1. Can love really last a lifetime? Absolutely — but only if you chuck the fairy tale of living happily ever after. A team of scientists recently found that romantic love involves chemical changes in the brain that last 12 to 18 months. After that, you and your partner are on your own. Relationships require maintenance. Pay a visit to a nursing home if you want to see proof of lasting love. Recently I spoke to a man whose wife of 60 years was suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s disease. He came to sit with her every day and hold her hand. “She’s been my best friend since high school,” he told me. “We made a promise to stick together.” Now, that’s a love story.
2. Why do married folks begin to look like one another? Watch any two people who like each other talking, and you’ll see a lot of mirroring. One smiles, and so does the other. One nods or raises her eyebrows, and so does the other. Faces are like melodies with a natural urge to stay in sync. Multiply those movements by several decades of marriage, all those years of simultaneous sagging and drooping, and it’s no wonder!
3. Can a marriage survive betrayal? Yes. It takes time and work, but experts are pretty unanimous on this one. In her book The Monogamy Myth, Peggy Vaughan estimates that 60 percent of husbands and 40 percent of wives will have an affair at some point in their marriages. That’s no advertisement for straying — but the news is good for couples hoping to recover from devastating breaches of trust. The offended partner needs to make the choice to forgive — and learn to live with a memory that can’t simply be erased. Infidelity is never forgotten, but it can gradually fade into the murky background of a strong, mature marriage.
4. Why does summer zoom by and winter drag on forever? Because context defines experience. As Albert Einstein once said: “When you are courting a nice girl, an hour seems like a second. When you sit on a red-hot cinder, a second seems like an hour.”
5. Do animals really have a sixth sense? Or seventh or eighth! A box jellyfish has 24 eyes, an earthworm’s entire body is covered with taste receptors, a cockroach can detect movement 2,000 times the diameter of a hydrogen atom — and your dog’s sense of smell is up to 100,000 times greater than yours (some dogs have been known to smell human cancers). It’s safe to say that animals experience a much different world than we do.
6. Why does the line you’re in always move the slowest? Because you’re late for your kid’s band practice, and you curse your luck and envy those speeding by. Conversely, when you’re in the fast line, unfettered by stress, you don’t even notice the poor schlubs in the slow lane. Good luck rarely commands one’s attention like bad luck. (See answer on buttered toast, “The Ultimate Test,” below.)
7. By what age should you know what you want to do with your life? Any moment now. This used to be a question the young asked. Now it’s a quandary for baby boomers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that younger boomers have abandoned the American ideal of picking a job and sticking with it. Between the ages of 18 and 36, these boomers held an average of 9.6 jobs. That’s a lot of exploration. The wisdom of elders in all cultures seems to be this: There’s nothing to do with a life but live it. As Gandhi pointed out, “Almost anything you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.”
8. Where do traffic jams come from? Scientists are hard at work on this one, studying computer models of the physics of gridlock and inventing all new traffic-light algorithms. Some of them postulate that the rhythms of automobile traffic are influenced by the same cyclical forces that cause waves in the ocean. For the average commuter, though, it may be helpful to think of it this way: congestion. There are just too many darn people trying to do the same thing at once. (Flush every toilet in a single office building simultaneously, and see what happens.) All of this by way of saying: Buy a newspaper, load up some favorite tunes on your MP3 player, and take the bus.
9. When is your future behind you? When you stop chasing dreams. So don’t stop!
10. Do you have to love your job? No. Love your children, your spouse and your country. Love your parents, your neighbor and your dog. Loving is too important an emotion to attach to the way you make a living. But it’s OK to strive for satisfaction. According to a recent Harris Poll, across America 59% of workers say they are extremely, somewhat or slightly satisfied with their jobs, but a depressing 33% feel as if they’ve reached a career dead end. If you’re among the latter and thinking about a new job, consider the fact that employees in small firms said they felt more engaged in their work than did their corporate counterparts.
11. Can a man and a woman ever just be friends? For a short time perhaps. Making the friendship last requires that you find each other at least vaguely repulsive. Good luck!
12. When do you take away Grandpa’s car keys? Twenty-two states currently require frequent testing for senior drivers. The American Medical Association and the AARP, however, say safe driving has more to do with functional ability than age. True, seniors are more at risk for reduced vision, hearing loss and impairments associated with arthritis — but all of these conditions depend on the individual. So when it seems to you that Pop is becoming a danger to himself and a danger to others, tell him straight. Point out that his reactions have slowed or his judgment is losing its edge. Suggest he not drive anymore. Be firm, but at the same time, don’t treat him like a child. Allow him his dignity. Offer him a ride.
13. Do siblings who fight really end up liking each other? I surveyed my older sisters, both of whom have vivid memories of how I tripped, pummeled, and whacked them with various large plastic dolls (hey, they started it — they teased me!), and both confirmed my suspicion that nowadays they like me just fine. I sure like them. All the experts will tell you that fighting among siblings is normal. The key is how parents handle it. Rule No 1: Don’t take sides. Never get into a discussion of who started what or what is more fair. Stop fights with a time-out for all offenders. My mother would send us to separate rooms. So we invented string phones and a pulley system to transport necessary treats and toys. And whatever we were fighting about was forgotten.
14. How do you know when to end a friendship? As soon as you get that sneaking suspicion that it never really began.