Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance, to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:5-7)
My favorite senior citizen quote about love and marriage is from my Great Uncle Willie who said, “Be careful who you marry, because the only thing worse than being lonely… is wishing you were.” As an eighteen-year-old dreaming of the day I would find Mr. Right, this quote blessed my soul. Uncle Willie had been happily married to his lovely bride for well over fifty years by this point; but, he had seen brothers, sisters, and friends make remarkably poor marital choices (especially the brother who went missing shortly after an altercation with his ex-wife). Though jovial, his remark dripped with the truth.
Being lonely is no fun! But, being in a miserable marriage is even less fun!
If you are interested in gaining a mountain of wisdom before signing a marriage certificate, adopt some older couples and learn, learn, learn. Take them to lunch! Bring them a snack and listen to their stories. Take them to doctors’ appointments or the grocery store. Above all, listen to their advice and absorb their experience.
Here are seven reasons we believe nourishing friendships with wise, older, married couples can significantly enhance your dating or marriage relationship!
- They have made a mountain of mistakes. As Otto von Bismarck’s saying goes, “Only a fool learns from his own mistakes. The wise man learns from the mistakes of others.” One of the reasons talking to our elders is so helpful is because they have fallen into thousands of holes, climbed out, and learned from each experience. When I was eighteen, I attended a graduation party with my fourteen-year-old cousin. As I stood outside in the dark with some friends, I watched in horror as my “baby” cousin started snuggling up to a guy three or four years older than her. My extreme response was partially due to realizing my sweet little girl was growing up – fast – but my bigger concern was that she was acting just like me! Not only was she flirting shamelessly with an older guy, but she was completely unconcerned with the fact that we were all standing around watching. Thankfully, the guy she was cuddling stood still as a board as I stared him down. My eyes said in no uncertain terms, “I dare you.” Later that evening, I watched in utter disbelief as she lured him to a car parked under a dark tree. Did I think to myself, “I know how she feels, so I am going to approach her quietly and suggest that she get out of the car?” Uh, no! I walked over to the car, swung the door wide open, and demanded she come with me. Was I trying to embarrass her? No, but I could not stand there and watch her make my mistakes – I loved her too much. Suddenly, my parents’ and friends’ strong responses to my past behavior started making sense. They loved me, so they did not want me to repeat their errors. The older people in our lives have walked down some crooked paths and are alive to tell about it. If we heed their cautions, we can avoid tremendous amounts of pain. “Remember the days of old; consider the years of many generations; ask your father, and he will show you, your elders, and they will tell you” (Deuteronomy 32:7, ESV).
- Their children have made a mountain of mistakes. Eric and I recommend to our clients to also create mentoring relationships with couples who have married children. So, not only have they walked through the ins and outs of their own married life, but they have parented children who have (hopefully) successfully traversed the dating, engaged, and newly married stages of life as well. My sweet mentor, Miss Betty (who went home to be with the Lord almost two years ago), had children older than me and I know her experience mothering girls through their teen years, college years, and married years gave her tremendous insight into my world. When my mom panicked over something (usually a boyfriend situation), Miss Betty remained calm. She talked to me with confidence as if she already knew the end of the story. Perhaps she did! Couples with married children have experienced joys and struggles in their relationship and have helped their babies wade through the choppy waters of newlywed life, so they are oozing with wisdom. ~smile~
- They have seen trends. Edmund Burke said, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it,” and he was right! Aside from their experiences and their children’s experiences, older generations have watched changes occur. They have seen dozens of marriages fail. They have watched friends and family make highly impactful mistakes. They can cut through the Hallmark lovey-dovey façade and see the truth. “He is treating her with no respect. It is not because he is afraid of losing her and thus pushing her away. It is because he is an entitled brat who does not care about her.” “Is she flirting with other men while she is seriously dating her boyfriend? It is not because she is dealing with deep fears of abandonment. It is because she’s placing a higher value on feeling desirable than on her boyfriend’s feelings.” Grandma and Grandpa have been around and seen it all. And, they can tell it like it is, because… well… what do they have to lose? There are some serious perks to aging! ~smile~ “Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days” (Job 12:12, ESV).
