She's 28, He's 58: They Made It Work

older man marrying younger woman
Contributor
Love, Heartbreak

When my husband announced he was marrying me, his cousin asked him to see a psychiatrist. His sister put her hand to her head. His four children, two dogs, and one cat turned up their noses at the very sight of us. My friends dispensed equal encouragement. "What's going to happen when he's 75?" asked one of them. "You love to hike and swim. Can he still do stuff like that?" wondered another.

At age 58, Bob Morgenthau was some three decades older than I was, and back in the 1970s, May-December marriages between professionals were about as popular as Cambodian root canal. "You don't plan to have children, do you?" asked one of Bob's kids, horrified.

Only my dad, a mere six years older than my husband, was cheerful about Bob's proposal. "Isn't that nice," he said.

We felt like Romeo and Juliet—albeit a hoarier version—for, in the face of universal resistance, we fell even more hopelessly in love.

It all began with a simple, white, knit poncho. I wore it while interviewing Bob for a story about the fall of the Nixon administration, which had forced him out as U.S. attorney in 1970. After I left, he had the peculiar experience of being haunted by the garment. And because I had asked so many questions, he thought I was either the dumbest or the smartest reporter he had ever met. Mercifully, when he read my story, he concluded I was the latter.

He became a good news source, but who knew it was more than news he wanted to share? I, somewhat of a hippie,was living with a draft resister from the Vietnam War—who liked to answer the phone. He never told me about Bob Morgenthau's calls. Then Bob was elected New York district attorney while I was on a trip to the Colorado mountains with the draft resister, scouting out a place to live and write my novel. The night before I was to finally leave the city, Bob called and convinced me to go to a fancy party. I agreed, thinking he wanted to pass along one last story before I gave up my job at The New York Times. In the middle of the party, Jackie Onassis—at the time still a recluse— came radiantly through the door, and even the snootiest guests stared and smiled. I looked up at Bob, and he was smiling too, but not at Jackie O.

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I still find that smile, an adorable ear-to-ear curl, irresistible. He likes my smile too, and from the start, we uncannily agreed on almost every principle in life, including the fact that I wasn't going to the mountains with the draft resister after all. But as our wedding preparations limped along, I was in an agony of doubt: Could I, an antiwar radical, join the establishment? Could I deny my dreams and marry a man more than twice my age? Before I knew it, Bob would be stooped and feeble. Our toddler would snatch his walker out from under him.

It is the nature of fate to mock one's visions of the future. Almost 30 years later, my age is not far from that of my husband when he married me. I don't see myself with a walker—ever. I plan to go on working, hiking, swimming, and playing countless games of tennis. My husband, who is now 86, still does all four.

When our first child, Joshua, was born, Bob, at 64, carried him everywhere in a sling, then in a backpack, then on his hip. He threw him up and down on the bed like a baseball and constantly serenaded him with "Give My Regards to Broadway." Six years later, Bob was less physically active with our second child, Amy, but he lavished his jokes, his songs, and his impish smile upon her. Now, inexplicably, he has more energy than I do.

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Our marriage has had its predictable ups and downs. But, for most of it, we honestly weren't aware of our age difference.

Time has started to catch up with us, however. On the weekend, he gardens; I go for vigorous bike rides. He rests; I read. Lately, I'm the one who opens stubborn jars and carries the heavy bags to the car.

Respect, however, doesn't grow old. Neither does love. My sister, Penelope, reminded me of a ride we took recently on a historic train in California: "It was a beautiful train. Shiny brass and old, burled wood. I looked over, and you and Bob were just smiling at each other for the longest time. You told me later that, for both of you, each moment like that is that much more special because it resonates with a kind of good-bye."