Never, Ever Give Up on Finding Love: Here’s Why.

Valentine’s Day can be a very difficult day indeed for people frustrated in finding a relationship. And it can be easy, after Never give up on loveyears of looking, to fall into disillusionment or even despair.

However, the message I received from my interviews with hundreds of elders with lifetimes of experience in and out of relationships is this:

Never give up on finding love.

The best way I can convey this message is with an example.

Kitty was an adventurous, exciting young woman. She joined the women’s naval corps (the WAVES) and served during World War II. She met her husband after the war and they were married for 60 years, experiencing life’s ups and downs, traveling the country, living a very good life. Kitty cared for her husband in his last years, and said a final goodbye in her late 80s.

Although she deeply wanted a new relationship, she assumed that the love and romance part of her life was over.

But she was in for a surprise. To find out what happened, listen to her tell the story.

“Until Death Do Us Part” – Here’s What It Really Looks Like

do us partMany marriage ceremonies contain a promise to stay together “until death do us part.” Among the hundreds of long-married elders we interviewed for the Marriage Advice Project, we interviewed people who had lived that phrase. Often after a period of intensive caregiving, a husband or wife had to say goodbye to a beloved partner after 40, 50, 60 or more years together.

Eugenio was one such husband, and he shares what this promise to stay together for life really means.

For MLK Day: Life Lessons from a Tuskeegee Airman

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I’d like to share the story of one of the true heroes we encountered in the Legacy Project. TUSKEGEE-AIRMENWe heard many stories of overcoming adversity and discrimination, but no interviewee was more inspiring to me than Hiram Mann (pictured here in World War II). Hiram had to fight to find the work he loved, overcoming prejudice along the way. The struggle and the rewards of his 90 years were encapsulated in his first words in our interview: “I was one of the original legendary Tuskeegee Airmen.”

In the early 1940s the military was almost completely segregated and the Air Force did not even allow Blacks to enlist. But what if, as a young Black man, this was your chosen career, indeed your dream?

Hiram’s experiences as part of this unique group allowed him to achieve his childhood dream, and so shaped his lessons for work and career.

Back when I wanted to get into the military, before America got into the fighting in WWII, I wanted to fly an airplane. I had never been in an airplane in my life, though we’d seen them fly over. Well, I was a Depression-era child and pennies were very, very, tight to come by, but I would save my pennies in my box of wood and go to the hobby shop and try to make model airplanes and things when I wanted to fly.

Sometime in early 1941, I wanted to know about getting flying instructions to fight for my country. The letter of rejection that I received said point-blank, no easy words to smooth it over, that there were no facilities to train Negroes to fly in any branch of the American military service. That ticked me off. I balled the letter up and threw it away. There were Negroes that wanted to fly. But, all over the United States there were others in similar situations. I went back to my job being a bellhop in Cleveland, Ohio.

I applied again and I was very lucky. I passed and I continued to pass all of the examinations that I was given and I was in the 27th class that graduated.

Hiram thus refused to give up despite setbacks and his own self-doubt that emerged from being raised in a segregated society. Hiram needed a mix of courage, drive, patience, and forbearance to succeed in the 1940s military, where Blacks were unusual and Black officers an exotic curiosity. Nevertheless, he achieved his dream of fighting for his country, putting his life at risk in the war in Europe:

I was in combat. I’m a combat survivor. One of the questions a youth asked me was, “Were you afraid?” And I said, “Yes, I was afraid! When you let somebody get behind you who’s shooting at you and they’re trying to kill you and you know they are trying to kill you, you’d be afraid too if you had any sense.” So I will not lie. I told him, “Yes I was afraid.” I could see the bullets coming.

Where others might have given up, Hiram refused to become discouraged by the racial environment in the Air Force. Instead, he used the military experience, despite its difficulties, to create a career path that would have been almost unimaginable to him as a child. Hiram might be looking back on a lifetime as a hotel bellhop rather than as one of the pioneers of desegregation in the military, sought after in his ninth decade as a speaker, and a living symbol of perseverance in the face of adversity.

