Tuesday, July 23, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

E-mail article     Print

10 Years Later, Where Are They Now? -- Some Are Together, Some Are Not, Some Say Divorce Will Never Be An Option

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

Third of seven parts

Today, in the third installment of "the State of Marriage in the '90s: Fifteen years ago The Times interviewed 13 couples who were picking up marriage licenses. We tracked eown most of them tofind out how things turned out...Donna and Casey are locked in a power struggle. -----------------------------------------------------------------

When we first met them, they were applying for marriage licenses. They smiled and smooched for the photographer and talked about living happily ever after.

That was 15 years, numerous kids, untold good times and hard times and gallons of tears ago.

We recently checked back with 13 couples we'd first interviewed in June, 1981, at the King County marriage license office to see where life and luck have brought them.

We found all but one of them, many in the same neighborhoods they'd settled down in as newlyweds.

Our couples were among 14,728 who filed marriage licenses in King County in 1981. It was a very good year for marriages here (at least in terms of sheer numbers); only 1990 has had more, 14,950. Last year there were 13,829.

About half as many couples divorced in the county in those years.

Of our 13 couples, seven are still together; another didn't return our phone calls or letters, but it appears from public records they're still married.

When we talked to the 26 men and women in 1981, 11 were entering second marriages. At least five of those 11 have been divorced again over the past 15 years.

The first divorce among our couples took place in 1984. Details of one decree have been sealed; a notation in the record indicates child-protective social workers were involved.

Here is an update on four of our couples:

Russell and Sandra Swarringim

"I think there's someone for everybody," Russell Swarringim told us in 1981. "It's just finding the right person at the right time."

The timing was obviously right on for the Swarringims.

Sandra had been married and divorced to a man whose ironhanded ways still inflame her. Her two sons were going into their teens - one would give them a great deal of grief before he was grown. The cost of her wedding ring and a casual attitude toward a credit card had put them deep in debt from the very beginning. Russell, the last of his family line, wanted children; but Sandra couldn't have any more.

Marriages have crumbled under far less weight than that.

But the Swarringims are still enchanted with each other.

"He's my mate for life," Sandra says, matter-of-factly, as if she were telling you what's for supper. "When he gets sick with a cold, I listen to him breathe and I think about how if I lost him, I'd just be alone. He's my best friend."

"I may not tell you I love you every day, Sandra, but I think it all the time," he answers, just as unself-consciously.

The Swarringims still bowl in a mixed league at the same Kent bowling alley where they met. He's 50 now and still a data processor at Boeing. She's 47 and a pre-school teacher.

There's still not enough money for everything. "Our credit's good," Russell says with a chuckle. "We pay the bills; we just don't have any cash."

The boys live nearby with their families, and the Swarringims often baby-sit.

"Russell was there for them, all through the bad times," Sandra says.

The grandchildren are reminders of the sacrifice Russell made to marry Sandra. Tears well in his eyes when he remembers telling his parents he was marrying Sandra and they wouldn't be having children.

"I was the only son," he says. "It really hurt me, but I couldn't see doing anything else. I was 35 when I got married. It would have been nicer if we'd met sooner. But there wasn't any question of not marrying her."

Their marriage also has been jolted by Russell's diabetes. He was diagnosed 11 years ago.

"We couldn't be that free-floating couple we were before," Sandra says. "He has to have his shots on time, and his food has to be right."

But Sandra can't imagine what it would have been like if they hadn't met.

"No marriage is perfect," she says, "but I couldn't ask for better. This is as good as it gets."

Greg and Mary Schumacher

The Schumachers said 15 years ago divorce would never be an option for them. They say the same thing today.

Greg was 20 and Mary 18 when they married. They'd been high-school sweethearts, and once Mary graduated, "There was no reason to wait," she said.

They'd attended eight months of pre-marital counseling through their church, Des Moines Gospel Chapel, and credit it with helping them stay on an even footing. Each also maintains a relationship with a mentor from the church.

Greg and Mary have a marriage steeped in Christian tradition. He works in Boeing's finance department. She works at home, raising three girls and a boy, ranging in age from 3 to 10. He handles the money and plans for the future. She's active in the PTA.

"In some ways I'm very masculine in my thinking and she's very feminine," Greg says. "It seems like many times we don't connect well."

That's when they seek out their mentors, he to talk about the stock market or the Mariners; she to talk "about womanly things."

Still, Greg helps out at home by washing the dinner dishes and wiping the table. "I've been doing it all day," Mary says. "It's his turn."

The Schumachers say they don't argue often. But if they "really disagree on something," Mary says, "I would be the one most often that would cave under."

