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Third Time’s Charm

by Margaret Cullison

My new husband and I hope that a charmed third time around holds true for us. We got married last May after seven years living together in unwedded bliss. Rich says we took a great leap of faith by marrying at our ages, both in our seventh decade. More to the point, we’d each endured two failed marriages, the kind of history that made us cautious about giving marriage another chance.

Some might wonder why bother? These days, people don’t marry for the same reasons they once did. The absence of a marriage license doesn’t carry the moral stigma of bygone times, at least not among the people we count as family and friends. We aren’t the only seniors who choose to live together without getting married. Commitment rings suffice for many, as they did for us until this year. We’d weathered the financial and emotional adjustments involved in changing from being single to becoming a couple and had settled in for the long term, with or without wedding rings.

The mutual desire to share our lives took shape almost from the moment we met in December of 2000. We connected through an Internet mating service. After our first online exchange, we moved quickly from e-mail and phone conversations to meeting for dinner. The fact that he’d grown up in a small community in Indiana, and I come from an even smaller Iowa town put us at ease. I knew about burnt sugar cake, an old-fashioned recipe he remembered from childhood. His bald head and kind smile reminded me of my father.

On the first anniversary of that date, we returned to that same restaurant and agreed to get married...some day. We were busy working full-time and getting to know each other and our respective families. That seemed enough change for the present.

Over a year slipped by before we began talking about retirement. We looked at less-populated areas in northern California, searching for real estate prices lower than the San Francisco Bay area where we lived. We’d both rented apartments or condos for years and wanted a home of our own, but we didn’t have the home equity nest egg that makes relocating easier for some Californians.

Our quest finally took us northward to southern Oregon where we found a place we liked in a single Valentine’s Day weekend. In early April of 2003, the house was ours and by late May we’d quit our jobs and moved in. We’d taken a big step up in our commitment by agreeing to share a mortgage and the responsibility of maintaining a home.

The ensuing four years flew by, but not without a few ups and downs. Rich had to get used to my impulse for perfection. I learned to accept his tendency to procrastinate. We fell into a fairly balanced division of labor and managed to neutralize our disagreements with laughter. Last year we talked about marriage again but let 2007 slip by without doing anything about it. We still feared marriage might change us in ways that would upset the balance of the good life we enjoyed together.

The year 2008 had barely begun when Rich reminded me it was a leap year. I told him that meant I could do the asking for a change. I started thinking about how I could even propose to him. We felt awkward sometimes when people called him Mr. Cullison or referred to me as Mrs. Pollett. None of the conventional terms we used to define us seemed true to the spirit of our bond. Inadequate words like domestic partner, soul mate, or significant other didn’t say how we really felt about each other.

Even though we’d been together awhile, I’d been single for over 25 years, and I hadn’t forgotten how I’d yearned for another go at marriage. I knew in my heart that I still wanted that chance. The time had come to stop being afraid to try again.

Valentine’s Day would have been a good time to ask him, but I couldn’t quite say the words. Doubt still held me back, despite my mind ruminating over the excitement of telling our families and friends and planning our wedding day.

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