Inspiration for (Uncommitted) Partners?

February 2002

Valentine's Day is a time for romance.

On February 14th of last year we were merrily sipping our morning brew and browsing through the local daily when we came upon an article titled "Secrets of 84-year Marriage," accompanied by a photograph of an elderly couple, William and Fung Hsieh. (William was 101 years old and his wife, 100.) The article opened by asking, "What is the secret to a happy marriage? Love? Passion? Commitment?" Golly, we mused, could such sought-after information possibly be divulged in a roughly 300-word article? Certainly this must be some shallow paean to romance and "keeping the flame alive." Expecting the usual helping of mush served up on this day, we nonetheless read the article, and were treated to something entirely different.

The Hsiehs' is a story not often heard around these parts. Not only in terms of the astounding length of their marriage, but because theirs was an arranged marriage. William and Fung were wed in China as teenagers. The first time William saw Fung's unveiled face was the morning after their wedding. In 1964 they departed Communist China for our decadent shores, finally settling in the Bay Area in 1994. Somehow their marriage, which has spanned eight decades and half the globe, has survived intact. So, we wondered, what is the secret to their success? What combination of love, passion, and commitment could it be?

Actually, explains William, romantic love and passion have nothing to do with it. "A lot of people say it's love. I think it's reasonableness…. A bad temper, for example, can start trouble, and love can leave out the window." Fung, speaking through her son, says that William's tenderness endeared him to her, that he "is always kind" to her, and that that is what has kept their marriage going strong.

So there you have it. You want romance? Try being reasonable. You want passion? Try a little tenderness. That leaves commitment, for which there is no substitute. Oddly, however, that term appears only once more in the article, and it's given an oxymoronic twist.

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New Oxford Notes: February 2002

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