A Thing Of Beauty Is A Joy Forever

I have a theory about men who are married to the same woman for a long time, and that theory is that she never changes (in his eyes) from the woman or girl he married.

I think the seed of this was planted when at age 20 or thereabouts, I met a man who’d married a beauty queen when he was 24 and she 19. At the time, they’d been married over fifty years, and I don’t know, but I’m certain that they’re both deceased by now.

He’d been a soldier in the British Army (he was a WWI veteran), was still a good-looking man and carried himself with that erect bearing that is unmistakably the look of a senior NCO — in his case, a sergeant-major. His wife had, as the saying goes, not aged well: she’d put on a lot of weight and her once-beautiful face was now moon-shaped. The only thing still beautiful was her hair, which was long, thick and grey, permanently worn in a plait down her back.

But he loved her; good grief, he loved her more than any man I’ve ever known to love a woman. One night, we were sitting in his living-room, both a little tipsy after dinner, when he suddenly said out of the blue, “You know what, boy? I know that _________ is old and overweight. But the only time I ever see that is when we go out and we’re with other people. When we’re at home all alone together, all I can see is the beauty queen I married back in 1922.”

I don’t think he’s alone in this, in fact, I think there are lots of men like him. The popular meme these days is that men divorce their wives as they get older, to “trade up” to a younger, more beautiful woman. That would certainly be true among the rich and famous set — because, let’s be honest, wealth and fame gives them the opportunity to do so, especially when those younger women throw themselves at their, ummm, feet.

But not every man is rich and famous, of course — let’s be honest and say that most men aren’t rich or famous — and among those men, and especially those men who have been married to the same woman for a long time, the very thought of “trading up” is not only ridiculous, but outrageous (i.e. likely to cause outrage). Men like my sergeant-major friend.

I’m going to illustrate the point by looking at a rich and famous man who hasn’t traded up, and has been married for sixteen years to his second wife (his first wife, to whom he’d also been married for about the same length of time, died of ovarian cancer). His name is Pierce Brosnan, and his wife’s name is Keeley. Here they are on their wedding day, in 2001 (they met in 1999):

Here they are today:

…and here they are at some red-carpet affair:

Whenever you see them together, they’re holding hands, or are walking arm-in-arm, or they’re kissing like damn teenagers.

Now I’m going to go out on a limb here, and suggest that Pierce Brosnan could have “traded up” on more than one occasion. In fact, I’m pretty sure that he could have had his pick from, oooh, about half a million women all over the world, had that been his intention. Yet he’s still married to Keeley, and he obviously still only sees the woman he married.

In case you’re wondering about the title of this post, the full sentence written by John Keats is:

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.”

As for me… well, I’m one of those men.


  1. Women are complicated. (Duh. I know, right?)

    Some, driven by any number of a bunch of internal and external factors, struggle against whatever body nature assigned to them at any given age, trying to coerce it into whatever they’ve bought into as a vision of health and beauty is at that time. This is particularly tragic when they destroy their natural beauty in favor of some other, unbalanced idea. Others, sadly rarely, simply grow up comfortable in their own skin, at peace with the cards they’re dealt. Thin, thick or a little fluffy, we spot those girls from a mile away, they shine like beacons in the dark, their bright and confident personalities are unburdened by so much of the bullshit that literally drives too many of our women to sheer madness.

  2. You post made me think of what Robert A. Heinlein wrote, I think in Stranger in a Strange Land:

    “Anybody can look at a pretty girl and see a pretty girl. An artist can look at a pretty girl and see the old woman she will become. A better artist can look at an old woman and see the pretty girl that she used to be. But a great artist-a master-and that is what Auguste Rodin was-can look at an old woman, portray her exactly as she is…and force the viewer to see the pretty girl she used to be…and more than that, he can make anyone with the sensitivity of an armadillo, or even you, see that this lovely young girl is still alive, not old and ugly at all, but simply imprisoned inside her ruined body. He can make you feel the quiet, endless tragedy that there was never a girl born who ever grew older than eighteen in her heart…no matter what the merciless hours have done to her.

  3. There are actually a lot of those couples, that have stayed together over the years without “Trading up”. Herb Alpert and Lani Hall. Jack Benny and Mary Livingstone. Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara. George and Gracie. Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft. Some of those people may have “Aged well” but I suspect that a chunk of that is due to personal trainers and plastic surgery. The point stands.

    When we’re younger and we think the world is disposable we don’t think much about a throwaway relationship, but with some maturity you understand more about value. A select few have arrived at that understanding early, and they are priveleged indeed.

    its good to have you back.

    1. “…but I suspect that a chunk of that is due to personal trainers and plastic surgery.”
      Once a person hits a certain age, plastic surgery and botox do not make a person look youthful, but puts them right in the uncanny valley. Sure, the skin on the face may look tight, but there’s something offputting about it.

  4. How I do relate to this concept! I met my true love in 1974, when I was 19 and he, 20. In the way of college men/boys, he was not ready to settle down. He was my first love, the one who got away.

    Many years later, we got together again at the age of 50. The ensuing years take their toll, don’t they? But at the same time, they can bring wisdom, patience, understanding of oneself and the things that are truly important.

    The bridging of youth to middle age was the completion of a circle. This was but one delightful aspect of the bond we shared, much stronger than the one of our youth. I think that on some level, we saw each other through the mists of time as our youthful selves with the promise of a lifetime together. I know that he made me feel beautiful and cherished every minute of every day. His love and regard was a fuzzy blanket I could mentally wrap myself in whenever we were apart (which was rarely more than four hours at a time). There was no place I would rather be than by his side, no company I preferred over his.

    He told me often, “If I were to die today, I would die a happy man. I have everything I’ve ever wanted or dreamed of. I had the highest hopes for us, and the reality has far exceeded those hopes.” A shiver would run down my spine every time I heard those words.

    Sadly, we weren’t destined to have more than eight years together. He died of a massive heart attack at the age of 59.

    How does one go on when smacked in the face with pain on an hourly basis? Does it help to know that the bond you shared, the luxury of knowing you are cherished by the man you hold in the highest regard, is a rare gem that is the envy of so many, once it’s gone? There was no splendor in my isolation.

    Now, three years later, I’m beginning to pick up the pieces of the life that was shattered a week before Christmas. I’m learning to appreciate the value of having had that wonderful experience, rather than valuing only the having.

    Knowledge is power, they say. Knowing what is possible strengthens my resolve to attain it once more. God did not create us to live alone, rather to hold each other close.

    There is someone out there whose back I will have, and he mine. The alternative is simply unacceptable.

  5. I’m in a similar situation, although my wife and I were both in our 30’s when we met. Just a couple weeks ago my wife found a picture of us taken when we were dating (we met just over 20 years ago and have been married for 17). I’m struck by how OLD I look (my once dark hair is now mostly grey), and how she hasn’t aged a day in those nearly 20 years. She insists she looks older, but I don’t see it. Hey, there are worse faults for a man to have than to think his wife is still as beautiful as he found her when they met.

    I don’t understand men who “trade in” their wives. I stood before friends, family and God and vowed to spend the rest of my life with her, to love her and be faithful to her until death parts us. I take that vow seriously, not only because I have to keep it, but because I WANT to.

  6. I think what you described is called “Marriage Goggles”.

    Woman who decide to blow up their marriages often discover that no other man will look at them they way their ex husband ever did because later relationships start from how she looks now, rather than how she looked in the past.

Comments are closed.