Today is our 32nd wedding anniversary. Yes, Rich and I were married two days after Christmas, creating maximum inconvenience for family and friends, especially those arriving from out of town. Selfishly, we chose this awkward date to enable us to take two weeks off work for our Costa Rica honeymoon. And although we'd talked of living abroad on our very first date, and have traveled as often as possible throughout our marriage, in those early days we could never have imagined that we’d be celebrating this anniversary at our home in Seville, Spain.
“What is the traditional gift for the 32nd?” Rich asked me this morning.
We’d already exchanged our modest gifts, so I knew this was mere idle curiosity. I had no idea, and when I went to look it up, I discovered that — at least in the US and UK — nobody else does either. After the 20th (china) most gift charts only show milestone anniversaries; apparently they assume that after two-plus decades of wedded life, you’re either divorced, dead, or able to come up with a suitable present on your own. Recently, however, greeting card manufacturers and others eager to promote anniversary-related spending have come up with a few ideas to fill in the gaps, and for the 32nd they’ve designated transportation.
“To honour your 32nd wedding anniversary with a gift, surprise your wife with a new car,” says MyWeddingAnniversary.com. As there’s no equivalent recommendation for something women might give their husbands (that list started with a travel mug) this suggestion seems based on flagrantly paternalistic stereotypes. And then, as if that wasn’t offensive enough, they add, “Smaller and less-expensive 32nd anniversary treats can include car air fresheners in her favourite scent.” No, they can’t. If Rich ever gave me a car air freshener on a romantic occasion, we would be at the office of a marriage counselor the very next morning.
I can only assume that these ridiculous suggestions are written by young people whose ideas about aging and long-term relationships are based entirely on memes and sitcoms. As a culture, our views about aging are all over the place; we can’t even agree about when it starts. In the NY Times article Am I ‘Old’? Stephen Petrow wrote, “As with beauty, the meaning of ‘old’ also depends on the person you ask. Millennials, now in their 20s and 30s, say that old starts at 59, according to a 2017 study by U.S. Trust. Gen Xers, now in their 40s — and no doubt with a new appreciation for just how close they are to entering their 50s — say 65 is the onset of old. Boomers and the Greatest Generation pegged 73 as the beginning of old. Clearly, much depends on the perspective of who’s being asking to define ‘old.’”
I don’t often quote Ronald Reagan, but he did a lovely job of putting age in its place during a 1984 presidential debate when he was 73 and running against 56-year-old Walter Mondale.
Two thousand years ago, the average life expectancy was 25, and if you were lucky enough to survive into your seventies, you were revered for your wisdom and consulted by your tribe on matters great and small. Today traditional knowledge isn’t very helpful when we’re struggling to come to grips with a new iPhone or decide whether to invest in a driverless car from Tesla. But that’s just stuff. When it's a question of living a good life, those of us in what the Spanish call “the third age” still have some tremendous advantages. For a start, we have seen a great many scenarios unfold over the years and, if we’ve been paying attention, have learned a thing or two about human nature and the ways of the world. And perhaps even more importantly, we realize the value of relationships built over time.
That’s why I love getting cards, notes, and emails at the holidays; to me, every single one is a love letter.
In December of 2012 I wrote, “Today, I live thousands of miles from my relatives and many others who are dear to me; they’re scattered around the globe from the Americas to Asia to Europe to Down Under. I’ll never again see everyone I love gathered under one roof. At holiday celebrations I sometimes feel a pang about the faces I don’t see around my table.
“But I am deeply grateful that I live in an age where I can stay in close contact with those who are far away. We email, we talk on Skype, and when the stars align, we meet up somewhere and enjoy each other’s company. My social circle is no longer geographically defined. It’s a bit like iCloud; my friends are not always physically on hand, but they seem to appear when I need them most.”
After seven years as a blogger, I feel much the same way about my readers. Many of you have written comments on my posts for years; others send me private notes via email; some have come to visit me in Seville or arranged for us to rendezvous in other parts of the world. You have made me laugh, and cry, and think, and keep on writing. My friendship circle continues to expand in ways Rich and I could never have envisioned when we walked down the aisle all those years ago. I want to thank you all for being a part of it. And I want to thank Rich for learning the real secret of a happy marriage: never, ever give your wife a car air freshener as an anniversary gift.
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I'm an American travel writer based in Spain and currently living in California.
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