Jill and Mike. "I know he really wants to keep our marriage together."
Let's start off on a nice bleak note.
The standard line these days is that one out of every two marriages ends in divorce. Given those odds and the trauma of pulling the threads of your life free of the marital tapestry, why would any woman marry? Even if the couple hangs on and guts it out, lousy husbands and dysfunctional families have become commonplace, an almost expected tragedy. And yet, brides still dream of a glorious wedding. People still smile and say, "Congratulations!" The institution soldiers on despite the decimation of its ranks. Why? Polls and surveys and social-science books aside, what do women think about marriage?
Natalie and Tom. "My mother believed, as a Catholic, that they should be together forever, and if things had been a little smoother, she would have stayed married to my dad."
The following roundtable interview never actually took place. It is a compilation of six separate interviews with women who were engaged to be married between last summer and next. Some questions were added to certain interviews to account for common themes.
The brides, in order of appearance:
Jill Solomon, 24, sometime model and basis for the character Gaijin in the Image comic Immortal Two. Husband Mike, 25, is creator/writer/artist for Immortal Two. They were married July 5 at Old Temple Beth Israel in Heritage Park. She is a Messianic Jew, he is Christian. ("We were going to have a Jewish-Japanese wedding," she laughs, "but we decided my fiancé would look funny in a kimono and me in a regular wedding dress with a yarmulke.") Jill is slighter than her comic-book counterpart. Her long dark hair contrasts with her blue eyes, which are often lost in a smile that crinkles them into obscurity. Though she is close in age to several of the other brides, she seems younger, more carefree.
Jennifer and Greg. "I just can't imagine being with anybody but him."
Trini Yeager, 38, vice president of Direct Check, Inc. She's married to Sheldon, a former employee in a previous business, now president and equal partner at Direct Check. They were wed July 27 at the Aviara Golf Club at La Costa's Four Seasons Hotel. They are both Christian. Trini is a very composed woman; her movements are elegant and measured, her clothes are muted and tasteful, her makeup and hair are carefully placed. She is earnest, and her large eyes rarely leave mine during our conversation, in which her answers are as measured as her movements.
Natalie Aguirre, 29, a retailer at a local mall. Husband Tom, 29, works as a laser technician. They were married on May 31 at Ballast Point in Point Loma. She was raised Catholic but says, "I don't live it." Tom "would like to think of himself as being more Catholic than me, but we've lived together for five years." Born to a German mother and a Mexican father, one can see the influences of both. Her features are strong and her complexion is fair, but her hair is heavy and dark. Where Trini is earnest, Natalie is frank. Though she does not know me, she is at ease, matter-of-fact in telling about her parents' difficult marriage.
Jennifer Brookins, 25, substitute teacher. She married Greg, 27, an SDSU student who works at Target. They were wed October 11 at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Pacific Beach. She describes herself as "not terribly religious" and doesn't think "religion is going to play all that pivotal a role in the marriage." Her long blond hair frames a face that is open and untroubled; a one-word first impression would be "friendly."
Sarah Gisla, 24, teacher at a small Catholic school in San Marcos. She is engaged to Jeremy, 29, who "works with computers." They will be married next summer at St. Mary's Church in Sacramento. They are both Catholic. She has longish brown hair, soft brown eyes, and coffee-with-lots-of-cream skin. She is a friend, so I notice her changes of expression - from kitted-brow thoughtfulness to wide-eyed reminiscence - more than the others. Because she is a friend, she talks to me like one, though at times she tries to assume a formal interview distance.
Lillie Lovorn, 24, just certified to teach K-6. Her husband Rick, 24, is an account coordinator for a New York City ad agency. They were married July 26 at the Torrey Pines Christian Church in La Jolla. "My family has been raised Presbyterian, but same difference. I don't really keep much track," she says. When we meet, Lillie 's clothes are relaxed, but her intensity can be seen in the way she holds herself and in thoughts such as, "If you really want to get where you want to be, you're always working. It's always a challenge, and you're always conquering the next step. What can you do to get further in life, what can you do to develop yourself better - that kind of thing."
Matthew: By today's odds, three of your marriages aren't going to make it. What are your thoughts on divorce?
