Love, trust and taxidermy: The secrets to a long marriage

Like most people, I have 20 fingers and toes – according to the most recent inventory, anyway.

I also have 20 back issues of National Geographic I’ve never read, 20 half-finished bottles of schnapps and other weird liqueurs that date back to the last millennium, 20 rock band T shirts from college I can’t seem to get rid of and 20 apps on my phone to remind me to do things, though none of them seem to work.

I also have 20 years in the bank on this marriage thing.

That last one I’m kinda proud of.

Go ahead and ask – How, in this indifferent and lonely world, can someone find a sturdy and fulfilling love that lasts? One that doesn’t involve regular cash transactions?

Last year, when I was looking at 19, I wouldn’t have chanced such a question. It would have been tempting the fates. But now, at 20, I can exhale a bit. Even if I’m exposed as the fraud that I am and my marriage collapses tomorrow, at least I got to the big 2-0. It’s like your beloved old Honda Civic; once it passes 100,000, it just feels a little better when the transmission falls out than if it had happened at 96K – and you know I just realized, that analogy isn’t going to be popular at home.

But you get my meaning, right? Twenty years of marriage is a milestone. It calls for a victory lap. By sheer dumb luck, it’s also my wife’s 20th anniversary and we’re going to take that victory lap soon around the island of Oahu.

Ours was an against-all-odds marriage, too. didn’t even exist. I think we were the last couple west of the Mississippi to get married without having been friends on Facebook first.

I mean, the year we did the deed was 1992, when the predominant cultural model of marriage was Al and Peg Bundy on “Married … With Children.” And it was also an election year, you’ll recall, when the dominant issue of the campaign wasn’t war or unemployment, but the number of women that Bill Clinton had groped. If you weren’t there, you just don’t know – when Bill and Hillary Clinton sat down for that “60 Minutes” interview, it was the scariest anti-marriage advertisement I’d ever seen.

And yet we did it anyway. Together, we’ve endured Hootie & the Blowfish, freedom fries, and all those “Harold & Kumar” movies. What could sink us now?

Here is the point, of course, where I’ll dole out my advice on how to keep a long-term marriage going and, yes, some of these things are likely to impinge on your sense of free will. But it’s not called the “bonds of matrimony” for nothing. Get over it.

First, there’s a widespread misperception out there with men that once you get married, you won’t have to wear pants as much as when you were dating. Wrong-O, friend. Maybe for a few hours every other weekend you can get away with it, but for the most part, you’re going to have to wear pants even if her mother isn’t around. And voting Republican isn’t going to change that.

Also, that taxidermy hobby you’re dying to get going? Maybe you should buy those hide staplers and glass eyes before you spring for a wedding ring, because mounting deer heads is a single man’s game. That’s a hard and bitter truth, but trust me on that one.

If you can’t fix a toilet or install a deadbolt, she’s going to be disappointed. She may not say so, but inside she dies a little, and that disappointment could corrode into something more serious and before you know it, home is a Day’s Inn out by the freeway. Don’t take my word for it. Ask Tom Cruise. He learned the hard way.

She’s going to say she’s fine with you going to Burning Man with your friend who looks like Jeff Bridges. She’s not fine with it, really. Go anyway. But just remember later when she says she wants to hear all about it, she doesn’t mean that either. Complain about the weather and the dust. She won’t believe you, but she’ll still be grateful. Apply the same process to any “guy” weekend or activity, in which violence, drunkeness or other women might theoretically be involved. It sounds complicated, but you’ll get the hang of it. I’ve got a flow chart I can e-mail you if you need it. Also, don’t be surprised if she pulls the same thing on you.

She will never care about your fantasy football draft. Never. Never. When she says that the two of you should never keep secrets, she’s willing to make an exception in that case.

But mostly, be loyal. Be kind. Help each other make sense of the world. Forgive each other, especially in the gravest sin that people commit against each other, growing old.

Make sacrifices without being all drama-queeny about it. Yet, don’t play the martyr. Being comfortable and doing things you like to do is a gift to your partner.

And, for heaven’s sake, relax. Unless you’re waking up next to Tom Cruise, marriage isn’t a prison sentence. “Married … With Children” is not a documentary. Last I looked, Bill and Hillary were still together.

Hey, not everyone is going to make it to 20 years. Sometimes it can be a steep and rocky road.

In my case, however, it’s been a stroll in the high country, and the view is still as lovely as ever.


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