There is probably no other Tennessean columnist—nor any journalist in Nashville, for the that matter—who is more connected to the daily’s readers than Mary Hance, known to the masses as Ms. Cheap. After all, everyone wants to save a buck. And now Hance, author of Ms. Cheap’s Guide to Nashville, Ms. Cheap’s Guide to Getting More for Less, and 99 Things to Save Money in Your Household Budget, has parlayed her popularity into a new title: Love For a Lifetime: Daily Wisdom and Wit for a Long and Happy Marriage. Based primarily on voluminous reader submissions on the subject of marriage, it’s a Life’s Little Instruction Book of wedlock.
A bride herself for nearly three decades, Hance includes 365 tips, readings, and even a prayer (because God knows we need them) for young and old couples alike—for anyone who is trying to figure out how to preserve or reclaim domestic bliss. She was inspired to solicit reader advice and experience when the first of her two grown daughters married. Hance recently answered questions from Chapter 16 via email.
Chapter 16: Is this a book that you’ve been thinking about for a while?
Hance: No. It was one of those things that just came up and took on a life of its own. Our two daughters both married within about a year of each other, and when some of my friends had a luncheon for Elizabeth (the first wedding), I asked everyone to bring their best marriage advice to share. The group was small and all had been married different lengths of time—from a year or so to thirty years—and the advice was wonderful. It waaay exceeded any expectations I had. So I decided to put the question out to my Tennessean readers (under the auspices of Ms. Cheap, though nothing about a wedding is cheap except maybe the free advice). I asked my readers to share their best “advice for a long and happy marriage,” and, wow, the tips rolled in like crazy.
Chapter 16: When I got married, a friend of mine advised me to practice “implosion,” which brings me to tip No. 93: “Don’t flatulate in the marital bed. Unpleasant fumes take away from the romance and the desire to be close to each other.” Um, if I may, how do Mr. and Ms. Cheap navigate post-lentil slumber?
Hance: No comment.
Chapter 16: You have tips from readers, celebrities, your husband, daughters, sons-in-law, and others offering their sage wisdom for marital bliss, but your own advice is conspicuously absent. So what is it, Ms. Cheap? Your audience wants to know the secret to that grinning column mug.
Hance: My tips would be patience and sense of humor and trying to remember why you married this person in the first place—all of which other people mentioned in several ways. What I love about the book is that most of the advice comes from just regular people like you and me who are trying to maintain and enliven their marriages and at the same time get through the day with work and children and other commitments.
Chapter 16: If someone had asked your husband before you started the book whether you would ever write this sort of thing, what would he have said?
Hance: I don’t think this was anything that either of us ever envisioned. I am certainly no marriage expert and would never have tackled such a complicated subject had it not been in the role of a collector. I am not always as smart or cheap or clever as my readers, but I love collecting their ideas and sharing them in a way that I hope is helpful and entertaining. My husband Bill and I have been married twenty-nine years, and I can’t say it is a “perfect” marriage, but I can say we have had a wonderful time and have been mightily blessed on every front. And I can say that being married to Bill has meant there’s never been a dull moment.
Chapter 16: I’m wondering how you feel about tip No. 238, which came from a reader: “No gift to a lady includes a cord.” You are, after all, happily married and Ms. Cheap. What if your husband found a KitchenAid mixer you wanted at eighty percent off?
Hance: Oh, gifts with cords are no problem for me. I love practical gifts. One year Bill gave me a dishwasher, and I was super pleased.
Chapter 16: Your book is a blend of earnestness and humor. You include hilarious musings about marital futility from the likes of Socrates (No. 306: “By all means, marry. If you get a good wife, you’ll become happy; if you get a bad one, you’ll become a philosopher”) and Groucho Marx (No. 307: “I was married by a judge. I should have asked for a jury”) right next to the uplifting, sometimes saccharine offerings of Zig Ziglar and Jerry Falwell. Any preference?
Hance: I think if the whole book was made up of the “saccharine” sayings, it wouldn’t be as much fun to read. But at the same time, the sweet advice does have a place and makes a lot of sense too. So the mix is the trick.
Chapter 16: Then there’s Katharine Hepburn, whom you quote as saying men and women aren’t all that suited to be together: “Perhaps they should live next door and just visit now and then.” Was she onto something?
Hance: For some people, yes. Do you know that K.T. Oslin song, “Live Close By, Visit Often”? For some people, that can be the best arrangement. But most married folks do live together. So finding ways to make your home life a happier, more satisfying arrangement is always a worthy goal. I loved Gerry House’s advice, No. 271: “You’d better be friends and they’d better make you laugh because it’s like having the world’s longest roommate.’’
Chapter 16: Columnist Gail Kerr and her husband Les caution against talking politics after having two or more cocktails. Isn’t that the best time to talk politics?
Hance: I think cocktails liven up most any discussion. I guess it depends on the issue and who you are talking to. But Gail and Les contributed a lot of good ideas. I like No. 66: “At parties, split up but have a super secret signal to use when either one of you is ready to leave.’’
Chapter 16: I think my favorite bit of advice in your book—and a tall order, really—is No. 96: “Treat your spouse as well as you treat your dog.” Do you have a favorite?
Hance: I do love that one about the dog too because it is so true, but I have a lot of favorites. The one that made me laugh the most was, “if you are going to argue, argue naked.” But a couple of others that I found to be particularly meaningful were Ruth Graham’s (“A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers”) and my husband’s (“Be the first to say you are sorry, and if you can’t be the first, be the second”).
Chapter 16: Nashville Mayor Karl Dean recommends in No. 265 that husbands take their wives coffee every morning because it makes the day go better for everyone. Among your own husband’s tips is avoid burning the toast. Is there an explanation behind that advice?
Hance: The burned toast reference is sort of an inside joke. My mother always burned the toast, and I have somehow inherited this tendency. I mean, one morning, I burned a cookie sheet full of toast, and our daughter came downstairs and said, totally serious: “Is Grandmama here?” But Bill does bring me coffee a lot of weekend mornings. And he’s also the primary cook at our house, which gives him lots of extra points all the time.
Chapter 16: Has The Today Show booked you yet for Valentine’s Day? Speaking of which, I didn’t see this specifically covered in your book, but would harmless flirting with Matt Lauer run counter to the spirit of Love for a Lifetime?
Hance: Why don’t you try to make that happen for me? I have been waiting for a call to be on The Today Show or Good Morning America or Oprah.
Mary Hance will sign copies of Love for a Lifetime: Daily Wisdom and Wit for a Long and Happy Marriage at 2 p.m. on February 13 at Barnes & Noble Booksellers in Cool Springs, at 6 p.m. at Davis-Kidd Booksellers in Memphis, and at 5:30 p.m. on March 3 at the Belle Meade Plantation in Nashville.