Jill: Today everybody's getting divorced. We don't believe in divorce. We believe in staying together. And then, being Christian, you think of staying together. You work it out. Mike's parents got divorced back when he was younger, and it affected him. I look at that, and I know he really wants to keep our marriage together from going through that. I've always believed in getting married once, and that's it.
Trini: I've been married before. This is actually going to be my third marriage. The first time I got married, I was 19. I thought "Well I'm in love; I really love this person." Some very unfortunate things happened in that marriage. I was married nine years. It ended due to an affair - he was having an affair. He also did not have a belief in God, which I did. It was something I had a continual emotional tug of war with. So I divorced him.
Matthew: You had two sons from that marriage. Did that influence your decision to remarry?
Trini: Yes. The second time I jumped in very quickly because I wanted to be a family. I met someone who was very deceiving about who he was and his intentions, not only on a business level, but on a personal level. He was a business partner and husband - very dishonest, zero integrity. Immediately after we were married, the real person began to surface. That was a very short marriage, just over a year. It was definitely a mistake on my part - I'm not saying it was all him. But that is why I remarried, because of the children, and that's totally wrong.
I've always felt that [marriage] is a lifelong commitment, but in the event that you're with somebody that doesn't have those same beliefs or is abusive, then you have to come to a certain point in your life where you draw the line and say, "I won't be disrespected anymore." My views have always been the same and that may sound contradictory, because I've been married two times before, but there are some reasons that are a little deeper. I do believe that it is lifelong. I don't think anybody should go into it with the idea of a prenuptial agreement - I think that's presetting yourself for divorce down the road. I don't think anybody should go into it thinking "If it doesn't work out, I can always get divorced."
Natalie: I think anything's possible. I think people who go into marriage thinking divorce is impossible in their marriage.... I think it's honest to think that, but maybe those might be the people who take their spouse for granted, because they think that now they own them. When my parents finally divorced in 1984 - my brother and I were teenagers - we prodded my mother to do it. My dad worked in L.A. and they had a very bad commuter marriage. It was seven years of that, from the time I was 10 until I was 17. By that time, we were used to not having him around, and fights were horrible - they were horrible. Very verbally abusive and cruel. We were, like, "Just do it!" In her heart, [my mother] believed, as a Catholic, that they should be together forever, and if things had been a little smoother, she would have stayed married to him, even though it was bad.
Me, on the other hand, I would not stay in a bad marriage. Do I think we're going to be together forever? Yes, I think that we have a marriage that will last. But if he were to win the lottery tomorrow and turn into a freak and start running around town and stuff like that, I wouldn't stay with him. Why should I? I only live once. Or if I were to turn into some kind of evil person, I would hope that he would leave me. I wouldn't expect him to put up with that. But I don't expect - and most people, I guess, don't expect - the bad things to happen.
Jennifer: I don't ever want it to happen, don't want to have to go through that. It just seems like it would be so unbelievably difficult. I think that it would just be such a lifestyle-wrenching experience. I hope it never happens, and right now, I can't imagine it happening. I'm sure most people that are about to get married can't either. [If you could], you would have to stop and think. It's probably one of my worst fears, and I'm pretty sure it's going to be an unrealized fear. I'm not worried about it at all. I think we both have the same stick-to-itiveness. I don't know if it's just where we came from or what. But yeah, it's scary.
Sarah: Divorce is never an option, unless you're being physically abused or if it's for the sake of your child's physical protection. Then I would say a divorce is necessary, and an annulment would probably be in store. You hope that when two people end up making that decision to get married that they both realize that this is for life. I think if you go into marriage thinking anything other than that, with the different challenges marriage comes with, you're inevitably going to end up getting a divorce. I think it's important to go in with the mindset that you're making this commitment for life to a person you're going to hold hands with for the rest of your life.
Lillie: I know that I'll never be divorced. You can ask any of my friends or any of his friends, and they'll tell you the same thing. I think it's because we both hold such strong morals and standards for ourselves and for the two of us being together. I don't think a lot of people have that kind of faith in marriage anymore. There's divorce everywhere. You literally have to ask these days, "Are your parents together, or are they divorced?" You can't just assume. Kids in my class, half of them are from divorced families. I think a lot of my beliefs come from my family. There are maybe two divorces in my entire family on my mom's side, and on my dad's side, in his immediate family, there's one. It's not in my family. We have huge family reunions, and everybody comes to those. It surrounded me, and that's just how I am.
