Brand building through storytelling

Still married after all these years

My husband and I had just raised the down payment for our first house, thanks only to loans from our parents, when we decided to celebrate the good life we dreamed of having someday. We drove across the border to a wine store renowned for its selection, and heaped our cart with obscure yet up-and-coming finds to stock our cellar. We didn’t have living room furniture, but by God we would have a wine cellar (otherwise known as the only dry corner of the basement).

Petrus 1970It was my husband who reached for one more bottle of a certain fabled wine—the Shakespeare, the Ella Fitzgerald, the Victoria Falls and the Grand Canyon of wine. He wanted two bottles but I made him put the second one back. “Fifteen dollars for a bottle of wine? Who do you think you are, Conrad Black? Do you have any idea how many pounds of hamburger we could buy for that kind of money?”

“Twenty years from now, we can buy all the hamburger we want,” said my husband. “We won’t be able to afford this wine.” And so we headed home in our aubergine Renault with a trunk full of bargains and a single treasure—a 1970 Chateau Pétrus that would need about 30 years to lose its rough edges and reveal its true magnificence.

At least by that time we wouldn’t be drinking out of glassware from Honest Ed’s. Maybe we’d even have a proper set of china. Then again, we might be long divorced.

I didn’t like the odds for our marriage. We’d already weathered one separation, and for what? Tears in the dishwater (mine), silences as jagged and heavy as boulders (his). Finger-pointing battles over trivia decked out as urgent moral dilemmas. Who forgot to sign our son’s permission slip, whose fault it was that the corkscrew had gone missing. I recorded all this in my journal, the book of shame that held the accumulating case against our future.

The journal didn’t tell the whole story. I never wrote about the moments when I looked at my husband with a surge of pure joy at finding him. In time I forgot that such moments ever happened. I began to tell friends, “I never loved him.” When people swear that they never loved their spouse, you can be sure they’re forgetting something. But most of my confidantes hadn’t yet learned this. They would say, “You’ve got to end this!”

I thought my friend Karen would say the same thing. Newly sprung from a dead-end marriage, she was dating a musician who rode a motorcycle and didn’t own a suit. “I’m tempted to do what you’ve done,” I told her one day over coffee. “Strike out on my own and start over.”

Karen looked at me sternly. “You may be surprised to hear this, but I believe in marriage. Mine used to be pretty good, but it basically died of neglect. Sure, I’ve met some interesting guys since I left. I’ve had some great sex. But trust me, it’s lonely out there. So if you think your marriage has a hope in hell, you’d better bust your ass to make it work.”

For the next few years, I often thought of Karen’s words. Then I’d think of the Chateau Pétrus, waiting for its moment under a film of dust. It had somehow escaped the notice of an ardent but ill-informed thief who’d been rifling wine (but only big red wines) from our so-called cellar. An earnest young police officer came to investigate. “My first wine theft!” he exclaimed. “My wife is going to love this case!”

On his advice, we fired the cleaning lady. No more disappearing bottles. Mystery solved.

Time passed. We moved to a house with a powder room, a hall closet and a temperature-controlled sanctuary for our wine. Our son grew up, and so did we. Sometimes I’d pull my old journals off the shelf and marvel at the brittle, headstrong pride of our younger selves (he said what? I was dumb enough to thinkthat?).

Kramer PeterI pondered a different kind of mystery: how it was that we stayed together while so many other couples were splitting. I found my answer in a wise and original book, Should You Leave?, by psychiatrist Peter Kramer. A slew of self-help books purport to hold the keys to intimacy, but this one is something else entirely, a self-knowledge book.

All lovers face the same challenge, Kramer says. We want to be true to ourselves while nurturing the relationship. When the going gets tough, we panic. We conclude that we’ve sacrificed our autonomy for Mr. Wrong. More likely, we’ve slammed into the barriers of our own immaturity. However poised we may appear to the outside world, we lack the emotional resources to live with another human being. It doesn’t have to be this way. If one partner learns to change a crazy-making behaviour, chances are the other will be moved to follow suit.

I have no idea who made the first change in our marriage. Did I stop lamenting, or did he stop withdrawing? I just know that we came into our own, like a wine that needs aging. What better reason to raise a glass?

We gathered a small group of intimate friends for a dinner of rare steak and perfectly roasted Yukon gold potatoes—the kind of fare that would not upstage a noble wine. My husband uncorked the Chateau Pétrus. We held our collective breath. We swirled, we tasted. If I were a wine geek, I’d still be rhapsodizing about each separate note in the song of its flavour. Since I never learned the lingo, I’ll just call it mind-bendingly fabulous.

Last weekend we celebrated our thirty-seventh anniversary. Just the two of us, a rare steak and roasted baby Yukon gold potatoes (crisp on the outside, creamy on the inside). Green beans tossed with olive oil and garlic. Oh, and a nice bottle of wine. If I’d had more sense in my youth, it might have been a 1970 Chateau Pétrus (now fetching upward of $2000 a bottle). In 2025, that wine will still be in its glory, so I hear. As for us, we hope to be alive with all our marbles, savouring the wine we laid down long ago.

Posted by Rona

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