In the Legacy Project, Hiram shared some of his lessons for living – all good advice for young people today:

On tolerance:

I accept my fellow man as an individual. I try not to prejudge. I try to enter, whatever the situation may be, to get going to it with an open mind. I don’t look down at my skin or anyone else’s and say, “Oh, I’m colored.” That’s the way I approach most areas that I get into. I don’t let being colored keep me from doing something. Tolerate the other person.Tolerance – that goes a long way

On perserverence:

My mother had her basic teachings, she would not let me look down. She would tell me: “Hold your head up. No matter what, hold your head up.” And, my mother could not stand when I would say that I don’t have the background to do so and so and so. “What do you mean you don’t have the background?” She couldn’t stand that word background

On creating a legacy:

My legacy—I don’t know just what it’s going to be. I haven’t written it yet. But I do hope that I’ve contributed something to mankind, individually as well as connectively. I know that the Black pilots were instrumental in doing away with segregation in the United States. We broke the ice. We were a cause for eliminating segregation because of our combat record. We, the 332nd fighter group which later was re-designated as the Tuskegee Airmen, became the most requested unit to fly escort duty for the bombers because of the protection we gave them. There’s a part for that. Nothing I did individually, but my contribution to that will be part of my legacy. I’m very proud of the life I’ve lived. I’m proud of having been a black pilot and my contribution to society.

To learn more, here’s a video of Hiram sharing his life lessons to young people.

An Amazing Year for “30 Lessons for Loving” – Thanks to All!

Usually we devote this blog to sharing our elders’ practical advice for living. But I’d like to start out the new year by thankingthanks! all of you for helping to make the book based on the Legacy Project – 30 Lessons for Loving: Advice from the Wisest Americans on Love, Relationships, and Marriage – such a huge success. Based on surveys of over 700 elders – most married for three decades or more – the book provides guidance for finding a partner, keeping the spark alive, and making it to the finish line of a long and happy marriage. The book was published a year ago and just came out in paperback. And what a year it has been!

First, many thanks to wonderful folks in the media who kept me extraordinarily busy and helped spread the word about the Legacy Project. The hosts of the CBS Morning News made me so comfortable, I forgot about stage fright, as did the team at Fox & Friends and many other media outlets. I’m also grateful for major coverage from USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, and so many others. It’s great how many journalists really understand the importance of elder wisdom.

Second, I’m grateful to the many reviewers who responded so positively to the book. One of the wisest people I know is renowned advice columnist Amy Dickinson (“Ask Amy”), who called the book:

“A must-read for anyone contemplating marriage. The knowledge and wisdom gathered from this huge group of elders is both modern and timeless. It is inspiring, insightful, witty, and often — surprising. This is everything about living — and loving — in a long relationship I wish my grandmother had told me. I highly recommend it for engaged couples and newlyweds.”

Publisher’s Weekly said that “The advice is astute, fresh, and well selected by Pillemer. This book would serve as an excellent gift for newlyweds. And Blogcritics noted: “I highly recommend anyone considering getting into a relationship, having trouble with a relationship, hoping that a relationship will last, or questioning whether it’s time to get on with a relationship or leave it behind not just read this book but believe what’s in this book. It just might save a broken heart or two.”

Third,  I’m grateful to all of my readers, whose response to the book has been nothing short of overwhelming. You told me:

  • This is the best book I have read of its kind on this topic because it is simple and real advice from actual people who have been in long term relationships. Nothing is sugar coated and there are no quick fixes. After reading this book, I’ve been given new insight into other relationship behaviors that I will definitely cherish for the rest of my life whether I remain single or meet someone. Truly inspiring and touching. I don’t want to sound dramatic, but this book was life changing for me.
  • Learning from those who are older and wiser, who can speak from experience is an excellent approach. Well written and a very enjoyable read. I have purchased this book as a gift for others three times since reading it. The advice given is invaluable, practical and straight forward.
  • My husband I both read the book and found it to be full of helpful advice. It’s a good reminder of what it takes to have a long, success marriage at any stage. I not only recommend it to married couples, but more importantly, to those looking for the love of their life. Older adults have a wealth of knowledge and experience that we don’t always get to hear. It makes me think of my own grandparents – who have since passed – and the advice they might have shared. Love this book!
And I especially loved it when so many readers told me they purchased the book for loved ones getting married! I signed copies for some of them, and I am always happy to do so on request.
Finally, thanks to all of you who join us on the Legacy Project Site – around 15,000 people every month. You are the best endorsement of all of the value of elder wisdom and the ways it can enrich our lives!

