Recently, I took the opportunity to call my two grandmothers to find out what pearls of wisdom I could gather from them on the topic of love, marriage, and relationships. After all, both of my grandmothers were married for over 50 years before their husbands passed away. Equally importantly, both are happy to hum a ditty and dance around a room with you, both are generous with their love and time, and both are great with a comeback. So in short, both my grandmothers are supremely awesome women, with advice that should be heeded.
As a kid, grandmoms are these mystical creatures who give you unconditional love, candy, and toys. But if you’re lucky enough to have your grandparents in good health as you grow up (like I’ve been), you realize they are more than just “older people” with lessons to teach you and ways to spoil you. I’ve seen my grandmothers as women — I have laughed, fought, cried, and drank with them.
My mom’s mother is Thelma, but everyone calls her Nana (and I mean, everyone). Always open to a fun time, she is 88-years-old and can be found actively traveling, dancing around the kitchen, enjoying a Canadian club and club, and rocking leopard-print clothing (in a classy way).
My dad’s mother is Marie, but she goes by Mom-mom. Feisty and outspoken, Mom-mom is 82-years-old and can be found volunteering her time to women in need, drinking Bloody Marys, hosting the annual Gallagher Thanksgiving piñata, and telling people how it is (in a classy way).
Since my grandmothers live so close to one another, they spend time together — vacations, the theater, and lunch. Their banter is so outrageous that my boyfriend is convinced they should have their own reality show called Thelma and Marie. Both ladies have a lot of relationship experience that’s worth listening to. (As Mom-mom said, “Hey I’m intelligent — pay attention!”) So here's what the stars of Thelma and Marie told me about love, marriage, and all that relationship stuff.
1. Sometimes, You Really Do Just Know
I was surprised how quickly both my grandmothers knew they were in love with my grandfathers. Nana and my pop-pop didn't date before WWII (which he served in for four years). He had stopped by her house one day before the war and kissed her, but she didn’t see him again until the war was over when she went roller skating (with another guy) and saw my grandfather.
“And there he was, and I went ‘Uh-oh.’ As I soon as I saw him I was like, ‘Ah, there he is.’” He proposed to her two months after their first date. “He just said, ‘When we get married …’ and I said, ‘Oh, we’re getting married?’ and that was that.” They were married in September of 1946.
Mom-mom and her husband were in the same grade in high school, but not the same classes.
“I’ll tell you when I fell in love with him. We were in a classroom, we were signing a petition or something. And I didn’t have a pen and he was next to me … I looked around for a pen and he gave me his, but he opened it for me and he handed it to me. And that was how he was all his life. Your grandpop was a true gentleman.” Their courtship lasted through her training to be a nurse and his serving in the Korean War, and they were married in June of 1955.
2. Money Matters — But Not As Much As You Think
Nana says she was “lucky enough to be home” when her daughters were babies, and that she didn't have to go back to work when her oldest daughter was five, when she worked the night shift at a bank. “We needed the money. Money talks — it certainly does. But we never thought about money before we got married. He was working and I was working, and we got married. Nobody started with a bucket full of money in those days.”
And something that my great-great-grandmother told Mom-mom was, “Do not marry for money — marry for love.” And even though Mom-mom’s father gave her conflicting advice (asking her if she could marry a doctor since she was a nurse), she followed her heart.
When it comes to money, also make sure you discuss it as a couple — most of the time. “The best thing we ever did was say, ‘The money is our money,’” Mom-mom said. “Any big amount of money, we had to discuss together if we were going to spend it. Not every single cent — cause I wouldn’t have put up with that — but the big things, yes.”
3. Planning Is Overrated
Nowadays, women have a lot more choices when it comes to our futures. A lot of us were able to go to college and then tried to find a dream job (or really, any job). If we are lucky enough to meet someone we want to settle down with, tons of questions pop in our heads: Is this really the person I want to spend the rest of my life with? Do we have enough money for a wedding, a house, kids, etc.? What about all the stuff I said I was going to do before I got married or had kids?
When I asked my grandmothers about planning their families, they both scoffed at me. Did Mom-mom and Pop-pop plan their family of seven? Mom-mom’s response, “Do I look that dumb that I would have planned this? Don’t be ridiculous. Planning didn’t come into anything.” But she also understands that times have changed since when she was having children, “There was no such thing as the pill. All of my friends have at least three, four, or five children.”
About her three daughters, Nana said, “We just had them. There was no planning.” Now, as grateful as I am to be able to have the ability to at least plan out if and when I want children, it’s nice to know that even without a master plan, everything can work out.
4. Brains Over Beauty, Any Day
As Mom-mom explained, “People in my high school class said your grandfather and I were the cutest couple and all this nonsense. But that was just physical. I had nothing to do with what I look like — as my father was quick to tell me. One time, I said to my father, ‘Uncle Ed said I’m pretty.’ And he said, ‘You had nothing to do with that whatsoever, so cultivate your mind.’”
So regardless of looks, cultivate your minds, ladies and gents!
5. You Should Absolutely Tease Each Other
Nana didn’t write to her future husband when he was in France in WWII (he wrote to her once, but his letter was “fresh,” so she didn't respond). She did write letters almost every night to other soldiers though, and would send packages with things like socks. When Nana and Pop-pop were together, he joked that he would have loved a pair of socks, because his feet were always cold. She jokingly told him, “Well, if you hadn’t been so fresh, I would have sent you socks.” While he was oversees, he had found a diamond ring in a farm house, so he responded, “If you had written to me, you would have gotten that ring!”
Being able to take a joke in your marriage goes a long way — 50-plus years-long, in fact.
6. You Will, At Some Point, Consider Murder
In over 50 years of marriage, it makes sense that not every day is sunshine and roses, but I hadn’t expected both of my grandmothers to mention murder independently of each other. “I had a thoroughly happy, happy, happy romance and marriage,” Mom-mom said. “And I adored my husband and he absolutely adored me. There were times he was going to kill me, there’s no doubt about that, and times I could have squeezed his throat.”
When I asked Nana if they ever considered divorce, she said, “No. Murder, but not divorce.” And if my grandfather hadn’t had such an aversion to neckties, she said she would have pulled him by it. Is that why both of my grandfathers are gone?!?! (Just kidding, grandmoms.)
7. But In Order To Love Someone, You Primarily Have To Like Them
“To love somebody, I think you have to like them,” Mom-mom said. “That’s important. Not every single thing they do, but you do have to like them and then you can be in love. It must be horrible to be in love with somebody that you think, ‘He’s driving me crazy.’”
8. There's No Way To Avoid Compromise
This is an obvious piece of advice with any relationship, but it’s not always so easy to put into practice. “They say it’s a compromise 50-50, but some days it’s 80-20, so you have to go with the flow and figure you’re not going to get your own way all of the time,” Mom-mom said. “You have to decide what’s really important to you and think, ‘What did I see in this guy to begin with?’ and reinforce that.”
As Nana said, “If you feel that you love each other enough to get married, I say, ‘do it.’ Other than that, you have to listen to each other. Take into consideration your likes and dislikes that you both have. Just be able to reason things out.”
9. Always Remember To Be Silly — and To Be a Star
Maybe it's not exactly relationship advice, but good life advice in general: “It’s just fun to be dumb and do silly things,” Nana said. “If you’re a star — you’re a star.” If you have fun and are independent, your relationship can only benefit from that.
My grandmothers will always, always hold a special place in my heart. They aren’t just fountains of wisdom — they are loving, clever, quick to joke, and a bit insane. And that’s why I love them so much. I hope to be half of what they both are when I “grow up.”
Images: Caitlin Gallagher