- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Mat Boggs and Jason Miller have asked candid questions about octogenarian sex, interviewed a skinny-dipping 90-year-old and heard true love stories that rival Nicholas Sparks’ “The Notebook.” After traveling the country to interview 200 married couples, these 28-year-old bachelors think they have discovered the secret to lifelong love.

Mr. Boggs and Mr. Miller, founders of Project Everlasting, ask couples married 40-plus years, “After all these years, what does love mean to you?” Mr. Miller said the couples’ answer often is “commitment.”

“That has been a realization for us,” he said. “Love is way more than the feelings that we’re used to. Love to them is that decision to recommit when they don’t feel [the passion].”

While in the Washington area, the bachelors interviewed Horace and Bertis Cascio of Olney. The couple said commitment to working out conflict has sustained them through their 53 years of marriage. “The two decide how they want to get along,” Mr. Cascio said.

The Cascios met when Mrs. Cascio came to Washington to visit her aunt. Mr. Cascio worked as a television repairman, and his boss arranged a date for him with Mrs. Cascio in exchange for his fixing her aunt’s television on his own time.

“From the very first, I saw she was a really neat Southern lady,” Mr. Cascio said. “She knocked me off my feet.” He took Mrs. Cascio out every night of her vacation, and the two then had a three-year courtship of writing letters.

“I knew she was the girl I wanted,” Mr. Cascio said.

“And I knew the same thing,” his wife echoed.

Mr. Boggs and Mr. Miller decided to ask happily married couples about the ingredients to a successful marriage after Mr. Boggs started spending time with his grandmother and dying grandfather, the only couple in his family who had not divorced. He started to envision writing a book about couples married at least 40 years and called Mr. Miller, his friend since third grade.

Thus began four years of interviews. Mr. Boggs now believes a successfully married couple must have rightly ordered priorities. “Ambition is wonderful,” he said, referring to long-term couples he calls “Marriage Masters,” who he said “often point out how lacking our ambition is for creating an extraordinarily successful relationship with the one we love.”

The two friends recall interviewing countless couples whose resolve not to divorce sustained them through tough times in their marriages. One couple endured the husband’s 12-year battle with depression. One couple’s teenage daughter was murdered by a serial killer. The friends also interviewed a New York City firefighter and his wife and visited the gutted home of Hurricane Katrina survivors.

Linda Malone-Colon, former director of the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center, also thinks commitment contributes to a successful marriage. “The more commitment you have, the better,” she said, “and the sooner you have it, the better.”

In addition, Ms. Malone-Colon listed open communication, conflict resolution, honesty, sexual and emotional intimacy, friendship, stability and a lack of intimate partner violence as important to marital success.

Along with asking about the ingredients to a successful marriage, Mr. Boggs and Mr. Miller ask interviewees, “How did you keep the romance hot?”

“That’s X-rated,” Mr. Boggs said. Project Everlasting’s Web site tells of Joe and Millie Rozich of Salem, Ore., who had been married 65 years when Mr. Rozich passed away. Mrs. Rozich thinks the couple maintained a happy marriage partially because they had sex into their 80s.

In addition to hearing candid stories about marital relations, Mr. Boggs and Mr. Miller have listened to a 90-year-old man talk about his wife while he swam naked in his favorite swimming hole. They also have heard true stories about creative romance. For instance, one couple wrote each other more than 1,500 love letters over the course of more than two years of separation due to World War II. They now read one of their letters aloud each night.

Mr. Boggs and Mr. Miller are sharing their experiences in their documentary film, “Project Everlasting: The Search for America’s Greatest Marriages Begins,” which was released in August. Simon & Schuster Inc. will release their book in spring, and another documentary featuring footage of their cross-country interview trip is in production.

“I believe our mission on this planet — each of our missions — is to deepen our capacity for loving,” Mr. Boggs said. “What we wanted was to give young couples who are just starting on that path — and often struggling on that path — a blueprint from others who have mastered it.”

Mr. Boggs and Mr. Miller especially hope to reach their generation.

“Our generation is waiting longer than ever before to tie the knot, which suggests that we may be fearful of making the same mistakes our parents made,” says the Project Everlasting Web site (www.projecteverlasting.com). “If we want to have healthy relationships, then we need healthy role models.”

The U.S. Census Bureau also has documented the trend. Its February 2005 report “Number, Timing, and Duration of Marriages and Divorces: 2001” states that the median age for a first marriage increased to 27 years for men and 25 years for women in 2003. In addition, the report states that 66.6 percent of men and 82.5 percent of women born from 1935 to 1939 had married by 25, but 39.4 percent of men and 53.1 percent of women born from 1970 to 1974 had married by that age.

Mr. Miller thinks his generation wrestles with security. “We want to get ourselves situated financially, have all the security in the world before getting married, whereas the couples we interviewed chose to get married,” he said.

He does not think, however, that his generation should simply rush into marriage. “I think going into marriage with the correct expectations is critical,” Mr. Miller said. “You should expect that the marriage will be a roller coaster — times when you’re not feeling all of that passion, feeling all of that emotion.”

Mr. and Mrs. Cascio think the bachelors’ research has given them insight to share. “They should come up with a pretty good idea of why all these people are [still] living together,” Mr. Cascio said. “When we read it, maybe we’ll find out why we stayed together so long.

“I couldn’t live without this lady, I’ll tell you that right now.”

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