Here, in honor of Valentine’s Day, is a piece I wrote for Newsday a few years ago that celebrates humor in marriage.
In almost 28 years of marriage, my wife and I have often joked about how deeply I’m in her debt.
Luckily enough, the other day I finally found the opportunity to bring this running joke home. As my wife sat at the desk in our bedroom paying bills, I noticed her calculator nearby. I stepped over and pecked in a few numbers, pretending to be doing some important figuring.
“Hey, guess what?” I said. “It’s true after all.”
“I really do owe you everything.”
Every Valentine’s Day, the experts weigh in about how romance starts and offer the keys to keeping it going. Biologists cite pheromones and psychologists the whispering of sweet nothings into the ear. All well and good, but let’s remember a sense of humor.
I happen to know this to be true. Years ago I met a young woman from Greenpoint, Brooklyn named Elvira. Quickly I realized that, besides being cute, smart and kind, she was endowed with an excellent sense of humor. Elvira invented nonsense words and did silly walks and made faces and mimicked Betty Davis in “All About Eve.” I learned from her mother that once, as a teenager, she traipsed out in front of her family with a basket of artificial fruit propped on her head, imitating Carmen Miranda in the movie “The Lady With The Tutti-Frutti Hat.”
As it turned out, her brand of humor suited me just fine. I, too, had certain tendencies in this direction. Early on, thanks to my cracking wise and pretending to walk into doors, my fellow high school students literally elected me Class Clown (male division). No joke. I kept playing court jester well after college, too, with my puns and spit takes, and generally showed few signs that adulthood was even remotely imminent.
We clicked, bigtime. I asked for her hand (no, the other one) and nuptials ensued. Over the years, we’ve made fun of anything and everything, including the world, each other and ourselves.
Our humor, mine and hers, is born of pain. Mine, because my mother was born profoundly deaf and never heard my voice, hers because her mother slaved to make a living to raise her without much help from anyone. We’ve gone through our share of crises as adults, too, from a daughter hospitalized at age three to my getting laid off twice. Our disappointment, frustration and anger seep out through our pores as jokes.
I’d ask you how you are, I once said to her, but I’m worried you’d tell me.
Hey, she retorted, did I ever let you know that meeting you back in 1976 was doubt at first sight?
You’re the only person I know, I came back, who usually needs a second chance to make a good first impression.
Listen, she concluded, look on the bright side: Nobody’s killed you yet.
Once, after I misbehaved, she gave me a sympathy card. Inside, she had written, “Because you are so annoying, my heart goes out to you.”
Through it all, such humor has promoted a sense of unity for us. You might almost say we married for funny.
Researchers, too, now recognize that a sense of humor can act as a kind of medicine for a couple. A dose of humor, taken regularly, can alleviate suffering of all sorts, everything from anxiety to grief, potent enough, even, to safeguard against alienation and divorce. Studies show, for example, that the husbands and wives who are most satisfied with life together give each other high marks for humor, and that couples who share private jokes thereby enhance intimacy.
So here’s my advice to couples: Humor each other. You know what they say: laugh, and someone else may, too.
Take it from us. We’re still kidding each other, still laughing together 30 years later. My wife and I have long since learned how best to settle an argument. We take a mature approach. We call each other stupidheads.
Why, just last week, during yet another domestic dispute, Elvira joked once again about how much she looks forward to the day she gets to collect on my life insurance policy. Seeking forgiveness, I asked her what I could do, right now, that would make her happy.
“You mean,” she said, “other than your immediate demise?”
Thus does humor remain the most valuable tool in our personal survival kit. And I think we know why. Our love for each other is much too serious for us to take too seriously.