think the success of the quarter million couples who impulsively married on August 26, 1965 demonstrates that opposition to a politically unpopular war and a desire to avoid life in a snake-infested jungle halfway around the world is as good a basis for a successful marriage as any other.
By the way, I’d have married her anyway, and I’m very glad I did.

Alan spent more than thirty years as a scientist, aerospace engineer, software consultant, database developer, and government analyst, writing really boring stuff like proposals, technical papers, reports, business letters, and policy memoranda.  But trapped inside him all that time were stories that needed telling and ideas that needed expression, so with encouragement and cajoling from a loving baby sister he plunged into fiction.
Since then, he has written mostly science and extrapolative fiction, the genre he loved since he was nine.  But his stories are about more than aliens and technical marvels.  He creates strong, three-dimensional characters a reader can care about, because it’s people and the way they live and love that are important.  It’s the things they believe in and how much they’re willing to invest to preserve them that make a story worth telling.  It’s convincing interactions and well-researched credible plots that make a story worth reading.And, of course, like any writer, Alan loves having an audience.

Alan's books may be found at



Jenny McLeod Carlisle said...

Great story about an event during my lifetime that I was not aware of. "Why Not?" is sometimes a very good reason to marry. When you're young and in love and up for an adventure, it can work. It's the committment after saying "I Do" that makes it last.

alan said...

Very true, Jenny. Did I neglect to say that I loved her? I'd better correct that right now. I still do.

Toby Devens said...

There are worse reasons to marry and--from the divorce rate in the U.S.--too many are driven by less idealistic forces. Congrats on your long, successful union. BTW, I read and thoroughly enjoyed The Portal.

alan said...

Thanks, Toby.