 

 

Do You Need More Stuff? Some Christmas Elder Wisdom

First, let me say that I love the holiday season. But, as Christmas approaches and we are inundated with advertisements and messages to spend wildly, it’s worth taking a break for elder wisdom. In the Legacy Project, over and over the elders told us that people and experiences matter more than things. In hundreds of interviews, they unanimously caution that time spent getting a lot more stuff than you really need is time wasted. The holidays seem like the right time to listen to our elders and think twice about how much we buy.

Steve, 78, tells how he learned to put material rewards in perspective, focusing instead on the accumulation of love for family and friends. As I’m planning my Christmas shopping, I try to keep his lesson in my head!

We were among the very lucky ones. Both my wife and I were born into middle class merchant families, with caring parents in small communities where you knew and were known by your neighbors. My wife lost her father when she was only 13. She, her mother and sister moved to another, beautiful small community where life was comfortable though not luxurous and values for the young were set by the example of parent and community. My childhood with loving parents and an older brother was uncomplicated and also filled with good values set by example. Owning and accumulating was not an important part of life for either of our families.

This upbringing undoubtedly established most of our values and attitudes for the adult years. Honesty, integrity and compassion for ones fellow human beings remained the anchor for all decisions. As we matured, reared and educated four children and attempted to pass along those values to them, we learned that listening is far more important than lectures, and though it sometimes seemed we were not heard, the example of our lives spoke loudly to our youngsters.

Now, at 71 and 78, as we progress through our senior years, living comfortably — not luxurously — we are increasingly aware that accumulating STUFF is of little importance. The accumulation of love for each other, of our children and of life-long friends and extending that love to those less fortunate than we have been is the centerpiece of our lives, of humanity and civilization.

Home for the Holidays? Here’s Wisdom on How to Enjoy It

It’s the time of year when extended families – who may not see much of one another during the year – come families holiday timetogether to celebrate the seasonal holidays. If popular culture is to be believed, many parents and their adult children (and in-laws) look forward to the holiday with a mix of pleasure and worry about how everyone will get along. My surveys of approximately 2000 elders translate to the experience of around 160,000 Christmases  or Hanukkahs. Here’s their elder wisdom for how families can have a harmonious holiday together.

Eliminate Politics from the Dinner Table Discussion

When you are together at Thanksgiving, the elders advise, make contentious political arguments out of bounds. The elders say that these conflicts are simply unnecessary. Often, the urge is to make your loved ones “really understand” what’s going on in society and to show them how irrational or wrong-headed they are politically. The elders’ advice: Get your family to make it a rule to take noisy and unnecessary political debates off the table. (Remember, we’re not talking here about a lively, enjoyable political discussion; they mean the kind that ends with slamming doors and a spouse crying in the car).

Gwen Miles, 94, after many angry family fights over Democrats versus Republicans put her foot down: “I made the rule that there would be no discussions of politics when we were all together. And I said to my husband: “If Dad starts in about politics, I’m going to walk out of the room and you come see what’s wrong with me because I don’t want to hear this anymore.” The elders recommend applying this same rule to other “hot-button” issues  When buttons are pushed on a repetitive and sensitive topic, “just saying no” to the debate is an excellent – and potentially relationship-saving – option.

Don’t Try to Fix Each Other’s Life at Thanksgiving

When it comes to parents relating to their adult children, the elders are unequivocal: Let them live their own lives. They sum up this principle as: Don’t interfere unless they ask for your help. As Harriet, age 79, told me: “Give your kids their own lives. Don’t make demands on them. Just be there for them when they need you. And certainly don’t tell them what to do.” Joyce, 90, agreed: “It’s their life. It’s not my life. They all have their own way to do things and if they get into trouble and want some help, they’ll come to me.” Thanksgiving is not the time to exhort your child to get out of a relationship or get into one, to get a new job or stay in the old one, or to get his or her life on track. And the same holds true in the other direction: This is not the time for adult offspring to push the folks to sell the house or to start exercising. Let the holiday also be a break, the elders say, from trying to change one another.

