Professor Joe Goldblatt
When you reach a certain age it is not uncommon for younger people to ask you for advice. Even before I turned seventy, my Queen Margaret University students would ask me “What is the secret to your long and happy marriage?” The first time I was asked this question I wondered what motivated the student’s curiosity about something so personal as a long time human relationship?
The American Psychological Association states that 40 – 50% of all first marriages end in divorce and the percentage is even higher (60 – 67%) for second marriages. In Scotland 72% of all civil law cases mostly heard in Sheriff’s court were related to divorce or dissolution of marriage and this percentage has been rising.
Perhaps the stress of the global pandemic or the harsh and painful cost of living crisis are contributing factors or the more casual approach to relationships is the ultimate culprit. Regardless of the cause for these often painful splits, the rise of divorce and dissolution is troubling. However, some may argue alternatively that this rise is also a healthy sign that those who are unhappy have a viable solution without the negative social stigma that prevented this from occurring as easily for previous generations.
I recall as a young boy of seven hearing my mother whisper into her party line telephone conversation that our neighbour had left her husband and then she lowered her voice even more and slowly spelled out the scarlet letters “divorce”. She then took a deep drag on her cigarette and shook her head from side to side as if this shocking news was similar to a plague upon our houses even though it was happening s few doors away from our own.
In 1975 I finally graduated from St Edward’s University in Austin, Texas and moved to Washington, DC to seek my future fame and fortune. My undergraduate education had been interrupted by an impulsive first marriage. Therefore, still suffering from the wound and pain of that early failure I was surprised to find love on the rebound after moving to the capital city of the USA.
On a Thursday evening I was walking along one of the grand boulevards in one of America’s city of dreams where young politicians, lawyers, lobbyists and others come to fight for causes important to them and also achieve professional success. I noticed that there was a small A4 sized leaflet pasted to the door of a local dance centre and it announced juggling lessons were being taught in the first floor studio.
After graduating from university I had found employment as an au pair (male Mary Poppins), however my only remuneration was room and board in a posh neighbourhood. Therefore, I needed to generate additional income and decided to revive my mime and clown act for tourists who were awaiting a tour of the FBI building. Hundreds of tourists would queue up each morning for the free 10am tour and I busked and passed my top hat while becoming the diversion whilst they waited. However, although I was adept a mime and magic, I was unable to juggle.
Therefore, I quickly made my way up the steep stairs expecting a male teacher to show me the moves that would advance my career. Instead I suddenly saw the most beautiful long legs in black tights and then I came to appreciate an hour glass figure in a red leotard and finally the most beautiful face covered entirely in mime white makeup with a large ruby red heart upon each cheek and finally, an adorable red nose. I fell instantly and completely in love.
My future juggling teacher told me her name was Nancy and I bumbled something about leading a tour the next evening and invited her to accompany me as my guest. She quickly agreed and I was delighted.
The following evening she joined me and 50 other folk on a double decker bus as we travelled to nearby Baltimore, Maryland to explore the last days of burlesque. During the bus ride I provided a short history of American burlesque and then had the bus driver play the music to “The Stripper” whilst I imitated a burlesque queen by cheekily removing my feather boa and encouraging the participants to shout “Take it off!”
When we arrived at the first burlesque theatre I told Nancy that I needed to look after my guests and then began dancing with them individually. When I glanced across the dance floor I was amazed to discover that Nancy was leading circle dances with those who were left behind by my dancing with individual partners. That was the moment my idea of a casual date evolved into the hope of a long term partnership.
At twenty – five years of age I had hoped that things would progress rapidly between Nancy and myself, but alas, following that fun evening I did not hear from her for a fortnight. However, one evening whilst walking across a bridge in a neighbourhood that had been the scene of a number of muggings, I felt a huge thump upon my back. I turned around to find that I had been mugged by a young woman who simply said “I thought you might like some company.”
That company has continued for 46 years this spring. During these nearly five decades, two fine sons have come along, two beautiful, intelligent and kind daughters in law have joined our tribe and two adorable grandsons have expanded our clan in ways that are too precious to describe. We also performed together as mimes all over the world, started, sold and lost a major special events business, returned to university to earn our post graduate degrees, changed careers a combined total of eight times, moved house nine times, purchased five homes while selling four of them, and finally gratefully immigrated to our beloved adopted country of Scotland.
So, when I am asked by young people about the secret to a long and happy marriage I often reply, there are no secrets, only hard work. However, the bumpy road ahead may be made more smooth by partnering with someone who shares the same values and one of these values is commitment. In my case the iceing upon this rich cake of life is that the woman I love is also one of the most generous and charitable people I have known in my life and her compassion for others is seemingly boundless.
It has been warily said that when American sneezes, Scotland catches a cold. As the commercial Valentine’s Day celebrations occurring in the USA this week continue to spread to our shores. I shall continue my custom of presenting my wife with a valentine’s card, red rose and a box of chocolates. However, this year I have one more gift that is also the best secret to a long and fulfilling relationship. It is simply called gratitude.
Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Planned Events at Queen Margaret University. His views are his own. For more information about his other views visit www.joegoldblatt.scot