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Love that lasts

LU comm faculty share lessons from 38 years of marriage

Ruth and O’Brien Stanley on their wedding day in 1981, above, and in the Comm Auditorium in 2020.
Ruth and O’Brien Stanley on their wedding day in 1981, 

“Let there be spaces in your togetherness. Let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love. Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.”

An excerpt from this poem, written by Khalil Gibran, was read at the wedding of Ruth Stanley; Lamar University instructor in the department of communications and media, and O’Brien Stanley; Lamar University professor in the same department. According to the Stanleys, it is a lovely metaphor for what they have been able to live into.

Ruth Hearn and O’Brien Stanley met on Jan. 2, 1980. Their first date was July 19, 1980, and they were married seven months later in March 7, 1981.

“O’Brien’s mother was my graduate professor, and she was the editor of the International Journal of Orofacial Myology,” Ruth said. “I was at her house pasting mailing labels onto copies of journals, and O’Brien walked in from having been jogging. That is how we met. He was freezing, and I warmed up his hands.”

For three nights in a row, they watched the Ray Bradberry show “The Martian Chronicles.” Months later, Ruth asked O’Brien on a date.

“I had read the Martian chronicles, but I could not have told you what it was about to save my life,” she said. “But I pretended, because he was cute. I ran into him multiple times within the next few months, and I kept dropping hints. He kept not catching on. So, I finally picked up the phone and called. This is in the time of landlines. So, here I have to call my professor’s house, and hope he would be the one that answered.”

The way everything worked out, it was meant to be, O’Brien said.

“On our first date, we played racket ball and ate somewhere,” O’Brien said.  “We ended up at her apartment and just talked. We were in one of those deep conversations where you lose track of time. The cinnamon tea kept us up. We had good conversation, we were meeting somebody new, and we talked about all sorts of stuff.”

Ruth and O’Brien said they knew early on that this was it.

“We realized there was lots of connection,” Ruth said. “I did not believe in it at the time. I used to believe you had to date four or five years before you would know, but we knew.”

At the time, neither of them had plans to be married before 30. With Ruth being 22, and O’Brien being 21, this was well ahead of what they had anticipated.

“He had planned to go backpacking in Europe, and I wanted to explore the world,” Ruth said. “We realized we could not just say, ‘Let’s stop this, go live this next seven years and then get back together.’ We finally decided that we could just go on adventures together.”

Thirty-nine years later, they are still together.

"Looking back, we realized we had no clue of what we were doing when we got married,” Ruth said. “We had both been raised sheltered enough, that I am not sure we really understood what it took for a relationship. But we really loved each other, and we still do.”

A big factor that aided in the longevity and strength of their marriage was allowing the other room to grow, Ruth said.

“We have given each other a lot of space for personal development,” she said. “We embarked on this adventure together. We were ready to allow each other to grow and change. We have been fortunate that we have grown and changed in ways that mesh together.”

Giving each other the good space to develop as their own person has not resulted in any bad space between them, Ruth said.

“Some people are afraid to get too far apart from each other,” she said. “One thing I hear from people is ‘Make sure you have date night and plan alone time.’ For us, that did not work. What worked for us was valuing every moment together.”

Ruth said change is important because life does not stand still.

“Build past romance into friendship,” she said. “Romance has its place, and it is wonderful, but life does not always include that. The first stomach virus you have together, having kids and all of that. Everything cannot stay static. It has to grow and change.

O’Brien has made room for and accepted the growth in Ruth.

“She has definitely expanded in terms of spirituality,” he said. “She has always been a spiritual person, but it was kind of a narrow focus— Southern Baptist. She is so much broader and more inclusive. She has gone far beyond that way of thinking— mindfulness is the word.”

In turn, Ruth has done the same for O’Brien.

“The biggest difference I have seen in him is that getting used to the everydayness of seeing multiple people has made him more open and inclusive,” she said. “He was always an outgoing and considerate person. But he learned across time to roll with the punches, have different perspectives and value other people’s opinions more. I think it is the difference of being the only child of a single mom, and then getting married and living with somebody and having children.”

Forgiveness was also essential to their union they said.

“If I had other advice, it would be you have to learn how to forgive the little stuff,” Ruth said. “Once you start getting older, if you are lucky, you start to realize how many things we think matter in the course of a day in a relationship, do not .I have heard a strong marriage is the union of two forgivers.”

The couple said they are as different as night and day in some aspects of their lives.

“We are about as opposite as you can be, and it works great,” O’Brien said. “Although, the interesting thing is that she will go do her individual thing, I will do my mine, and as we have gotten older, we realize there is a connection between our individual things. It is a matter of vocabulary that makes the connection. We realize a lot of the time we are talking about the same things but not in the same vocabulary.”

Ruth said it is important to celebrate these differences in each other.

“One of the known secrets about us is that he is a film maker, and I do not like to watch movies,” she said. “Yet, I am very supportive of his process and script ideas. He knows if he wants to watch a movie my reaction is always, ‘Go enjoy yourself. Just don’t make me do it with you.’”

Ruth said it also important to realize marriage is a team effort.

“Marriage is not 50/50. Marriage is 100/100,” she said. “When your partner is sick or busy, sometimes you have to put 200 percent in. If you are both always giving your best, then it works. The flu went through all five of us, and it was a brutal two weeks. We used to call it tag-team parenting. We would say, ‘Okay, I got the kids for these two hours, you go sleep, and then we will swap.’”

O’Brien said a sense of humor is always good to have.

“Whether they work or not, I keep throwing out jokes,” he said. “We had no means of support, and since she had a job, I used to introduce her as my financier instead of my fiancé. It is a line from a movie. There is a guy who has no visible means of support and he introduces his fiancé’ and his financier.”

Even through the hard times, they found humor.

“She had a stomach virus, and I had a lot to learn,” O’Brien said. “I bought Pepto-Bismol and she was going, ‘Oh, that is so kind of you,’ and I said, ‘I bought it for me,’ as if it would protect me.”

The Stanleys say Valentine’s Day is not their specialty. 

“We are terrible at celebrating Valentine’s Day,” O’Brien said. “We go with the everyday thing. Go get what you want instead of me buying something that was almost there, but not quite.”

­­Ruth said that their forgetfulness of the holiday shows how lucky, fortunate and blessed they are to have love and a good friend all in one.


Ruth and O’Brien Stanley in the Comm Auditorium in 2020, below. UP photo by Tiana Johnson

Ruth and O’Brien Stanley in the Comm Auditorium in 2020, below. UP photo by Tiana Johnson

“I love him because of the joy he brings to life,” she said. “Also, for the comfort I feel when he is around and the care he shows. It sounds banal, but there are so many levels of meaning to it. This man rubs my feet every night.”

The love Ruth has for O’Brien is returned in full.

“I love her because of how much of an awesome wonderful, loving and kind human being she is,” he said.  “And she is so much fun. Hallmark gift cards are us.”

Although the couple cannot say why they fell in love, or even how they knew they found the one, they can say it just is and it is so magnificent to live in.


Category: Features