Don’t Take Everything Personally 

The elders recommend an important strategy when the family is all together: de-personalize negative interactions as much as you can. By considering, for example, how parents’ (or parents-in-law’s) background and upbringing influence their attitudes and behavior, it’s possible to take conflict less personally and achieve some emotional distance in the relationship. Annie, 81, lived near her parents-in-law for most of her married life and the relationship was not an easy one. But when they got together on holidays, she made this rule: “Rather than assume the worst, it’s more helpful to assume that they are saying things to you because they want to help their child and you. Try to realize that their intentions are good and sometimes people, especially as they get older, can’t change the way they deal with others in their life.” Parents can take the same approach toward their adult children.

Remind Yourself Why You Are Doing It

This final tip from the elders is one that many have used like a mantra in difficult family situations. Tell yourself this: the effort to accommodate your family is one of the greatest gifts you can offer – both to them, and to yourself. The closest thing to a “magic bullet” for motivating yourself to put the effort into a Thanksgiving gathering, the elders tell us, is to remember that you are doing it because you love your family. Talking about in-laws, Gwen, 94, said: “You may not like your in-laws very much but you certainly can love them and stay close to them.” According to our elders, stepping back and taking this larger view can get you through the pumpkin pie with a minimum of stress.

 

Four Tips for a Happy Wedding- From the Real Experts!

What do the oldest and wisest Americans – some married for 50 years or more – advise for a meaningful and enjoyable wedding? Here are four “trade secrets” they have learned for couples getting ready to tie the knot. There’s much more advice in the paperback edition of 30 Lessons for Loving, due to come out on December 1!30 Lessons for Loving.paperback

Be an Optimist as You Go to the Altar

The media often portray marriage as under threat, doomed, or dying. Therefore, many young people enter their marriages with a pessimistic attitude. The hundreds of long-married elders in the surveys provide a much more hopeful picture. They weathered the dry spells and difficulties, and made it to the finish line – and are very glad they did. Their lesson is that a long marriage is in fact sometimes hard: it takes drive, spirit, and determination to “hang in there when times get tough,” as one 94-year old declared. But in their view, a great lifelong marriage is possible – and they are living examples of that fact. And remember that research shows many marriages do last, and divorce rates are going down. So go into your new life together feeling positive about your chances at a lifetime together.

A “magic bullet” for resolving disagreements

Wedding discussions can breed conflict for two reasons. First, in some decisions couples can’t have it both ways – you can’t both get married in the college chapel and have a destination wedding in Aruba. Second, the decisions have deadlines – the guest list can’t wait weeks while you debate his old girlfriend can some or not.

Fortunately, the elders I interviewed offered a great tip to break an impasse. April, 74, suggested:

There was one thing that we came to early on that really stayed with us. If we were in some sort of struggle over something, we would stop and say, “Which one of us is this more important to?” And when we could figure that out, the other one found it so much easier to let go. But you have to consciously stop and figure it out.

In your next argument about some wedding feature, stop and ask: “Who cares more about this?” And if possible, let that person have his or her way. Grace, age 70, suggested a variation:  that each member of the couple gets to declare one thing they cannot live without in the wedding; everything else is negotiable.

Use the Wedding for Communication Practice

It’s no question that husbands and wives can experience tension around weddings. Juggling the cost (Can we really afford a live band?), the invitations (Do second cousins get to come?), and well-intentioned relatives (Can I hang up on my mother when she calls with one more worry?) lead to stress. Stop to remember: If this is the most stressful experience you have in your married life, you will be very lucky. Learn to use some good conflict resolution techniques recommended by people married a half century or more, including:

  • Let the other person have his or her say before interrupting.
  • Avoid letting anger lead you to contemptuous remarks, like insults or sarcasm
  • Take at time out if you need it – not everything needs to be discussed until resolved; drop a contentious issue and come back to it.

Why not take advantage of the golden opportunity to practice good communication early on?

People and Experiences over Things

The elders worry about young people focusing too much on “stuff” at weddings, and not enough about savoring the people and experiences that come with it. Psychologists make this distinction, finding that greater happiness comes from activities that are rewarding in and of themselves rather than acquiring material possessions.  When thinking about a wedding, you can be sure that 50 years from now, you will remember sharing the joy with friends and relatives and taking a great honeymoon trip than you will the cappuccino maker and the steak knives. When budgeting, thing about doing rather than getting. For example, having a wedding in a cheaper venue and lower-cost catering so you can invite more people you care about, in their view, is a good choice. And those gifts? Don’t forget to ask for help funding a trip that leaves life-long memories.

Lessons for a Long Marriage – Our Intern Reports!