Rick's parents are divorced. He was raised by his mom and his sister and his aunt. He's had a different kind of growing up, but he still has the same faith that I do. I think that's what keeps us together and keeps us strong, just knowing. Some people go into marriage saying, "You never know what happens; well, you never know...you never know," and it's like, why are you going into marriage with that kind of attitude? If you never know, and if you're not sure now, don't get married. I don't think you should be married. Just save yourself a lot of hassle, save your partner a lot of hassle, and save your kids a lot of hassle.
Matthew: From the sound of it, none of you think you're going to break up. What makes you think you can buck the percentages?
Jill: I just feel like we're so much in love. I don't really see too many couples around that are like that, so I think ours might be different - more in love.
Jennifer: We were talking about this the other day. All the people in our lives who are married have wonderful marriages. His parents are still together. My mom passed away three years ago, but up until then, my parents were still together. All of our family and friends tend to be that way. It's always been a given for both of us. I guess that makes us the exception to the rule. I can only think of one or two couples we know who are divorced.
Natalie: We wrote our minister a list of the things we wanted mentioned - open communication, friendship, trust, and respect - a lot of the things that we didn't see as children. I think it was interesting, because as I was writing the vow papers with tome, I just kept noticing that everything that was on it was something that was not in my parents' marriage. You see what you don't want. I think that's a bigger factor than seeing what you do want, because I think you do see more bad than you do good out there in marriages.
Matthew: But you must see something you do want in Tom.
Natalie: He has a healthy respect for women. He likes women. I think that's really important - at least, it was for me. My mother told me when I was very young to never go out with a man who didn't like his mother. I don't mean a mama's boy, but a man who likes his mother. I am marrying a man who holds his mother on a very high pedestal, who believes in motherhood, the sanctity of that. I think a lot of that comes from the religious side, because he was all Catholic schools the whole way.
So when we moved in together, it was absolutely fabulous. We cook together, we clean together, he does his own laundry because he doesn't like the way I do laundry. When you meet someone you're really compatible with, it's really hard to describe it. It just kind of clicks, and you mesh in together, and it works out very well.
Trini: I've been a Christian for 13 years, and I truly believe you need time to get to know someone - you need to know the heart. Once you find out who they are, heart and soul, you have a stronger chance of knowing if you're compatible. We have known each other going on four years. You cannot look at anything objectively when you are intimately involved. It's impossible. You will not know the true heart and soul of the person you are thinking about marrying. I hope this can be conveyed to young ladies who are living with a man. In the back of their mind, they feel like they know it's wrong. They know that it's wrong until you are married, and so this little thing inside them makes them slightly resent the man, because he's not respecting her. Even though she's allowing herself not to be respected.
In the beginning of our relationship, we were intimate and I did not respect Sheldon, because I was compromising my beliefs for him. I finally went to Sheldon, and I said, "I can't do this anymore, Sheldon. I'm sorry. I love you. If you can't deal with this, then maybe we're not right for each other." So, even if I had a slight question in my mind that maybe he's not the right one - which everybody does, if we're honest - by us not being intimate, and him respecting that, I knew. That cinched it for me because he respected me enough that he would wait until I was his wife.
Matthew: Does anybody else think there's a connection between living together before marriage and staying together afterwards?
Jill: Since we're Christian, we want to be married. We just felt so bad living together and not being married. Mike wasn't Christian. Then he became a Christian, and it started bothering him a lot; it wasn't a secure feeling. Before getting married, we kind of did a vow before God. That's most important for us. I think the love keeps growing because we're so spiritual, and I think that's what keeps us together more.
Sarah: Before you get married, I think it's important to know that the love you have for that person is a pure love. If you're living together, you're not able to establish the kind of relationship that's necessary in a marriage, and that is a friendship. This is looking at it from a human perspective, not necessarily a religious perspective, but if you just jump to intimacy, I think it doesn't allow you to go through the process of truly getting to know that person in a completely pure way. You're not so sure that the person loves you for who you are; at that rate, the person could just love you for the sake of sleeping with you.
I think it's a beautiful thing to get to know someone in a romantic relationship without sleeping with them, because you know it's not their only reason for being with you, for loving you. They love you for something deeper than that. Then after you get married, when you're united in body also, it completes the process - it's just the next thing to give.
Matthew: How about you, Lillie? Why do you think you'll make it, and what about living together?