"I don't remember ever saying, `I'm the man and I decide,' " Greg answers.

It's taken a lot of compromise and sacrifice to enable them to have this traditional lifestyle, to live on one salary.

Greg has pretty much given up golf - he used to play twice a week; now it's twice a year. They rarely go out to dinner and never splurge on hamburgers at McDonalds. But once a year they try to leave the kids with the grandparents or friends and take off for a weekend vacation; every now and then they stretch that out to a week.

There have been trials along the way. Mary had three miscarriages. And there seemed to be no time to breathe between the girls - the first wasn't 3 1/2 when the third was born. Greg regrets not having traveled before the kids came along.

"I would like to have gone to Europe," he says. "We should have done something really frivolous before we had the kids. But we were busy buying a house and getting settled."

Mary agrees. "But at the same time, I'm not sure I would have done anything different at that age. I was so focused on wanting to have kids."

But nothing has ever really tested their faith or their marriage, both say emphatically.

"When you get married you make a commitment to stay married," Greg says. "When there are problems and conflict, you learn to come to a point of mutual forgiveness. You learn to yield to the other person and compromise. I think a lot of those things come from out of Christianity."

Bruce Rosenberg and Ann Harleman

They met at a party, and he was stunned by her beauty. He was in his mid 40s and she was 10 years younger. They'd each been married and divorced twice before.

"After I got to know her, then I was attracted to her personality," Rosenberg says. "I know that's a cliche."

Since then nothing about their lives has been trite.

During the first two years of their marriage, Ann taught linguistics at the University of Washington while Bruce commuted across the country to his job as a professor of folklore and American Studies at Brown University in Providence, R.I.

Harleman is Ann's maiden name - people in Seattle may remember her as Ann Stewart, the name she went by when she and Bruce married.

Ann eventually joined him in Rhode Island, and now writes and teaches at Rhode Island School of Design. Her short-story collection, "Happiness," won the 1993 University of Iowa Short Fiction Award; a novel, "Bitter Lake," is to be published this fall.

Both Bruce and Ann were sure this third marriage was right early on.

"We both have tried a lot harder," Bruce says. "We were more accommodating, and we just worked at it. Like Avis."

Ann knew unmistakably "when I decided to give up teaching full time to write fiction. Bruce supported that decision. We sold our house and bought a cheaper one and scaled back. That kind of support - when you support the other person even if you don't understand, just because you know that's what they want - I think that's rare."

Their lives together took a turn in 1990, when Bruce was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. It's a mild case, he insists, although he tires by afternoon.

Rosenberg's illness "is the most serious difficulty that's happened to me in my life," Ann says. "I'm never going to leave him, and this is only going to get worse. We hope for a cure and there has been some encouraging research done. But it gets discouraging."

Bruce can't imagine what he'd do without his wife.

"It's very important for me to have somebody to love," he says. "For me this is as important as being loved. To do without her I'd be doing without an important center of my life. This I know."

Carl Van Valkenberg and Sheree LaRue/Carl and Leslie Van Valkenberg

Fifteen years ago, as Carl Van Valkenberg prepared to marry Sheree LaRue, he said the greatest stress on their marriage would likely be his long absences. He is a commercial fisherman in Alaska.

Carl and Sheree's marriage lasted four years. They were divorced in 1985.

He and Sheree both remarried.

If fishing really was Carl and Sheree's worst problem, we won't know. Sheree, who lives in Seattle with her new husband and the son she had with Carl, didn't want to talk to us. And Carl didn't want to talk about marriage to Sheree.

"That was a long time ago," he says. "It really doesn't have anything to do with my life now."

Carl, 41, is a former University of Washington and Seahawks football player whose career was cut short by a knee injury. His life now is wrapped around Leslie, 35, who teaches relationship and parenting classes to state prisoners and is studying for a doctorate.

Carl and Leslie met when both were going through divorce. Neither was ready for a relationship. But several years later Leslie called him up again. They married in 1989.

Theirs too has been a marriage interrupted by fishing seasons. Carl's fishing boat is based in Kodiak, although he's home for five months in the winter. During fishing season, he flies to Seattle periodically to visit, and Leslie spends part of the summer in Alaska with him.

"We're always making adjustments," Leslie says. "There's sadness when he leaves and joy when he returns. But it works for us. I enjoy having time by myself and we have a lot of fun together. When he's gone, he's captain of his vessel and I'm captain of mine."

"Like any relationship, we've had our hard times," Carl says. "She defuses things with teasing and sometimes I want to be serious. But we work through it."

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


Get home delivery today!