It’s time for the second elder wisdom report from our summer interns! Rachel Tannenbaum is a senior Welcome-Interns-Signmajoring in Human Development at Cornell University. Here’s what she learned about marriage from a wise pair of elders:

I had the privilege of conducting the interview with Selma in person. Upon entering her home, I was greeted enthusiastically by Selma and her husband Arthur. Only minutes had passed before it become evident as to why they are considered “one of the sweetest and most genuine couples in the community.” Arthur sat by Selma’s side, ensuring that she was comfortable throughout our time together. I was truly looking forward to hearing their advice about maintaining a loving relationship.

Selma, age 88 and Arthur, age 90, have been married for 66 years. Selma was very excited to tell me about their relationship. To start, she shared what she considers a critical trait in a good partner:

One that respects you and treats you like a lady. We’re married for 66 years, and my husband still treats me as a lady and with a great deal of respect.

Selma continued to explain how they have managed to live happily together for so many years:

We lived a very good life – not monetarily, but we realized our limitations and we just lived that way. We learned not to expect things that are difficult for a husband or wife to achieve. Whatever my husband earned, that was okay, we made out.

Arthur added, “We had fun, we enjoyed life.” That is not to say that the two perceive marriage as an easy process. They do agree that marriage is tough, and that differences and complexities arise along the way. However, they have developed practices that have helped them successfully overcome these issues.

Arthur was eager to join our conversation and share what he believes has contributed to their strong marriage:

We started off by saying to each other that we resolve our arguments if we can, before the night comes, and try to wake up with a clean slate. If you take your arguments to bed, they become enlarged and the next morning you wake up and don’t remember what the argument was about but still retain your anger.

From the genuine interactions I witnessed between Selma and Arthur, it was clear that they continue to adhere to this practice. Many people have a tendency to leave conflicts unresolved and questions unanswered, hoping that “sleeping on them” will improve the situation. As Selma and Arthur have demonstrated, discussing even the most minor differences allows for a successful relationship!

Jeremiah’s Lesson for Living: Wisdom Gathered by our Summer Interns!

Our summer interns are back! Two great undergraduates spent part of the summer interviewing older Welcome-Interns-Signpeople about their advice for living. Here’s the post from Margo Rieman, a junior attending Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, majoring in Management and Psychology and minoring in French. While conducting her interview, Margo learned the importance of thinking wisely, working hard and saving your money. Here’s her report:

When one is young, it can be difficult to make smart decisions and spend your time wisely because understanding and effectively anticipating the long-term costs and benefits associated with a given choice can be challenging. Many people rely on past experiences and invested costs when making life decisions. However, ignoring other factors – particularly the future – may result in a short-sighted perspective.

Jeremiah, a former World War II veteran and now a 99-year old New Yorker, had some wisdom to offer on this topic. Jeremiah made it clear that there are certain things in life that should be prioritized when making major life decisions, despite your immediate wants and needs. Jeremiah recants his experiences below and emphasizes the importance of thinking wisely, going to college, and saving your money.

I was a veteran in World War II. I could have gone to college on the G.I.’s Bill of Rights but I wanted to live, more or less. If you grew up in the 30’s you didn’t have the same opportunities as you do today because of the lack of money. So once you’re in service, and you accumulate some money, after you get discharged you have this money supposedly – what they call, “on the books” – coming to you, so you want to go out and buy a car, which is a mistake. I should have used it to go to college. I wasn’t a gambler or anything like that so I kind of accumulated quite a bit of money.

That perspective, the war, changed me, you know. Plus I had a high school education, and I wasn’t real smart, in fact I was below level but I could have went to college. I didn’t want to, I wanted to have a good time. Well, now I’m pushing 100. I never saved any of my money, and I’m broke. When you see on the television that you need hundreds of thousands of dollars for retirement, they’re not far off.

Jeremiah concluded:

Work hard, save your money. You’re always going to have stressful experiences, but if you know what you’re doing, you can do it. Be conservative. Be very dedicated to what you’re doing. You gotta have fun but it should be 20 percent of your efforts. The thing is if you do it when you’re young, you’ll be better off when you get older.

Jeremiah’s advice forewarned me of the importance of saving while I’m young and to work hard in all my endeavors. He gave me confidence that I will succeed if I am knowledgeable and experienced in the work I am pursuing.