Tomorrow is our 40th wedding anniversary and other than in dwelling on how many years have gone by, I could not be more happy. When I was young, teenager-ish, I came across an article about Charles Boyer’s own 40th anniversary.* Boyer was the ultimate French luuver, and there he had been married to one person, rather than being a man with many women, as is the ideal in these decadent times of ours. And in reply my mother said that the true sign of a great lover is that he can keep the same woman happy for the whole of her life. In fact, literature up until that time was about finding and winning the perfect girl. Today, such a notion would not work for Hollywood nor for most “romantic” fiction. Certainly very few boys would buy into it. It is numbers that matter, a Don Giovanni type love-life that counts as the standard of excellence. A bad standard since it is one that leads to so much unhappiness and discontent. Marrying your high school “sweetheart” is the last thing on anyone’s mind for virtually everyone in our Western world today. And not until I have arrived at this moment myself did it really occur to me that this truly is the ideal, just as my Mother had said all those years ago, bless her.
So here we are at 40 years. Alas, were these normal times we would be having a big, big party, bringing together all of our friends, and with it being a Sunday we could have started early and gone on all day and into the night. But being in the odd times we are, it will just have to be a catered romantic dinner for two around our kitchen table.
The story of how we met I have told many times so will tell it again. It was at a Fancy Dress party – on April Fools Day, in fact. I had been invited by an old friend I used to know from my early days in Melbourne. It was a Saturday night and I came dressed as an American tourist, in a Hawaiian shirt, shorts, thongs and a roll of toilet paper in my back pocket. And into this room came the prettiest, most engaging girl I had seen in a very long time who was easily the most enchanting woman I had ever come upon. Upbeat, happy, full of laughter and adventure. She came as a 1920s flapper which she was the perfect embodiment of. She worked the room coming towards where I was, and finally made it to me after about an hour. My eyes had, of course, never left her – and as she tells it herself, she was working her way towards me since I, bless my soul, was her perfect type, at least from a distance.
We then sat and chatted, talked about this and that – I actually still remember the conversation surprisingly well – and then I offered to drive her home when it was all over, in my beat up 25-year old Cortina. Which would have been fine except that the car would not start and needed a push-start from everyone else to finally get the engine to turn over. She was definitely not looking for wealth and status. So we drove out to the airport and back to charge the engine, and then after a night of more chat and more coffee and cake, we went on the Sunday morning to see her best friends to see how I would fit into her life, and then we went to see my best friends, so that I could do the same. And then we met again on the Monday in the city since we were both working not all that far from each other.
But this morning at work was the moment that mattered. I told the story at our wedding and a number of times since. It is known, and I do mention it from time to time, that before I became the sober man of the right and a proper bourgeoisie, I had been a long-haired hippy new-left loon, even having gone so far as to live in a “commune” in Vancouver, hanging out with all forms of disreputable types, of whom I was amongst the more disreputable. This, mind you, when I had already become a B.A./M.A. I was at work in the morning in the Economics Department of one of our Big Four banks, and I went to the chap who did the mining analysis and forecasts and asked to borrow his copy of the I Ching. The I Ching, if you don’t know it, is an ancient Chinese “oracle” to which you can pose various questions about what to do, and which will provide answers that usually requires a certain kind of wavering judgment and careful interpretation to make sense of. My friend David used the I Ching, along with his astrological charting plus numerology, to make his forecasts for the mining industry. Bear that in mind next time you think about buying shares, whether bank shares or mining shares. I might just mention that he eventually left the bank because he was sure that there was going to be a California earthquake as foretold by Edgar Cayce, that would send a tidal wave across the Pacific leading to mass drownings in Melbourne. David therefore sold up his beautiful house in Carlton and moved to Nimbin. I only once again ever saw him, at an economics conference, where he presented a paper on the use of astrology in making economic predictions.
But on this day, being already very familiar with the I Ching from my earlier days, I asked to borrow his copy, which is the last time I ever used it or any other form of forecasting technique, other than, of course, economic theory. And I asked David for the book and put the fateful question: Should I marry this girl? I might also here mention that I introduced these devices to my children by telling them that they are a fun part of life, but the moment you find even the slightest tweak of a notion entering their heads that these things will accurately foretell anything, they must be discarded and never be used again. That is my advice to everyone. Now let me return to that moment in 1978.
And here was the point about the question. I was a young lad, only just having turned thirty. I was living the life that many young lads at that time of life foolishly prefer to live. And having met the perfect girl, the reason I was going into this further investigation of the proper course of action was, I am ashamed to admit, so that I might find some reason, anything at all, where is that straw for me to grasp, not to continue along this path towards marriage, but so that I could have some reason not to. And as you might know with all of these devices, there is a certain fuzziness that allows you to read things in many different ways. An easy way out, right?
I tossed the coins and then the most astonishing thing happened. And this was the only time this had ever happened. It gave me an absolutely clear answer that was unambiguous in stating without any possible way to equivocate: YOU SHOULD MARRY THIS GIRL!
And it was even worse than that. The way the oracle works is that there are almost always “Change Lines” in the result so that what might be the advice at the moment of consultation will over time slither into its opposite or at least towards some other answer. But here, for the first and only time in all the times I had used the I Ching where there were no Change Lines. How it was on that day in 1988 would be how it would be for all times. Honestly, I was truly amazed since nothing like it had ever happened before. It is a rare occurrence, I can tell you.
And so it has turned out. The entire universe in its cosmic unfolding had told me in no uncertain terms that this was the girl I must marry if I sought happiness and a blessed life of marital contentment that would continue forward exactly how it had begun. I now know this is the only form of true happiness, the only one that counts. The greatest of all of G-d’s blessings is a happy marriage.
I will add something else which I have only found out recently, but which when I read turns out to have been exactly what I did in wending my way towards that moment. And in its own way this is as mystical an approach, and no doubt about as accurate as my tossing the coins to consult the I Ching. This time, however, it is by using advanced statistical methods to find your one true love and companion for life (I think this may only works for males, by the way, but perhaps not). Let me quote from the text. This is from Amir D. Aczel: Chance: A Guide to Gambling, Love, the Stock Market & Just about Everything Else, p86):
“You will maximize your probability of finding the best spouse if you date about thirty-seven percent of the available candidates in your life, and then choose to stay with the next candidate who is better than all the previous ones.
“This is, indeed, a strange-sounding rule. But mathematicians have proved it works better than any other. The number thirty-seven percent is an approximation of the exact number 1/e, where e is the base for natural logarithms, or 2.71828.”
The science is settled, and you don’t want to go around arguing with science, do you?
We have had a remarkably friction-free 40 years, although I do have to say there is that one area where we do not perfectly line up, and as with many couples, it is with politics. We have managed to work it through, but as it turns out, of the two of us, she is the more conservative, the most hardline on the right. I may waver here or there, but she never, and apparently from a very young age.
There we are in the photo below, me looking as cheerful and debonair as ever.
The only lesson I feel I have learned in all this time is that what is best in life is to turn seventy and find you have been happily married to the same person for the previous forty years.
* Charles Boyer was the husband of British actress Pat Paterson, whom he met at a dinner party in 1934. The two became engaged after two weeks of courtship and were married three months later. The marriage lasted 44 years until her death.