Lillie: I think a lot of people rush into marriage. I don't think they've really stepped back and said, "I really want to be here." They kind of think, "This is where I'm supposed to be." I think our society still sets standards for us - at a certain age, this is how you're supposed to establish a career, then you're supposed to find somebody. Not everybody's fit for that.
I don't take marriage lightly. This is a commitment; this is us being together and building our life. Not him building his life and me building my life. Even though we need to be individuals, we do it together.
I think that our generation, being a younger generation, sees [living together] as normal, where it wasn't normal at one point in time. It became okay. It used to be [shocked voice] "Oh, so and so is living together," and today it's everywhere. You can't escape it. and the next generation, I think, is going to be even worse.
Matthew: Worse? So you think it's a bad thing?
Lillie: Most of my friends' [parents] are still married, but the kids that I see now, the marriages aren't there. There's nothing for them to mold themselves after. I think there's been a decay. You need a moral system for building a marriage or a relationship between two people, and when there's no role models, what do you have to go by? You don't have anything. Children learn that it's okay to be divorced, i's okay to marry for a few years and marry four times and have kids by all the parents. I don't know if that's what our society really wants. Is that just what happened, or do we really think that's okay? Or are people just lost?
Matthew: We started with living together; now we seem to be back to divorce. Does the "next generation being worse" apply only to life post-marriage?
Lillie: I don't think it's bad if people live together. If Rick had been [in San Diego] this year, I [still] don't think we would have lived together, but that's something we chose. I have no criticisms for anybody who chooses differently. It's personal choice. It's who you are and what you want to do, and that's what really matters.
Matthew: But you think that reasoning doesn't hold for life after marriage?
Lillie: Yeah. I think that after marriage, I don't know, maybe it's the whole marriage thing. I see it as just really coming together. It's the final...it's a commitment. That's what it is. It's being a partner, being able to trust someone, it's communication, it's being with somebody you can yell at or somebody you can share your tears with, it doesn't matter if you're having a good day; they're always going to be there, and they're not going to change their opinion of you.
Matthew: How do the rest of you define marriage? And why marry?
Lillie: I've found someone that is really special. He’s not so self-absorbed that he doesn't think of other people. He's not any type of chauvinist. It's really important to him that I'm happy. He wants to learn about everything around him. He's a really hard worker.
Jill: Love. We're constantly together, we never separate.
Jennifer: Two people become one, in the sense that our decisions now affect each other. And when we raise a family, we're all one in that sense. I just can't imagine being with anybody but him. To me, marriage is the way to do it. You decide that you're going to live the rest of your lives together and take care of each other.
Natalie: I think it's the [shift of] life focus - to children, to family, to together. It's the final bonding as a couple. It's the next chapter of our life. We've had the young 20s, the mid-20s, and the late-20s together, so this is like chapter four. My attitude about marriage changed. All I had seen was mistrust, vows broken, disrespect, apathy, and taking each other for granted. I always felt that you didn't need to be married to be happy, and I still think that today. What changes is you have experiences together, you see other people together. We have some friends that have very good marriages that are good role models. All our friends were getting married, and we talk a lot about children. We want to hold marriage in a very high regard.
Trini: I think marriage is a perfect example of God's love. It's sharing with somebody, growing with somebody, being able to depend on somebody. It's a team. That also tends to be my philosophy in the business realm, that you definitely go further as a team, I like that, and I like family. Doing something together as a team, on a lifelong commitment - that's a good example of God's love.
Sarah: Marriage is when you finally find your soul mate, the person who is going to bring you to the good. It's the union of body and soul of two people who want to get to the same place.
As a Catholic, your purpose in life is to - I'll quote the catechism - "To know, love, and serve God, so that one day you'll be in heaven with Him." I think companionship helps you do that. Not just the companionship of your spouse, but also the product of that relationship, which is children. The goal of getting to heaven is very broad - you could do that in many ways. But when it comes to marriage, your goals become more immediate, and they're goals that are going to help you attain that final goal.
One of the joys of marriage, and one of the purposes of marriage, I think, is to have children, and children kind of keep you in line. Also, you have to give a lot to your family. That's a lot of what marriage is, giving, because in the end you end up experiencing so much joy - you're busy doing something good. You don't just spend idle time. If you're working at a job, for instance. A lot of the time, you might feel you're not fulfilled doing that job, and I think it's because there's something much more fulfilling in having the goal of raising good children, something much more fulfilling in giving and loving. I think anyone would admit that there's something very fulfilling about loving someone else, loving your spouse in one way, and loving your children in another way.
