Heidi Isern

writer. thinker. whiskey drinker.

What Makes a Marriage Work?

Today is my parent’s 36th wedding anniversary.  I asked them how it lasts (I certainly have no idea).  According to them, it’s simple.  It’s the threads you weave together over the course of time. 

People that know my parents find them the perfect blend of romantic, silly, and kind.  To some they seem perfect-they wear matching outfits, they ballroom dance, and they sail across the world discovering newness together.  They also don’t act their age.


When I first moved to San Francisco they came to visit, excited to explore the city with their fashionable daughter.  I was determined to show them how cool and trendy my 20something self was and took them to a happening bar that had overpriced drinks and a faint odor of meat market.


Upon seeing one scantily clad couple start to kiss over their fresh squeezed organic cocktails, my father grabbed my mother and said, “Hey Nancy, we aren’t too old for that!” and dipped her into a kiss.  I escorted them out of the bar mortified. “You cannot DO that!” I shouted.  You are my PARENTS!”  My parents had just made out at my neighborhood ‘cool’ bar. I could never return.


Of course, when others hear my story they claim it’s cute and wish their own relationships would stay romantic for even half as long.  However, not everything has been sunshine.  I remember a few screaming fits growing up.  I remember times we didn’t all live together.  And I remember one family vacation in Scotland where all four of us got into a screaming match in the car. My father pulled off to the side of the road in the hills and told us our family was doomed. “Everyone go their own way!” he said.  So each person dutifully took off in their own direction, hiking for 4 hours along the road solo.  When we came back to the car we were silent, but at least reunited.


As you can see with 36 years under their belt, my parents have weathered quite a few storms.


“Heidi, every marriage suffers unforgivable hurts,” my mother often told me. 


I don’t think I’ll ever really know the hurts she was alluding to and I don’t want to.  But I do know that things are not perfect and true love seems to be a dedicated practice.  After all, to love is a choice.


In San Francisco we are so busy and there are so many shiny objects that it becomes difficult to focus and commit.  I wasn’t sure I had any idea how to create a relationship like my parent’s.  It’s not like I always jumped from bed to bed looking for the highest thread count sheets, but I definitely found passion and newness much more alluring than stability.


Last summer, I was in Whidbey Island drafting a poem to recite at my friend’s wedding.  It was midnight the night before and I had writer’s block.  After all, I knew nothing about the marriage type of love.  I could recite lines of love affairs in Indonesia, but I don’t think my personal accounts of remote sexy flings were what the audience wanted.


My parents were still up at the wee hour so I went to them for advice.  They looked over my prose and told me I needed to put in a little reality in romance and speak to the test of time.  I was, after all marrying a stout Irish Catholic to a Southern Baptist and the audience wouldn’t buy the Californian “Marriage in a Box” concept that expired after 2 years.


“It not always the one you pick….but rather how you grow together with them.”


I don’t remember if my father or mother said this…but they agreed upon on my added lines to the poem.  Now the romantic love at first sight poem had a little more….structure.


……Transforms as does twilight to morn

To an epic creation

Stone by stone, day by day

A cloud castle on mainland


Each year, each event a thread

Interlaced in bold color

One with another

Weaving a tapestry for a lifetime


It’s a story

A journey

A build

It gets better every year


With the words still warm on my lips I stopped asking


Perhaps I didn’t need to be taught

This was the love our parents spoke of

Constructing a destiny

From a scrapbook of moments…..



With this inserted into the poem, it finally worked.  I still cannot give any advice on love; I’m still working that poem for myself. However, if you were to ask my parents how they lasted happily for so long they’ll say it is a little effort, a dash of understanding, and a commitment to keep weaving together those threads of every day…

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