Marriage and divorce for seniors
Last night I had dinner with my younger self. Well, not exactly. My guest was Maryam, the dedicated family law lawyer, who tries to keep couples together rather than urging them to split apart. Tonight we’re discussing marriage and divorce for older adults.
Maryam is dark haired, much prettier than I was thirty years ago, but serious and resolute in much the same way I was when I was her age. When we talk I often feel as if I’m having a conversation with a younger version of myself. Maryam is intense and determined; she has hard-held beliefs.
We’re meeting at a diner in Bronte, the lakeside neighbourhood in Oakville, that I fondly label ‘the retirement village.’ It’s a Monday night, and business is slow with a few older adults sipping coffee or tucking into homemade pie. We could be in a small town, but we’re fifty minutes west of Toronto and I’m a five-minute walk from home. Snowflakes fall gently outside the window.
I know the servers because I’m a regular at El Spero. It’s a cozy place with room-to-relax booths. There’s no loud music. The staff is composed of women, who call you dear, and who never say “My name is Brittany and I’ll be your server tonight.” Our waitress is surprised to see me at my usual table, this time without my husband.
When Maryam arrives, I can tell she’s not in the best of moods. Within minutes she confesses that she and her husband are splitting up.
“Marriage has always been an enigma to me. I’m just learning what it’s all about,” I admit to Maryam, who looks up at me from her menu in total disbelief.
“You’re joking,” she replies without smiling. I’m the same age as her mother.
Here’s the rub. According to Maryam, everyone wants to get married.
I guess I agree. “There’s grey marriage, second marriage and third marriage.” I’m listing them off on the fingers of both hands.
“Don’t you find it curious, that people try over and over again?” I ask. “Older adults are marrying more often.”
Take me. I got married at 66 years old. In reality each time a person marries, her chances of a successful marriage diminish. In the U.S., sixty-seven percent of second and seventy-three percent of third marriages end in divorce. “Wouldn’t that put seniors off trying more than once?”
“No,” Maryam argues. “Older people marry for the same reasons everyone else does. The first time, it’s white picket fences, a two-story home bound by a glorious green lawn. They buy the house…”
“Although it’s entirely unaffordable for most Millennials,” I counter. “House prices in Vancouver and Toronto are many multiples the average family income in those cities.”
Maryam continues. “They buy the house and then they have kids, and then it doesn’t work out about fifty per cent of the time.”
My question stands. Why would men and women in their sixties, seventies or beyond tie the knot? Why not just live together?
Maryam sees it differently. On the brink of divorce, she emphasizes the spiritual and ethical commitment that marriage entails. And of course, inside the well of her convictions, I understand the gravity of her words.
After I married in September, I felt differently and so did my husband. Something intangible changed. We both felt more secure. We both saw our relationship through a different prism than before we married.
We lived together for five years before marrying, and with the exception of some royal battles, we’ve been happy. I won’t admit to being exponentially happier than I was before we married, but I will admit to easing into a sense of belonging I’ve never experienced before. I prefer to call it homesense, if the large retail chain with the same name, doesn’t object.
In Yiddish, it’s called “Hamish” or homey. “A hamishe place was a compliment my aunts used when the hostess made them feel at ease in a new environment.
For a long time, I’ve eschewed Hamish. I’ve always preferred to be an outsider, a little different from the rest. Not so much a classic loner, as someone who covets her private time and is accustomed to feeling a little on edge. But I’m changing as I age. When I look at the disruptions, the dislocations, and the unholy numbers of refugees scouring the globe for a home, I can’t help but appreciate what home means and how fortunate we are in Canada to be able to settle in for our entire lives, if we decide that’s what we want.
According to Maryam, who handles divorce cases for immigrants –she immigrated to Canada from Iran as a child—the disruption of moving from one country to another is a predominant cause of divorce between new Canadians.
Globalization destabilizes marriage. I can see it. War has always destroyed marriages. Maryam and I talk about the Jews and other survivors leaving Europe for Canada and the U.S. after World War. I recall my parents’ friends who had been in concentration camps and how damaged they were, how sad, how lonely. Their homes and communities were destroyed and no matter how hard they tried, I don’t believe they ever felt truly at ease in Canada.
Between the 1950s and the 1980s, most immigrants came to Canada for economic reasons. I recall the huge influx of Italian immigrants to my hometown of Windsor when I was a child. They came for good paying, union jobs in the auto factories. Their families were strong and divorce was rare.
Now it’s different. I pay close attention to Maryam. Her clients are arriving as refugees after the trauma of war. “Anyone coming from the Middle East is traumatized,” she asserts.
My mind turns to what makes us mentally durable and at ease with ourselves and others, and I can’t help but seeing marriage as one great, huge indicator. A good marriage, a nurturing marriage, makes us stronger, even if it includes the services of a good lawyer, who can draft a well-considered contract for those entering matrimony.
With all I am discovering about my new marriage, I remain an advocate for pre-nuptial agreements and co-habitation and marriage contracts. A solid relationship doesn’t rule them out. These contracts might appear silly during the good times, but they’re golden if things go south. My husband and I have one. It makes our marriage stronger, not weaker.
I wouldn’t have considered a marriage contract in my thirties, but as we age, and acquire assets, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with insisting on one. For all the joys of marriage, it doesn’t necessitate being careless, particularly if you have kids. It just adds to the feeling of being at home “as long as you both shall live.”
Maryam will get through her divorce and find someone new to love. I hope she takes her time finding a partner worthy of her affection.
As I leave the diner, Lakeshore Boulevard is deserted. A couple walks their dog, leaving footprints in the fragile, white snow. It’s only a short distance, but I can’t wait to get home.