This is not a corny love story: Secrets of a long and happy marriage

  • Cleo Gorman and her husband, Ron Ackerman, dance during a class at the Easthampton Senior Center, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Still dancing after all these years: Cleo Gorman and Ron Ackerman prioritize play — which, in their case, includes tap, tango and ballroom dance. The couple’s first picture together, circa 1972. Photos courtesy Cleo Gorman

  • Cleo Gorman and her husband, Ron Ackerman, dance during a class at the Easthampton Senior Center, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Cleo Gorman and her husband, Ron Ackerman, dance during a class at the Easthampton Senior Center, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Cleo Gorman and her husband, Ron Ackerman, learn a step during a dance class at the Easthampton Senior Center, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Cleo Gorman and her husband, Ron Ackerman, learn a step during a dance class at the Easthampton Senior Center, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Cleo Gorman and her husband, Ron Ackerman, listen to an instructor during a dance class at the Easthampton Senior Center, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

For Hampshire Life
Published: 2/8/2019 10:36:58 AM

For two hippies — “together only as long as it felt right” — 50 years in a long-term, primary relationship is quite astonishing to think about, filled with history and memories. What a journey it’s been, of adventure, travel, love, blessings and pain; and it all began in 1968 at Wurzweiler School of Social Work, at Yeshiva University in Manhattan, when Ron taught Israeli dance.

I was a dancer, and I loved the way he moved.

He wasn’t playful when I met him. He was straight personified, and I was wild personified. He wore white shirts, black pants and black pointy shoes seven days a week. I wore big hats, high heeled pink shoes and had a long, carved cigarette holder I got in Yugoslavia.

The next step in our courtship was Ron’s offer to set up a bookcase for me, followed by a walk home.

Then he asked if he could hold my hand.

In 1968, this was very unusual. His gentleness was captivating.

However, it took us seven years to get “married,” both Jewish and secular, as it took me, an ardent feminist, time to consider entering the patriarchal institution of marriage.

Could a woman maintain her identity and autonomy within the structure of marriage? I’m still working on that changing puzzle, but the journey has been such fun; mostly biking, roller blading, snorkeling, skiing, ice skating, canoeing, doing Mitzvot (good deeds), volunteering in the community, visiting the sick, working for peace and social justice and trying to improve the world — together and separately.

I spent a few years at home with our son while he was out working. I would do the cooking and cleaning — it was automatic — and then the prince would come home. I didn’t want that.

Forty years later, I cook on Mondays and Wednesdays and he has Tuesdays and Thursdays. Weekends we go on bike rides and pack picnic sandwiches or go out.

The need for equitability is very deep in our relationship.

How do we handle the cleaning? Benign neglect. It’s not a high priority for either one of us. In the broad sense, our priority is the enjoyment of life.

Writing about the secrets of a long and happy marriage initially seemed corny to me. And unrealistic, a set up for disappointment. But I now appreciate the joy of thinking about these issues, having permission to reflect.

I know the delight of partnering, and being with another caring, living being, a friend and a soulmate, to share the richness and rigors of life. Nonetheless, living together with another person, rooted in conscious gratitude, is very hard work.

We quarrel more than most people acknowledge. We fought constantly about ways of parenting. He was the softie. I was the hard-nosed one. We went to parenting classes.

We tried to find a balance between the two styles, but really there’s no such thing. My son will still tell you how strict I was and what a wonderful dad he had.

I recently celebrated my 80th birthday. He wanted to have a luncheon for the community at the synagogue. I wanted a dance party at a night club. So we did both.

Ron’s very important to me, so if he wants to celebrate at the synagogue, swell.

We take turns. When I started taking tap dancing lessons, he told several people, “She comes home bubbling with delight and I never want to be kept out of her fun, so I started tap dancing, too.”

Canoeing is a challenge for my shoulders, but he loves it, so I love it.

What did we argue about yesterday? Time. I’m very laissez faire; he’s very punctual. We thought having a second car — which we didn’t have for 20 years — would take care of the problem, but it didn’t.

Sometimes when we quarrel, I just say, we need to change the venue here: Let’s go to the movies.

Which is to say that this stuff doesn’t smooth itself out. You don’t work things through once and for all. I don’t think people are prepared for that work.

It requires love, patience, tolerance, stamina, hope, courage, determination, perseverance, flexibility, a willingness to compromise. It is a challenging blessing to maintain a long, meaningful life partnership.

What helps and keeps humans going? Faith, hope, love, honesty, knowing there’s a time for talk and for silence, a time to talk about differences and a time to accept them. There needs to be time to play, five to ten minutes each day to remind ourselves that play is still possible and needed by all ages.

Additionally, each partner needs to recognize and accept that life and relationships have many ups and downs, and are inevitable, and that’s the way it is.

These ups and downs are to be lived with, hopefully with a smile. How wonderful to be on this trip together, not so lonely. Having similar spiritual commitments can be a source of peace and meaning, while treasuring quiet moments and solitude also adds pleasure to the 50 years.

Most of all, it’s important to keep sharing – a candy bar, wine, cheese and crackers, a slow walk in nature, volunteering in the community, cooking together, a free dance concert at Smith, exploring one’s own fantasies, sharing the visions with each other.

People who seem happiest are like us: busy. Sometimes leisure goes with depression. I have lunch with friends once or twice a week. Monday is tai chi. Tuesday is Zumba. Thursday is ballroom dance. Friday and Saturday is for religious services. We’re up to our eyeballs in volunteer work and visiting the sick, which helps us as much as it helps them.

We put on some tunes and have adventures. We don’t care where we go, as long as we’re together.

A caveat — all this togetherness and sharing is not for everyone, it would drive some people nuts. Each dyad needs to explore their own unique path to a long, happy life.

And I still love the way he moves. Our dancing has continued into the present, with ongoing ballroom classes in tango, waltz, foxtrot, cha cha, quickstep, salsa.

I asked my physical therapist, “How come I can dance for two hours without pain but I can’t walk a block?” He said those activities used different muscle groups.

But, also, I am jubilant when I dance.

Cleo Gorman is a retired school social worker. She lives in Northampton.




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