Writer Iris Krasnow in the home where she and her husband of 24 years have raised four sons. “The myth in marriage is that two people become one,” she says. “Couples who allow each other to grow separately, I believe, have a better shot at growing together over the long haul.” Photograph by Erik Uecke.
The secret is out: Women are craving and enjoying sex way into their seventies. This is just one revelation in Iris Krasnow’s latest book, The Secret Lives of Wives: Couples who stay married for decades are still doing it.
“If you ask what surprised me the most,” she says, “number one would be how many seniors are very sexual, very alive.”
Krasnow, 57, has been talking and writing about women and their relationships since she began her journalism career with the Chicago Tribune in the late 1970s. She was a fashion reporter for the Dallas Times Herald before coming to Washington in 1984 as a national feature writer for United Press International. Her first book on personal growth, 1997’s Surrendering to Motherhood, explored her odyssey from journalist to mother of four sons. She went on to write Surrendering to Marriage (2002), Surrendering to Yourself (2003), and I Am My Mother’s Daughter (2007).
For The Secret Lives of Wives, Krasnow interviewed hundreds of women to “excavate” why marriages succeed or fail, how women accommodate themselves to marriage, what wives tell their husbands, what they keep in secret. She’s negotiating with cable channels to turn the book into a TV series.
A native of Oak Park, Illinois, Krasnow earned an undergraduate degree in photojournalism from Stanford and a master’s in liberal studies from Georgetown. She is a professor of journalism at American University.
Krasnow and her husband of 24 years, architect Charles Anthony, have raised four sons in their Annapolis home. At a downtown DC restaurant, she talked about what she’s learned.
Your books are very self-exploratory. Take us back to your childhood—what prepared you for this?
I’m the daughter of a Polish-born Holocaust survivor who lost everybody in Hitler’s death camps. I learned early on the eggshell-thin line that separates life from death and that the people you love most could be snatched from you in a finger snap. The way my mother tightly held onto her family and preserved her marriage inspired me. I was always aware that the people you love the most are the backbone of your life.
What about your father?
My father grew up dirt-poor in the Depression and started a furniture company, called Marvel Metal, that’s still thriving, though he died many years ago. My dad was probably my favorite person on the planet. He was so proud and encouraging of my sister, my brother, and me. He made it important to have a passion. His favorite saying was “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”
How did that affect you?
We were motivated to know that you didn’t get anything unless you worked really hard. People say to me, “Oh, you’re so lucky, you’ve been on Oprah twice,” but it does not have a whole lot to do with luck.
Did your mother talk about surviving World War II?
After her parents and siblings perished during the war, she lived as a Jew in France and pretended she was Catholic. Her favorite saying was “If Hitler didn’t get me, nothing will.” Later it became “If Hitler didn’t get me, nothing can get you.”
So we grew up feeling you could do anything—the barometer against which I measured despair or impossibility was Hitler. There was a steeliness to my mother, although she was very warm.
Did you have a different relationship with your dad?
There was nothing I couldn’t do. My whole life he told me, “You are such a good writer.” I used to write him letters from summer camp when I was eight. He kept every letter, and he’d have me write to his friends and to our neighborhood paper. When you have a purpose and a passion and you get support from the people closest to you, passion plus support equals power, and that can equal a long-running career. I feel like he really nailed that into me.
How would you describe your parents’ relationship?
They were a really good team.
Were they affectionate?
They would kiss and hug, but they weren’t glommed onto each other. Did they have make-out sessions? Not that I saw, but they loved each other a lot. They fought, they made up, and they carried on. It was definitely an imperfect marriage.
Any other influences that led you to be so fascinated with relationships?
We lived in the same house my whole life. When I went back recently to Oak Park High School to get an alumni award, my best friend from second grade was in the audience. I have very deep roots, and it made me seek that and try to reproduce it with my own children. Our four boys have grown up in the same Annapolis house for the past 18 years.
Next: Krasnow's first boyfriend, first real love.