Matthew: What are everybody's thoughts about children? When, how many, why?
Natalie: We plan on having kids in two years. Our friends are, like, "Oh, no, you'll be pregnant within a year," and I'm, like, "No, I won't. That's coming." I promised myself when I was a teenager that I would not have a child before age 30, and I stuck to it, and I'm glad I did. If I could, I'd have five. I probably will have two to three. Tom comes from a five kid family, and he believes - and it was true with the way he was raised - that the bigger the family, the tighter the family. If one was going to get ice cream, his mother would make another one take him, and that kind of thing bonded them as kids. Even as adults, there's a lot of bonding between them. We [lived near] a Swedish family in L.A. that had 16 [kids], and that home was filled with love.
Sarah: I think it's very healthy if you're able to have children and a big family. I think it's a gift for your children to have siblings. Jeremy loves kids. He came from a big family - 11 kids. Seven in my family. We want to have lots of children, but also, he's very ambitious, which is a nice combination. He's working very hard in his job so he can be in a position to have lots of children. I think we'll be in a position to have kids right away.
Jennifer: We've decided that kids are a ways off, three to four years. I think it's important that when you first get married, you have a little time. I would like some time to get used to the idea of being married before I get used to being a mother on top of it. I think we agreed on two. I'd go as far as three, but I think he's cutting it off at two, so we're pretty much in agreement there. I wouldn't want to have just one, because I think it's been nice [to have a sibling]. As much as my sister and I have fought through the years, she'll always be not only a sister, but a good friend. She knows me like a lot of people don't know me. I think it's nice to have that built into a family.
Matthew: Why stop at two?
Jennifer: Some of it is financial, especially right now. That, and it just seems like it would be crazy. I don't have too much faith right now in my parenting skills, because I still feel a little bit like a kid myself. Just getting married has kind of shocked me into, "Oh, wow, I'm finally arriving." So that's one thing to adjust to. I think the idea of any more than that, I can't take it.
Lillie: We're still a long ways off from it, three to four years. It just depends on finances at the time. Kids cost a lot of money and they're a lot of work. And we want our time first. Then we'll plan from there. I don't want to have kids [without financial support], because I want the support of my friends and family [here in San Diego]. I think it's important to share with all of them something that crucial in your life. Hopefully, [we'll have] two or three. I say three, and then Rick laughs and jokes around with me and says "No, we're only having two." And I say, "Okay." Our deal is, if we can afford three, we'll have three, but if we can't afford three, we'll have two.
Jill: [We'll have] children later - we still want to do things. We want to travel around before we have kids - just live in different places...still keep our place here, but just go for, like, months. He can travel anywhere and just FedEx his work out. Maybe two, three year; maybe it could happen tomorrow. Maybe three kids. I know my fiancé really likes independence. He loves kids too.
Trini: I can't have any more children, unfortunately. I have a 17- and a 15-year-old. But Sheldon loves children, and I'm willing [to adopt], because we're in a financial state now where we can definitely take care of a baby. We love each other, and we agree that there's a lot of unfortunate kids out there, and we have no objection to adoption, so that may be a future plan. I would never have considered adoption, except for the fact that I see how Sheldon treats my sons.
Matthew: Which brings us to the subject of parenting. Which brings up the question of careers and motherhood. What happens?
Jill: I think I'll stay home with my kids a lot. I'll take them out, do things.
Sarah: I want to work until I have kids. When I start having kids, I'm going to be tending to my kids and my home.
Natalie: I want to continue to work. I get six weeks off with work [when I have a child]. I would love to take a year off, six months to a year, but reality is - especially in California, with the real estate - that it's a two-income lifestyle unless you're living in a studio apartment. Plus, I like to work. I like to meet people. I couldn't really see myself as a housewife. I think I'd go crazy, because I've always worked; that's all I've known, so it's really important to me.
Lillie: I want a career. I love to teach. It's something I enjoy doing. I'll be home in the afternoons for my kids. Hopefully, they'll be with me at school, so I'll be close to them that way, but I want my job.
