Maybe it's celebrity burnout, after all these awards shows and the ongoing Kardashian saga of their 72-hour, sorry, day marriage... but for the lead up to Valentine's Day, I wanted to explore real-life love with real-life couples who are making it work and making midlife marriage last in the real world – even if it's new — and how they express their style within the relationship and express it on Valentine's Day. Who needs celebrities? Seriously.
Love Style: David & Gwen
New York City
David: A 51-year-old native New Yorker, he studied philosophy at Princeton, lived in China for a bit teaching English as a foreign language, even speaks a little Chinese. Now, David (who has a twin brother) works in computer programming and IT management, but his passions encompass the Russian language, Russian literature, James Joyce, Shakespeare, and even a little acting.
Gwen: 50, was born and educated in Scotland, later lived in Berlin and London. A conceptual figurative painter, her work has appeared in galleries in the UK and New York, and been reviewed in publications such as Art in America, the New York Times, New Yorker, Time Out, The Independent, among others. Private and public collections have bought her work, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the British Council, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, and the Gulbenkian Collection, Lisbon. Gwen moved to NYC when the lure of cultural diversity was too strong to resist, "the idea of a people who are all mixed in together, one foot in the new world, one in the old."
How they met: Our first date was in a tapas bar — after circling around each other in cyberspace for 3 weeks.
Gwen's version: I was 47, David 48 when we met. What's surprising is that neither of us lied about our age or height online! I was struck by how intense and young and trustworthy David looked and felt on first sight! It felt like a school date! Neither of us had ever been married and it felt like there was a symmetry between us in our emotional histories.
We are both 'late developers' and were beginning to wonder I think at the same time in our lives, if we would ever be able to marry."
David's version: Gwen is a painter and paints magnified views of the body, emphasizing the skin and what's just underneath it.... Anyway, when we were exchanging e-mail online she mentioned that she "paints her body". I had this vision of a Goldfinger-esque performance artist in Brooklyn, so after a pause of about 4 days, I wrote back "That's interesting."
How long they've been together: We met online 3 years ago, moved in together after a year and a half, and got married after 2 years. We are married almost a year to this day!
How does what you do impact your relationship?
Gwen: David gets asked too many times to help me stretch canvas on stretchers! David makes me feel more secure because he gets paid properly for his work! David is remarkably understanding and appreciative of my commitment to and passion for my art — often gives me razor-sharp responses too. He is completely unthreatened by it and he's the first man I met who is so!
David: I've always had more affinity for abstractions than for the visual and immediate — we complement each other well.
Are you a Romantic? David: Yes ... at least I like to think so! It's important to me to feel loved and make Gwen feel loved. There isn't any one thing that I do to express this, it's about having an atmosphere of caring and love.
Gwen: Saying I am a romantic just means that I believe in the wonder and majesty of life, however many obstacles are presented on ones path. Finding David is one great example! Maybe thus I am more of a pragmatic idealist!
Do you change anything about your style for him? Maybe I wear more dresses. But David makes a point of not imposing himself in this way…he seems to be happy with what he's got without any changes required in terms of style.
Do you change anything about your style for her? More soft cashmere sweaters; more scarves and hats in the winter; wearing my backpack on both shoulders! It's a bit of a joke really; I bundle up because I enjoy that she is concerned about my getting cold and lets me know that. The same with the backpack ... she's concerned that I have a bad back (which I do) and that I take care of it.
Do you shop together? Do you shop for each other? Rarely. We have very different ways of shopping. David likes to spend a maximum of 5 minutes in a store. I like to browse thoroughly…and try everything on!
Formula for staying together/making midlife marriage work? Lots of space between us...honesty, generosity, kindness, independence, [being] willing to accept that we have different opinions of Shakespeare! It seems that I do all the cooking; David washes dishes; we are working on this!
The Prophet author Kahlil Gibran says, On Marriage:
And stand together yet not too near together...
the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow..."
With that in mind, what do you like to do apart, what do you most like to do together? David: Russian reading and conversation, and watching soccer on TV. Gwen: Spanish learning and cooking, and watching movies. Together: Swimming, snorkeling, holidays, eating, walking, talking, listening to music...
Gwen: We do this thing where David reads in Russian the same book that I read in English, such as Anna Karenina and The Master and Margarita.
David: In general I'm a faster reader than Gwen, so it's sweet that when she reads English and I read Russian she is suddenly faster than I am. I sometimes get bogged down in linguistic matters, so it's refreshing to discuss the book when those issues can be put aside. It's also the first time I've ever really been struck at the power of translation, the way characters and events somehow shine through the words. From one point of view, we didn't read the same book, since the words were completely different, yet somehow [it] works anyway ...
Do you celebrate Valentine's Day? Yes, but it's not a big deal – we'll go out for a fancier-than-normal dinner.
My bonus question for you: After being alone for so long, is it a big adjustment being with someone all the time?
David: It's not that big an adjustment really when you're with someone who gets you. We naturally get along and can spend time together without feeling "I have to get out". We also spend time apart ... we don't work together, we don't spend every evening together, and we have a couple of rooms to spread out in. The payoff of being together though is sharing your life with someone — that's hard to describe, but makes life more meaningful.
Gwen: The adjustment is that a whole level of anxiety has dissolved from my life as I adjust to the fact that I am really at home with David and we are in the world together now. Its a miracle to have found each other so late in life and it makes me feel much younger...indeed we both feel like kids half the time.
That just makes you want to smile no matter where you stand on the heart spectrum. In the end, their love style, if you will, is a lot like their reading ritual – they've ploughed through a long story in their personal "language" but they end up on the same page, with a rich history they can now share.