- They have a better grasp of what is important in life. My dad is a pretty mellow guy. He laughs a lot and enjoys hearing and telling jokes. It is rare to see him get up in arms about anything – nowadays, that is. When I was a child, Dad channeled all of his young man aggression into sports – watching and playing. There is something truly hilarious about middle-aged men throwing fits during church league softball and something even funnier about my cousin (the associate pastor) yelling, “Remember the Lord, boys! Remember the Lord!” And, when the UNC Tarheels or Indianapolis Colts lost, there was much stewing in our house! But, with the passing years, my dad has calmed down considerably. He still gets frustrated when his team loses, but it does not affect him as deeply nor for nearly as long. After being a sports fan for 50+ years, you realize there is nothing you can do about a loss and life continues no matter how many championships your team wins or loses. Time has a way of separating the meaningless from the important. The argument you are having now may seem like the end of the world, but a couple of fifty years would just smile and tell you, “Give it time. You will work it out.”
- They care about you. There are seniors everywhere who have the world to give but are forgotten by younger generations. These men and women have seen it all – lost some battles, emerged victoriously, and watched many babies grow to adulthood. They see you; they remember being where you are, and they care about you. They want you to have a good life, and when given the opportunity, they will help you as best as they can. Last night, I held my friends’ sweet three-year-old and read her a bedtime story. As she laid her head on my shoulder, I thought about her future. I silently hoped she would always love God and never go astray. Lord willing, I will have the chance to watch her and her siblings grow up, and I will always hope and pray God blesses and keeps them for the duration of their lives. And, if she, her sister, or her brothers ever need Mrs. Viets, you better believe I will do everything in my power to be there for them. As adults who take care of ourselves, it is strange to think that there are older generations who feel that way about us. To them, we are the little ones falling asleep to a bedtime story. They care – and we would be wise to listen.
- They know much more than we realize. My maternal grandmother remained innocent and pure-hearted throughout her eighty-three years of life. She seemed to find the good in (almost) everyone. She was trusting, sweet, and completely precious – so much that I did not realize how much she knew. In my later teen years, I came to realize that despite her tender heart, she was not One evening, I walked into her small apartment home to find my sweet grandmother with a tear-stained face; and, by the look of it, she had been crying for a long time. As she started to speak, her tears returned, and she revealed that in her prayer time, the Lord had burdened her to pray for me. So, she prayed, and cried, and pleaded with the Lord on my behalf – worried sick about the guys with whom I was spending my time. “Honey, I just feel like they are using you.” Granny Jones was far from oblivious. Her sunny disposition and ability to find the good in desperate situations did not mean she lacked sense (probably quite the opposite). In the future, when family members attempted to keep secrets from her, I just smiled to myself and thought, “She probably knows more than all of us.” “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life” (Proverbs 16:31, ESV).
- Talking to them forces us to slow down and listen. “Listen to your father who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old” (Proverbs 23:22, ESV). When I was eighteen, my office manager sent me to a different county to file some paperwork. Personally, I enjoyed these errands because they took up a significant part of the day and I have always loved driving. Overwhelmed with thoughts of my latest relational conundrum, I walked into the Pamlico County courthouse and approached the elderly gentlemen behind the counter. He looked tired (well, weary) as if the years had taken their toll. As he filed my papers, he began talking to me as if he had known me my whole life. He spoke about slowing down and not rushing to the next phase of life. He talked about enjoying youth. It was easy to tell he had some regrets and wished he could have a do-over. Considering he had my paperwork, there was not much I could do but listen to him “drone” on about life. I was young and in a hurry. However, something about his speech and the look on his exhausted face stuck with me. Slow down. Enjoy. Do not rush. Life on earth is short. Take time to listen to seniors remind us to lift our foot off the gas; it refocuses us on what is important in life.
Some of my greatest moments have been in the company of dear seniors. In fact, Miss Betty, and her influence in my life is one of the reasons I wanted to work with couples. When I was a teenager, during one of my frequent visits to her home, I remember her becoming giddy when she heard the garage door rattle. “Yay, he’s home!” she quietly squealed. It was so cool to see a woman more than thirty years into her marriage still find such joy in welcoming her husband home from work. And, the joy of that moment stays with me twenty years later. She made me want to have a good marriage and to help other people have good marriages as well.
If you and your sweetie do not already have a mentor couple, please adopt a loving older couple into your life. They are full of advice and happy to impart their wisdom to those who are wise enough to seek it. Having multiple people shine a light on the road ahead will surely simplify your journey!
I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread. (Psalm 37:25, ESV)
Which three older couples will you talk to this month?