Jennifer: That's the nice thing about teaching, especially with raising kids. My mom was a teacher. She was working at the same time we were in school, so that was nice. I'd like it to be that way for my kids too, if possible. It would be nice not to have to put children in day care.
Matthew: Speaking of mothers, let's talk about your parents. Why they married. How Dad treated Mom. How they handled conflicts.
Sarah: My parents dated about six months, and then they got engaged for six months. My mom was, I think, 21, my dad was 22. They met in college. It wasn't so much that they did it out of compulsion or because it was the expected thing to do at that age. Every woman has the desire to get married, regardless of what society says, or at least to have someone who loves you completely for the rest of your life. That was their desire. When they found that, they jumped into it.
Dad adored my mom. He always has. He treats my mom like a queen. He has been head of the household, but that doesn't mean he hasn't been open to her. They try to sort through things, but inevitably, things are going to come up that they just don't agree on. In those kinds of situations, I think someone has to say, "This is what the final decision has to be." If not, you have a mutiny. I want to say my dad has been that person, but it's not always my dad. He's respected my mom's opinion; he's always tried to please her.
When they were looking for a house, my mom fell in love with the house they're now living in. Dad didn't think it was the best decision - he could find a better deal - but she just fell in love with this house, and in the end, she got it. My mom has had seven kids, and he's bent over backwards in every pregnancy that I've observed. He just all-around wants to please my mom. [If Jeremy treated me that way], I'd be one of the luckiest girls in the world, and from what I know of him, he will.
Matthew: What about conflicts?
Sarah: Things have kind of changed in that regard. When I was younger, they would discuss things. They would never really fight or anything in front of us, or debate things. They never got into knock down, drag out fights or anything, but there were things that came up, financial things, or whatever, and they would go into the bedroom. But then, as I've observed them through the years, they're more vocal [now] about their little conflicts. And before, usually my dad would have the final say. Nowadays, my mom convinces my dad; she doesn't let up as easily. She persists, and usually he comes around.
Lillie: My parents were 25. They met, got engaged, and got married within a period of five months. I think that when you meet somebody, and you know, then you just really know. I don't think many people hold that kind of belief anymore.
I think trust, communication, and respect are three good aspects of a marriage, and [they have them]. Dad treats Mom as a partner. Nobody's on pedestals in this household. My mom teaches preschool a few days a week; she was home for us after school when we were kids. Dad's an engineer, he's brilliant, he has lots of work to do, but there was never any different status in the family. It's a balance. Mom has really good communication skills. Sometimes, she's the go between us and my father. Dad has more logic skills, like, "This makes more sense than this does." They balance each other out.
Matthew: And conflicts?
Lillie: I think they do it behind closed doors, with a lot of discussion. I've only seen my parents fight one time, when I was little. I remember I was a little girl, and we had friends sitting on the couch. I'd never seen them argue. My dad has never raised his voice to my mom.
Jennifer: It was actually my mom's second marriage. She was 28, and I think my dad was not quite a year younger. She got married a little later for that time, '66 or '67. They were among the last of their friends to get married. It was pretty quick, six months or something like that. I think they married for love, very much. But at the same time, at 28, I think my mom was pretty old not to be married. I don't know if social convention had something to do with the speed of it.
I hope we're like them when we're 25 years into it. Not only husband and wife, but good friends, that we still care about each other as much as my parents care about each other. They had a good way of working conflicts out. Any little fights that would arise, Mom would be like, "What are you doing? What's going on?" Mom had a shorter temper, and Dad would defuse it; he was much more laid back. He'd say, "Okay, everything's going to be all right, we're going to do this or that."
But every now and then, when they would get into an argument, Mom would turn it into, "Nobody ever helps me, nobody ever does this or that." Dad was good about taking it. I think there are times when you just sort of tune each other out. You don't really pay attention to what the other needs. That probably happened more than I noticed. I hope that doesn't happen a whole lot for us. I hope that we don't get to a point where it's sort of like, "She's talking, talking, talking, yeah, sure, okay, whatever, I'll do that," and not do it, and that just drives [the wife] crazy, and he's "Stop picking on me!"
