Dr. Karl Pillemer, a gerontologist and Professor of Human Development at Cornell University, has provided an intriguing look at love and marriage from the viewpoint of over 700 married adults, 65 and older, representing a total of 25,000 years of married life. His five-chapter book, neatly divided into six lessons per chapter, is the result of a carefully designed in-depth interview study named the Marriage Advice Project, which he outlines in the Appendix. Here he details the need of such a study, his research methods, ways he found a diverse and appropriate sample of interviewees, how he determined the questions and conducted the interviews, and how he analyzed the enormous amount of data collected. His goal was to ask these older experts, married 30 years or more, “directly and in detail about the kinds of advice they would offer younger people about getting and staying married in a complex and difficult world.”
Though the study was quite academic in nature, the book itself is written for a popular audience—more personal, few end notes, no index or bibliography—with many quotes. Excerpts from the many interviews are used freely and engagingly; a reader senses that both men and women responded thoughtfully, even eagerly to the questions for which they had much experience and definite ideas. Some of these persons were widowed, some divorced, some had multiple marriages, some were same-sex, but the overwhelming cohort was 70-90 year-old couples in traditional one-time marriages.
The elders agreed on a number of important issues: love is necessary in marrying, but so is common sense. Sharing similar core values and interests, especially in such areas as money, religion, child rearing, careers, sex, friends is essential. Additional values, often repeatedly mentioned, were sense of humor, honesty, trust, ability to listen and communicate, courtesy and respect, being good friends—a team, accepting partners as they are without trying to change them, and making time for each other. The final lesson from all these experts: “treat marriage, at every stage, as a lifelong commitment.” Marriage then is a discipline, “a path where you get better at something by mindfully attending to it and by continual practice.”
Most of these ideas are found in the multitude of advice books available to readers today. This one, however, is unique because of the large sample group of older adults with views from the end of life; their experiences, both positive and negative, represent the full gamut of joys and problems inherent in love, relationships, and marriage. They have earned a right to be heard, and the author has provided an amazing amount of useful information by listening to these many “grandparents,” then arranging their responses in a pleasing format. This is a book you will enjoy reading and recommending to your friends and relatives!
30 Lessons for Loving: Advice from the Wisest Americans on Love, Relationships, and Marriage by Karl Pillemer, Hudson Street Press, 2015. ISBN 978-1-59463-154-2, $25.95. For more information, visit http://marriagelegacy.org. Dr. Pillemer blogs at Huffington Post and has been interviewed by a number of news sources and media outlets. He has also written 30 lessons for Living, and is thinking about his next book which may be about finding one’s purpose in life, also based on the advice of older people. (I think he likes us!)