Everyone has been all wrapped up in the divorce of Katie and Tom. They were together a grand total of six years. It was a long romance by Hollywood standards, short by regular-people standards and not even a blip on the radar when it comes to some in the turtle world.
The American box turtle lives about 120 years or so. An alligator snapping turtle can reach 150 birthday candles. Other turtle species live 30 to 80 years. And while they might live a long time, they are not a species known for mating for life — not unlike us humans, as much as we aspire to the virtuous behavior.
However, as with humans, there are those special couples in the turtle world that simply connect. They strike the gold standard in love — true love, if you will. Some couples are fortunate enough to capture and enjoy, through the ups and downs of life, an everlasting bond. We call them soul mates.
A certain turtle couple in Austria met not long after birth. They grew up together. They fell in love. It was your classic boy falls in love with the girl next door story. This Austrian turtle couple found soul mates in each other and was together for 115 years.
Their couple status is something I refer to in the past tense, not because one passed away. They are both still alive and well, thrilling zoo-goers, especially turtle fans. However, after 115 years of togetherness, it was reported in June that the couple split up.
The two turtles can no longer be housed together at the zoo. They do not want to be around each other. The female actually attacked her counterpart several times in her efforts to keep him away from her.
It was also reported that zoo officials tried to keep them together, feeding them aphrodisiacs. Unfortunately, even the culinary powers of the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, fall short once a couple has been together over 100 years.
You have to give the reptile lovers credit. They stuck it out for over a century. How many couples of any species can claim more than 100 years of fidelity? There are lessons to be learned from their experiences, especially if the medical community continues to lengthen the life expectancy of humans.
Long-term relationships clearly can be tied to longevity, especially when a couple finds true love. The Austrian turtles are old, especially for turtles in captivity, but still getting around like a couple of 80-year-olds. Companionship must have contributed to their lengthy lives.
There is something to be said for the girl next door. We often judge young love, especially when the couple hasn’t experienced the world, speculating they don’t have a chance. However, as these turtles and many human couples have proven, the boy and girl who grow up together and fall in love often experience the strongest, deepest kind of lasting love.
The two individuals who make up the couple do need their own space. Spending day after day in the same exhibit, doing the same old things year after year will eventually take its toll on even the strongest relationships.
Our turtle couple became so disenchanted, the relationship dissolved into a domestic violence situation. There is no need for a woman to feel compelled to follow through with her desire to bite her partner’s shell. I truly believe had the zoo provided the couple time apart to discover new things and develop their individuality, they’d still be together today.
Not that there is no hope for the couple. While they are separated at the moment, this does not mean they will end up apart forever. The zookeepers plan to continue to work toward reconciliation. Sometimes, when we get stuck in a rut, whether it’s decades or centuries of rote, all that is needed is some time away from the routine.
Temporary separations don’t have to mean the end of a relationship. Rather, it can be the key to strengthening the couple. Time apart can add wind to the sails of a relationship and provide the momentum it needs to go the distance.
Another bit of wisdom we can take from our turtle friends is how disastrous it can be to hold in our frustrations. Had the couple been more communicative about their wants, needs and desires, surely our lady turtle would not have resorted to biting the shell of her companion.
Couples need to be able to constructively share everything, not just the good stuff. Sharing should happen in a non-judgmental, non-defensive manner. But, we should also recognize our inability to be non-judgmental and non-defensive, and cut each other some slack.
Of course, not every couple was meant to be together. Mismatches occur all the time for a variety of reasons, all tied to our human — or turtle — nature to make mistakes. But when two people — or turtles — find in each other what they need to blossom and grow as individuals and as a couple, the results can be amazing.
Micki Bare is a columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau and the Courier-Tribune in Asheboro, N.C., and author of “Thurston T. Turtle Moves to Hubbleville.” She lives in Asheboro with her husband, three children and mother. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org