September Songs: The Good News About Marriage in the Later Years

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9781594488504: September Songs: The Good News About Marriage in the Later Years

Since the beginning of the twentieth century, thirty years have been added to the normal human life expectancy. In September Songs, the follow-up to her bestselling Intimate Partners, Maggie Scarf investigates the surprising and profound evolution marriage has undergone in these ?bonus years.? In a series of intimate and provocative interviews, she delves into the lives of couples married for more than two decades and uncovers the welcome news that most couples are more satisfied in their marriages today than in their early years together. By giving voice to both their struggles and their triumphs, these husbands and wives reveal how they?ve balanced their emotional and physical needs with those of their partner?s, and how the lessons they?ve learned over time have helped them find new opportunities to love, cherish, and live alongside each other in the extra years they have together.

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About the Author:

Maggie Scarf is a journalist and the author of the bestselling Intimate Partners, among other books. A visiting fellow at the Whitney Humanities Center, Yale University, and a fellow of Jonathan Edwards College, Yale University, she is also a contributing editor for The New Republic. Scarf and her husband live in Connecticut.

From The Washington Post:

From The Washington Post's Book World/washingtonpost.com Reviewed by Judith Viorst Over 50? Married for 20-plus years? What would your answers be to the following questions: In what ways have you and your spouse surprised and disappointed each other? How have you been able to forgive each other's failings and betrayals? What's the most important thing that you have learned from knowing each other? How much satisfaction do you get from your ties to your children and grandchildren? What are the major sexual changes you're dealing with at this stage of your life? These are just a few of the many intimate and intense emotional issues explored by Maggie Scarf in September Songs, her exceedingly cheery report on what she calls the "bonus years" of married life. With our average life expectancy having soared from 50 years in 1900 to somewhere around 80 today, we've received, Scarf notes, a bonus of 30 years. This dramatic leap in longevity has resulted in a whole new phase of the life cycle, with many more married couples than ever before growing older together. In interviews with a number of couples, jointly and individually, between the ages of 50 and 75, Scarf adroitly examines how they negotiate the challenges of marriages that have lasted more -- and sometimes far more -- than two decades. Their child-raising days may be long over. They may be retired or contemplating retirement. They may have concerns about health, diminished libido, moving into a new community or outliving their money. They know that the time ahead of them is much shorter than the time they've left behind, that they're in the September of their married lives. But contrary to Scarf's expectations when she began her work on this book, they are doing remarkably well with the days remaining to them. She presents research suggesting that this awareness of their mortality, plus some benign changes in the aging brain, may promote important improvements in the processing and control of their emotions, resulting in less anger, disgust and whining, and more affection. Scarf finds in these older couples "an ease and a readiness to address" the inescapable hurts that occur in long marriages, "and to do so with greater patience, compassion, humor and the vastly moderating filter of the long view." Their lives, though surely imperfect, are sweet, and though they have dealt, or are dealing, with difficult matters, they are managing (and managing better than in their younger days) to enhance life's satisfactions and positive moments. This "positivity effect," as one social scientist has termed it, is demonstrated repeatedly as we eavesdrop on Scarf's meetings with brave 50-and-older husbands and wives who volunteered to talk about their marriages. Even the husband of the only purportedly unhappy couple Scarf could find fails the "impossible marriage" test by saying, in response to one of her questions, that the smartest move he ever made in his life was marrying the woman to whom he is married. I've interviewed enough women in long-term, quite unhappy marriages to wonder where they were hiding when Scarf wrote her book. Perhaps as with college reunions, where the unsuccessful classmates tend not to show up, those who are over 50, married more than 20 years, and truly miserable don't volunteer to talk -- not even to someone as good as Scarf -- about their marriages. And Scarf is good. A journalist and the author of several well-received nonfiction books including Intimate Partners and Unfinished Business, she is a probing but tactful questioner, an active listener and even, on occasion, a quasi-therapist. She enriches her material with research on aging and marriage and seeks insight into the marriages of her own interviewees by provocatively asking, "If you were going to give a title to a movie or a book about this time of your life, what do you think it would be?" The answers -- "The New Beginning," "Harvest," "Peace" "Life in Bloom" -- could convince the most cynical reader that "Grow old along with me!/ The best is yet to be" is not a romantic's foolish dream but, for some fortunate couples, a real possibility.
Copyright 2008, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.

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