As her eyes opened wide with amusement, Helen Inwald, 92, blushed, and the corners of her mouth lifted into a smile, as she recalled the first time she laid eyes on her future husband of 71 years, Martin, 96.
It was a cold, late-December winter day, during a snowstorm, in Crown Heights Brooklyn 1947. Helen (nee Garroway) was 20 at the time, said she stayed in her home that day because the snow was thick and deep.
On that day, Helen had been waiting for her neighbor to introduce her to a would-be suitor. In those days, she explained, it was common for neighborhood-friends to act as matchmakers.
Martin, who was 24 at the time, lived a block away from Helen. On that frosty day, he recalled trudging through the dense layers of snow on his way to Helen’s house.
Slowly moving through the harsh winter environment, he had no idea that in a matter of minutes his life would change forever.
“When my eyes met her eyes, I was immediately attracted to her,” he said, with a grin. “She was such a beautiful, pretty girl … there was a sparkle in her eye … It was the joy of life in her eyes.”
“He was cute,” Helen said, with a giggle. “I was instantly attracted.”
A week later, on a Saturday, the two went on their first date: a dinner and a movie in Manhattan.
“We hit it off,” Martin said. “After the first date, there was a second, third and fourth.”
“It was his sense of humor that made him stand out,” she said. “As we got to know each other, it was a meeting of the minds.”
As they continued to see each other, they discovered that they enjoyed the same activities such as going to the ballet and opera and watching movies as well as folk and square dancing. They also noted that their families got along well.
Six months later, in August of 1948, they got married.
The couple now reside at the Bristal North Woodmere location, where they have lived for the past five years since moving from Brooklyn.
Throughout their seven decades of married life, the Inwalds said they believe they have discovered the secret to a happy marriage, and that the relationship practices of later generations leave some to be desired.
“Respect, trust and loyalty is the secret to a long lasting marriage,” Helen said. “A lot of millenials are making the mistake of not getting married and are just moving in together. Without marriage, people feel more comfortable walking out when a problem arises in the relationship.”
“Affection, being able to understand the person and to be intuitive to [your partner’s] needs are the key to a happy marriage,” her husband said. “Marriage reduces impulse because it’s a contract that people are less likely to break.”
The couple may have a point. According to a 2020 Pew Research Center study, marriage leads to “higher levels of relationship satisfaction and trust, in comparison to those who are not married and living with a partner.” Married adults also, “Express higher levels of satisfaction with specific aspects of their relationship, such as, how well they and their spouse or partner communicate,” the same study said.
Of course, the Inwalds still argue sometimes, but they said they eventually find common ground, and that the key is communication.
“Arguments are never easy,” Helen said. “If you wait a few days, then you will simmer down.”
“The point of arguments gets ironed down eventually, as long as you can talk about it,” Martin said.
In addition to happy moments together, the Inwalds said they thrive off life moments when they can be there for each other in ways that no one else can. Like many of their generation, they have seen friends and family die off from sickness and age, but they have three sons together, who now each have their own families.
“My parents never preached to us about love, but they just let how they acted in front of us, show how real love manifests itself,” said Gary, 69, a Westchester resident who has been married for 15 years. “They have demonstrated the importance of physical contact and their selflessness toward trying to do things for their spouse sets a worthy goal for us to attempt to achieve.”
“Growing up with parents that love each other provided me with a great feeling of security and warmth,” said Clark, 66, who lives in Brooklyn and has been married for 24 years. “My parents served as a great example of what love should be by showing shared affection and respect and by also kissing every evening when dad returned from his job.”
The couple said they look forward to spending Valentine’s Day together at their assisted living home, which is holding a celebration for the holiday.
“Valentine’s day is a day we can express our feelings to each other a little more than usual,” Martin said, as he looked his wife in the eyes.
“We cuddle and kiss a little more on Valentines Day,” she said, as she looked back at him and their hands intertwined.