How to Be Together Forever, According to Jerry and Raye, Married for 55 Years

Forever, as a concept, has always terrified me. I think it’s the finality of the word—that there’s no end, no second act. It’s especially intimidating in the realm of relationships, which are often only deemed “successful” if they never end. You move in with the presumption that you’ll never move out. You marry with the intention of never being on your own again. You get into bed with someone one night and wake up believing you’re through sleeping alone. For a control freak like me, that permanence is overwhelming.

But when I mentioned this anxiety to Raye and Jerry, who have been together for 55 years, they brushed it off like a piece of lint. Don’t focus on what could have been. Think of all that could be. After seeing each other through countless moves, career changes, childbirths, illnesses, and losses, they say their love isn’t made up of one continuous commitment, but many smaller, fragmented adventures. That’s the lesson that stuck with me the most following our conversation about their life together: That forever is a perpetually growing field of possibilities, one that continues to bloom no matter how many times you mow it over. And when you reframe it like that, all you’re left with is an adventure. Below, a little bit about theirs.

Iman: Before we get into the two of you as a couple, I’d love to hear a little about who you are as individuals.

Raye: Well, I come from a very large family. I was the first of 11 children.

Jerry: I was the youngest of seven. I grew up in the upper midwest, in a small town where my grandfather was the first African American settler. He was a deputy sheriff and a railroad worker. And in those days, that was unheard of in small-town Illinois. He was also a tough, hellfire-and-brimstone Baptist minister. My grandmother was a housekeeper for a very wealthy person in Chicago. So I had the best of both worlds—I’d spend the weekdays hiding in my little hometown, and the weekends in a dining car on my way to the city. They’d serve me waffles and hot chocolate because they knew that I was Dr. Moseley’s grandson.

Raye: My parents did not have time to spoil any of us. We were taught how to do things, and then we were allowed to make mistakes and learn how to correct them. We physically did not fight each other—when we got upset with one another, we’d go up to them and try to hug them real tight, and squeeze the breath out of them. But that was about the worst we could do.

Iman: How did you two cross paths?

Jerry: Oh, let me start with this one.

Raye: I will correct you if necessary!

Jerry: I would go up and spend the summers in Minneapolis as a teenager. I started dating a young lady, who was going to St Catherine’s for college. So, I decided I wanted to go to St. Thomas, right across the street. But her mother decided that I was from small-town Illinois and that I wasn’t worthy, so I swore off big-city women. My next-door neighbor was a big basketball star at Northeast Missouri State, and at the last minute, I asked if he could help get me in. He did, and I went. I walked onto campus, and the second or third day, I met this woman right here. And I said, “Hmph, can I have a date?” This was in 1965. And she said, “Well, sure. As long as it’s the library!” That kind of set the standard for our relationship.

Raye: We’ve been together ever since.

Jerry: I won’t further muddy the story, but we were on a fraternity boat ride in St. Louis in 1967, and she turned to me and said, “Someday, when we get married…”

Raye: I don’t remember that at all!

Jerry: She’s going to pretend she doesn’t remember, but the day after she said that, I went home to my parents and told them that I was going to bring her up to meet them. And my mother said, “No, no, no. You have to go down and ask for her father’s hand in marriage.”

Raye: You mean for my hand in marriage!

Jerry: Yes, that’s right. And I said, “Why? She pretty much asked me to marry her!” But that didn’t sit well with my very traditional family. So I went down there, and I said to her father, “I’d like to marry your daughter.” And he looked at me, and said, “Well, you know you’re taking my baby away…”

Raye: We got married on my graduation day.

Jerry: I went to summer school to catch up because she’s substantially older than me. By at least a year and a quarter!

Raye: I don’t look it though, that’s the good thing. That was 1968. Our relationship has matured a lot since then. It has become real. It has been tested. And when I say tested, I’m talking career changes, moves, having children—one with a health problem. Both of our careers were in education. I was in business, and he was in sociology and psychology, and eventually, administration. That was his first career, anyway.

Jerry: I’ve had three or four careers.

Raye: Once he went into business and industry, I decided that was it for me. The moves started coming in too fast and being a teacher, moving from state to state? You have to take all these tests. And I thought, “Well, forget that.” I enjoy being a mother—most of the time. (Sometimes, kids drive you crazy!) There was never any mountain we couldn’t overcome. There was never a reason not to do something.

Iman: Did you ever feel like there was a time when you wanted different things?

Raye: I’ll let you answer that one.

Jerry: Oh, really!

Raye: Yeah, I want to hear this one.

Jerry: Well, we had 13 tough corporate moves, at times when they were not conducive for us personally, but we had to learn to compromise, to adjust to change. We learned to rely on each other.

Raye: When I found out we were going to move that very first time, I said, “Hey! Are we going to have an adventure?” We both had to work to get it done, but it wasn’t a chore—it was something exciting. It was a way of getting out and seeing things and traveling and sharing new experiences.

Jerry: And she has always managed the family resources, budget, and taxes—for over 53 years. This is a cheap shot, and I admit it, but I think millennials who make the decision not to get married or make a commitment until they pay off their college debts is a cop-out. We both had college loans. And the fashionable thing to do now is to get a prenup, and to me, that sets a standard for how you’re going to trust and believe in each other.

Raye: The way I see it, a prenup is a plan for an unsuccessful marriage. If you don’t have a plan for failure, you don’t accept anything as a failure. There’s never a reason to quit. We may not always agree or like each other’s ideas, but we have always been in this together.

Jerry: You know, my original plan was to be a marriage counselor.

Iman: Wow. This article could write itself.

Jerry: I ultimately decided it wasn’t right for me, but the fundamentals stuck with me. My parents were, I would say, madly in love. They were married for 56 years before strokes hit them. I always believed marriage was a long-term deal, and it comes with its ups and downs. But when you pick someone, you pick them.

