I recently saw another birthday announcement for a woman turning 50. Her husband had lovingly crafted an original demonstration of his love that you've seen a thousand times before; comparing her maturing body to an aging car.
Comments about dimming headlights and a droopy rear bumper aside, I'm sure if they've been married any length of time they share the humour. Or maybe she blasted him; I don't know. What I do know is that regardless of how gender-free we like to pretend things can be, cars just aren't. I've always known a disproportionate number of men than women who love their cars. Dream about their cars. Name their cars. Envy others' cars.
I know many, many men who can tell you the year, the occasion and the people involved based on what they were driving at the time. Forget those genealogy sites to fill in blanks on your timeline – just mention the Gremlin, the Nova, the Maverick or the Caravan.
The first time I met a man who has become one of my favourite people, we were discussing grandchildren. As he tentatively reached for his wallet, I leaned in for the usual collection of school pictures. Instead, he pulled out the only snap he carried – of his beautifully restored 1933 Ford coupe.
I'm sure when the birthday girl's husband married him, they had some sort of word exchange involving a promise to love and cherish each other, to tend to illnesses and mutually prop up shaky bank accounts. Most entering a formal union declare these things; but what do we agree to when we buy a car, a relationship that in some cases outlasts or out-loves a marriage?
Well, generally, we agree to pay for it. That's it. When you pick up the keys, nobody is standing there intoning "love is patient; love is kind; love does not envy or boast," though they probably should. New-car love is fleeting for many of us. The first scratch, the first spilled coffee, the first windshield chip, and wandering hearts start to dream of the next union, and everyone nods sympathetically in agreement. When you chose your car, you were probably callously considering the resale value, how to make it attractive to a later buyer. You would never do this in choosing a mate. I don't think.
The pomp and circumstance surrounding a wedding can be ludicrous or subtle, but it is rarely as simple as having a buddy drop you off so you can bring your new acquisition home. That is the definition of a clean getaway. And while you may have asked that same friend for some advice on your purchase, you know you would never have to ask what your friend's mother wanted to wear to the event so it wouldn't clash with what your mother was planning on wearing.
Honeymoons with cars are better. You are guaranteed a honeymoon with a car by virtue of the simple fact you have one, and never have to put it off until later. As you discover new and cool things your car can do, you are more likely to be thrilled by this, rather than surprised in a bad way. If you feel like walking or riding your bike one day instead of driving, your car won't even notice, let alone care.
You insure your car; you ensure your spouse loves you. Problems only arise when you realize you are going to greater lengths to protect your insurance rate rather than your marital bond. Maybe if we paid more attention to the cost of the deductible in our marriages, we could make more sense out of this next bit of research: car owners are now keeping their cars an average of 11 years; marriages in the U.S. now last an average of – 11 years.
My parent's generation tutted at the freewheeling years of four-year car leases, fools being parted with their money to maintain that new-car smell. In turn, my generation poked back at my parent's, laughing that they'd keep eking out another mile from a beater when a new car was easily within their reach – every four years. My parents' marriage lasted 40 years, til death did them part. Mine lasted seven. Hmmm.
Can humans committing to relationships learn anything from the car world? I think so. If you knew every four years (or even 11) you would have to re-up, rededicate yourself, maybe you'd polish the bumpers more often. Maybe you'd do the routine maintenance that keeps most things humming along while avoiding terrible pitfalls. Maybe you'd consider the person on the other side of the equation would be contemplating the same decision.
Come to think of it, the man who put in the birthday announcement was probably paying his wife the biggest compliment he could think of: comparing her to a car he'd obviously decided was worth keeping.
Sometimes you take the sentiment where you can find it.