Jill: [My parents] ran off and got married, kind of an eloped thing. My mom was Christian, and my dad was Jewish, so she converted. My grandparents didn't really approve of the marriage. I really don’t know how old they were, about 20 or younger. He was a football player, she was a cheerleader at another school. My mom had her first child when she was around 20, so I think it was right around the wedding. They still won't tell us. We used to live in a small town in Illinois. People got married and had kids, and that's how it was. In conflicts, my mom just ignores my dad. They'll get in a fight, and she'll just ignore him, and then it kind of blows over. She's not really a model wife, but she does take care of my dad really well. [I would like it if she didn't] yell at my dad so much. I'm just happy they're together, even though they may fight. They still love each other a lot.
Trini: I think my mom was in her early 30s, and my dad was also. They were both married before. They eloped to Las Vegas. They wanted to get married in a hurry, so they went to Las Vegas. They knew each other probably a couple of months. I don't necessarily agree with that, but I accept it. I think they've come a long way. In their beginning, it was very rough for them. They didn't really know each other, and they had to throw this family together, [four children from previous marriages on each side]. In the beginning, my father was a yeller. My mother was a provoker. My father was extremely abusive toward my mother emotionally, and he tended to carry that out with the physical. But now, 20-some years later, I've seen my dad really mellow, and now my mom tends to take all of those [abusive] years, and she can't get over it. She continues to be a little bit scarred by that, and so she tends to be a little bit hard on him now. A complete turnaround. It's sad to see that. But there is an improvement. Now they've gone through some of those valleys and peaks together. They've learned to be more accustomed to each other and a little bit more understanding.
Natalie: My mom was 28, and my dad was 26. They got married in 1964. My father was in the Air Force, my mother worked on an American military base in Germany. It was kind of a whirlwind romance. It's very typical of German women to fall in love with dark haired - my dad's Mexican - dark-skinned guys who look different from their men. My father was attracted to my mother's blond hair, her blue eyes, her beautiful hands and feet, the fact that she was a German girl. My mother was just mystified by his look. He was the best looking guy around, and he dressed so nice. And he was an American. My mother, while she worked in Wiesbaden, was from a very small town. Back then, postwar, that was like living in the Ozarks. They were attracted to each other for surface reasons. I don't think they put in a tenth of the thought I put into it. I think that's just what they did, because they wanted to be together, because they wanted to have sex, because they wanted to live together.
Matthew: You've already mentioned that the fights were horrible. Do you want to say any more?
Natalie: I remember them being over money, over what was the correct way to raise the children or discipline the children. They were handled with "I'm the man, I'm the husband, this is my family, this is how it'll be done" and my mother trying to negotiate some reason into it and him saying no and being - for lack of a better word - macho.
Matthew: What about you? How do you handle conflicts with your fiances?
Sarah: There are things we're still working on. When conflicts arise, we both talk a lot, and we think about things a lot. That could be good and could be bad. Sometimes it's horrible, sometimes it's very good. We'll discuss things and beat them to a pulp, and we're very civil until I get hurt feelings. You know someone says something personal, the other one gets hurt feelings, and the nature of the conversation takes a turn. I can be very tenacious at times, and so can he. One of the things I'm working on is not being so sensitive or so defensive. [To be] more patient and not so attached to my own way of thinking or my own wants and desires. It rocks your world when [your fiancé] disagrees with you. You're different people, so you have to be more flexible.
Jill: I'm the one that gets a little...my temper flares. I'm trying to control it now, ever since we started a relationship. I've been doing better. I'll just kind of be quiet for a little bit, kind of think it over, what I've done, and we sort things out. We have that little bit of silence, and then we talk.
Trini: The positive [thing] I got from my parents was what not to do. I make a conscious effort to listen and try to work things out. Plus, I'm 38 years old. I've learned that yelling gets you nowhere and arguing gets you nowhere. With Sheldon, it's usually business or the boys. If it's a really big problem, Sheldon will get upset, and on occasion, I will get upset as well. But we really come together, and we both use our intellect and try to sit down and work it out together. I honestly believe that because we're partners in business, that has contributed to that; it has helped us work together as a team. I think the biggest thing that married couples need to understand is give and take.
Jennifer: I think that as much time as we spend together now, we don't fight a lot. In fact, we've only had two or three big fights that we can remember. But right now, the two of us can get away from each other more easily. We've got two separate spaces, and if things are getting a little tense, and we've had bad days, we can get away. It's not going to be as easy after marriage. I think we're already pretty good at communicating and being open with each other, but I think we're going to have to learn how to be more sensitive and delicate with each other. I think closeness is going to get taxing at times, and I'm sure there are times when just being in a different room doesn't cut it. I think it would be not only naive, but also just plain ridiculous to think that there's not going to be any conflict.