Iman: Can you give me an example of one of those low points?

Jerry: Raye was diagnosed with breast cancer, the scary kind, the day of our daughter’s graduation. She went through 10 months of terrible chemo. When you see someone that you love experiencing that, you go through it with them. And she had to do the same with me. I was diagnosed with prostate cancer years later. Moments like those change not only who you are, but what’s important to you.

Raye: When challenges present themselves, I toughen up. As a mother, I wanted to be strong, the silent glue that held my family together. I wanted to make everything better. But when I reach that point of needing my own someone to go to, I turn to him. That reliance isn’t, Oh, baby, you’ll be fine. It’s more like, Okay, let’s look at this. What can you do? What can I do? And how are we going to do this together? When one is up, one is down. It’s a see-saw that goes back and forth, but it always evens out.

 Jerry: But let me be clear: We have been very blessed. Our relationship was not a check-list. Remember, I told you our first date was at the library? I never had any problem with that. Our decisions didn’t feel like sacrifices: We enjoyed sharing new experiences. But there are compromises that we had to make. Perhaps the most traumatic for me is that I married the only black woman in the United States that can’t cook fried chicken…

Raye: He has to buy store-bought fried chicken, and I don’t care! I may not be Superwoman, but I’m good at a lot of things. And I relinquish that I cannot cook chicken. My sisters always tease me for it.

Iman: When was the last time one of you was right, and the other didn’t want to admit it?

Jerry: There you go. Now, there’s a question!

Raye: I’m going to answer this real fast. When I was younger, I would have never told him he was right. But as we got older, I realized that it wasn’t important who said it, but what was being said. I’m getting better at it! And you have to learn to say, “I’m sorry.”

Jerry: Let me tell you a story that’s a little saucy. There’s a part of her that’s always believed that she’s not really all that attractive.

Raye: I consider myself somewhat average-looking. I guess I just never took myself seriously because I was such a string bean growing up. That’s all I ever heard. You’re so skinny. You look like a broom handle.

Jerry: Well, you see that picture on the wall over there? That was her when she was getting ready to walk the runway at a fraternity fashion show. She was one of the sweethearts in 1966. Now, look at this second picture, right here. There she is again, walking the runway. You know when that was? Last year. My point is, I was in love with the woman in both photographs, and that woman was 19, and the other was 72. Age and stage is a mental set.

Iman: Is walking that runway the craziest thing you’ve ever done?

Raye: Nope, I once popped a cigar in my mouth while sitting on a motorcycle.

Jerry: Crazy.

Raye: We were drinking margaritas with our pilot friend. But we’ve done a lot of other things. What about the snowmobile in Minnesota?

Jerry: Oh, right! We went to a black-tie event on a snowmobile, dressed in tuxedos. But honestly, I think the craziest thing we’ve ever done, 12 years after all of our health issues and against the doctor’s will, was getting pregnant with our second child. And then Raye fell that year while pregnant, not once, not twice, but three times.

Raye: Man, was it three times? Thank God our son is okay. We were a little concerned for a while, but he came through alright! Can you imagine?

Jerry: She broke her right arm and busted her left ankle.

Raye: I had two casts on, and I was pregnant. I couldn’t take a shower.

Jerry: I got to the hospital just as they were ready to take X-rays. And I stopped them and asked, “Did she tell you that she’s pregnant?” Because the radiation can be harmful for the baby. Oh my god, we told him just in time.

Raye: He’s our miracle baby. We love him so much.

Iman: And what would you say you love most about each other?

Raye: Jerry’s ambition to do things for the betterment of all people. Anything that’s going to improve someone’s life or help them to pursue their goals in life, Jerry sees the success in that. He has a desire to help, an unselfish willingness to help others be successful.

Jerry: Raye’s pretty sexy.

Raye: Thank you, dear!

Jerry: She’s right. We enjoy helping others.

Raye: The other thing that I don’t want to leave out is a sense of humor.

Jerry: BEEP!

Raye: And we hold each other accountable.

Jerry: And that comes right back to how we started this conversation. Our parents set very high expectations for us, her as the oldest, me as the youngest.

Raye: And in my family, it was not about living up to others’ expectations. It was about achieving what we were capable of. When I was coming up, there was still racism. When I was in high school, I wanted to get a job to pay for college because my parents could not afford to send me. So I dressed up perfect, called three or four places, and told them I was looking for a job and could I come in—and they said, “Yes!” So I went to downtown St. Louis, walked into each office, and they took one look at me and said, “We don’t have any job openings for you.” I got home feeling really upset and frustrated. My mom was washing dishes in the sink with her back to me. I told her what happened. You know what she said? “So, are there only three jobs out there?” And that was it.

Jerry: My expectations were more symbolic.

Raye: Now, my academics were never a problem. But then I started dating Jerry. I was taking this one particular class that had a lot of lab work involved, and it was not getting done.

Jerry: How are you going to blame that on me?!

Raye: So I called my mom up and I said, “Mom, I’m afraid I’m not going to get a very good grade in this class.” And she asked, “Are you doing your best?” I said, untruthfully, “Yes, I am.” And you know what she replied? “That’s all I can ask. If you pass, you pass.” That bothers me to this day. That defined my standard: Do your honest best. That’s the best advice.

Iman: And if you could give one piece of advice to a couple at the very beginning of their relationship, what would it be?

Jerry: Dwell on what you want to give to the relationship, not what you have to give up.

Photos by Natalie Piserchio.

Iman Hariri-Kia

Iman Hariri-Kia is a New York-based writer, musician, activist, and Bustle's Sex & Relationships Editor. You can often find her performing songs about those who wronged her in Middle School.

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