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Silver Threads: On marriage and compatibility

Many, many years ago someone wrote to the famous Ann Landers and asked her about the advisability of marrying a person of a different culture and religion. She didn’t say “don’t”; her reply — and I paraphrase here — was that marriage is tough, and basic incompatibilities such as these can make it even tougher.

I got to thinking about that the other day when I saw an advertisement for and had also enjoyed “Fiddler on the Roof” for the umpteenth time. I was still humming “Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match ..”

How much compatibility defines most marriages, I wondered, and what kind?

James Carrville and Mary Matlin seem perfectly happy although of radically opposing political views, but would differences of opinion over their home thermostat’s setting be a deal-breaker? (My own husband and I don’t bother to disagree as to the temperature in our house; one just changes the setting while the other one isn’t looking. It’s a wonder the thing hasn’t just blown up.)

Compatibility or the lack of it can occur in both big and little ways. If your basic values match up with those of your partner, I think you’ve got it made.

Here’s how my spouse and I stack up after 52 years:

* He’s an outie; I’m an innie, and I’m not talking about belly buttons. I can sit on a plane for hours and never converse with the passenger next to me. He will know much of their life’s history 200 miles out and they his. I’d rather read.

* We both like money and wish we had more. While we’re in the same ball park when it comes to how much we can afford to spend on things like our home and lifestyle, I regard income as something to spend freely within reasonable limits. He prefers to save as much as possible. I hope he looks after me in my old age.

* He loves grocery stores — particularly fancy ones with organic produce and beautiful big deli sections –Home Depot and Harry’s Ace. I like bookstores and movie theaters.

* We both like to travel, but he dislikes cruises and flights of more than 10 hours total. I’ll go farther if the destination is exotic. Or heck, even when it isn’t.

* We don’t watch television together. He channel surfs.

* He’s a day person; I live at night. This posed a problem on weekends until the children came. And as we’ve aged as empty-nesters we’ve worked it out. I simply stay up and he goes to bed. He also likes having the newspapers to himself in the a.m.

* He likes to cook and I like to eat. I don’t care for the clean-up, but I do it.

* I can work our new high-tech television set (sort of); he can help me with my cell phone.

I’d say we’re complimentary, wouldn’t you? Obviously, we don’t think being compatible necessarily means always doing the same things together. And it sure couldn’t mean that to the “family” I saw on a television reality show the other night. You may have watched the program: It’s called “Sister Wives” and is about a man and his four spouses and their respective children.

They live in four houses roughly within a block of one another, and on this particular evening were having a cookout with their monogamous neighbors, some of whom seemed a little dubious about the set-up. But hey, the cameras were rolling.

Talk about a potential for compatibility issues in all directions!

Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at


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