I think it was David Sedaris who said, when writing about his parents’ relationship, that buying a house could extend any rocky marriage for at least eight months. And if he didn’t write it, someone who understood the foolishness of throwing money at a problem did.

In other words, you can’t save a marriage by spending large sums of money, buying an expensive couch – although I would like to – or starting a big-ass project.

If spending large sums of money won’t save a marriage, perhaps spending small sums of money will. Less is more, after all.

Last weekend we had dinner with our empty-nester friends. While telling stories that fall into the categories of “What the hell are you doing with all your free time?” and “How’s your marriage holding up?” one couple shared a tale about their trip to the dollar store.

This confession was plenty entertaining, but the whole story was even better.

A Saturday morning that just weeks ago would have been chockablock full of soccer games, trips to the hardware store, laundry, meal planning and managing an 18-year-old (who is not a child and not an adult) had come down to the two of them speculating how they were going to fill their free morning.

First they drove to the redemption center and then, with the $5 they had earned from their bottles, they drove to the dollar store to buy glow-in-the-dark Silly String and a few other meaningful plastic items.

Desperate act, or an act of genius?

The fact is, if you stay together long enough, you end up circling back to the beginning of your relationship. No distractions. Just you, the old man, the dog and the dollar store. Bonding is key.

The next morning, Frederick suggested that we go to Marden’s. Hmmm.

Frederick and I stopped shopping together around the time that we stopped dancing together: different rhythms, and different checkbook balances.

He said, “Let’s go to Marden’s. I think I need something.”

I said, “Not a problem. I always need something.”

We stepped inside the automatic double doors at our local Marden’s, did a quick check to make sure our phones were charged and then headed off in opposite directions. I marched straight toward the Size 6½ shoe aisle.

I am no stranger to the Marden’s shoe section. Having grown up 20 minutes from the original store, I can always find shoes. My sweet spot for making an actual purchase is between the amounts of $29 and $49.

If the shoes are priced at less than $29, I feel bad about myself, and if they are priced at more than $49, I need to check my account balance and the leather content of the shoes.

I paid for my new shoes and then we drove directly to Goodwill, where I proceeded to shut down. There are only so many deals I need. I didn’t need a DVD player or a cassette cartridge, a pair of socks with toes or an oversized sport coat. I considered a sofa, but then reconsidered a sofa.

Instead of shopping, I waited outside for Frederick to finish his rummage.

Speaking of Frederick …

Frederick and I will celebrate our 24th wedding anniversary this weekend. Thank you.

Twenty-four years is big, but it’s not 25. When a marriage hits 25 years, people expect you to have a plan. Not just any plan – a big plan. A big trip. A big diamond. A big party. But that’s just not our way. Our way is to remind each other a few days before and then go out to dinner.

I admire (though I’m never jealous or envious of) couples who create elaborate anniversary celebrations even if we don’t, but I do sometimes question our simple approach.

With no big plan and no big gift to celebrate our special day, are we less committed to each other? Would buying a couch bring us closer?

The answer, so far, is always:


Jolene McGowan lives and works in Portland with her husband, daughter and dog and has no plans to leave, ever. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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