Lillie: I think we've been in maybe one argument. We've never fought. I've never walked away from him. It just doesn't happen. I mean, everybody has their tears sometimes and everything else, but never have I yelled at him, and he would never yell at me. Differences in opinion result in long phone conversations. It's a lot of talking and a lot of seeing it from the other's point of view.
Natalie: We didn't fight for, like, the first two years, and I spent this time looking at him and analyzing his parents' relationship, how he tends to be quiet, like his dad does. I have to prod him. "What's wrong? What is it? What's bothering you?" "Nothing." "Well, what happened to you today?" [I] kind of pull it out so I can hear it and it's gone, or maybe we can figure out how to handle it. Initially, you have your blow up, and then you're sitting there trying to act like you're mad at each other, and then you catch the other one's eye, and then someone cracks a little smile, and you go, "All right. I was mad, but now I'm over it." As long as you hear what the other one's saying. It's like, "Okay, I heard you that you're disappointed in me because I didn't take the trash out and the cats knocked it over." So at least the other person [can say], "Thank you, you acknowledged what I said." A lot of that, I think.
Matthew: I've heard about your dads. What about your mothers? What do you hope to take with you from them?
Jill: Just the love that she gave us. We were so spoiled. She would constantly hold us. Plus, putting herself out for us - taking me anywhere, helping me with anything. Driving me back and forth from Brawley to Palomar College for about a week. I want to be that way.
Sarah: My mom has fussed over us from the minute we were born. She's the type of mother who's very concerned in all her children's lives. As you get older, that part becomes a little bit of a nuisance, but bless her heart, because it comes from the best part of her. And it's never in a selfish way. She's always wanted the best for her children. And with my dad - she's always loved my dad, she's always been very faithful to him and has put all her efforts into making a good home life, because that's her job. She takes pride in her home and her children, and she's done a good job of it. And she's a very kindhearted woman.
Lillie: I'm kind of following in her footsteps in education. But I think more than anything, her attitude. How she deals with people, strangers. It's just, "Oh, hi!" and she'll strike up a conversation. She has a good heart. I hope that I'm as giving and as loving as she is to other people.
Jennifer: My mom was an English teacher, and growing up, she taught at the school I went to. At one point my sister and I were both in the same class and had my mother as a teacher. It gave us an interesting perspective. Other than just being our mom, she was also our teacher. She had a wonderful way with kids, a wonderful, giving spirit — very generous with her time and her compassion, very loving. But on the other side, she was also very organized, very methodical about certain things. I liked how it all kind of meshed together and worked together for her. She was just a very good example of what a good mother and a good woman — a good person — is.
Trini: Even the negative things that she did, I've turned it around into a positive. I'll tell both the negative and the positive. The negative was, she tended to be very hard on people. She was a perfectionist, and at times that would be embarrassing for me. I would feel that she was targeting and venting. So I tend to be completely the other way. People say I'm too nice, but I don't think you can ever be too nice.
Matthew: On the positive side?
Trini: Her aggressiveness in business. She's owned several businesses, and she's very intelligent. [She's taught me] that there's no limit. I can do what ever I want as a businesswoman. Also, she is very much a lady, and she taught me grace. That's important.
Natalie: My mom was a strong woman, a woman who raised her children pretty much alone. Somebody who, through the family strife, managed to make sure her children were well-rounded, knew about the arts, music, history, the earth, the city where they lived, wherever they lived. My mother would hold garage sales on our lawn and sell things to take us to Catalina for the weekend, while my dad sat in the house and watched the television. She always sacrificed — herself, her time, everything — for us. As an adult, I realize this more and more. I didn't realize the scope of the sacrifice of herself to take care of us. I have a deep respect for my mother.
Marriage and family are building blocks of the public good that is civilization, and yet marriages themselves are built on love, a love private enough to dispose these women to marry in spite of others' failures, even their parents'. They believe their love will survive those times when it ceases to be an affair of the heart and becomes an act of purest will. They believe their happiness lies outside themselves, in a spouse and in children. They believe in marriage — at least their own marriage.