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‘Sound of Us’ tells stories Northeast Ohioans want to tell — in their own voices.

After years of marriage, is love still in the cards?

Cleveland-area resident Lisa Chiu smiles as she holds up two greeting cards in her home.
J. Nungesser
Ideastream Public Media
Cleveland-area resident Lisa Chiu loves store-bought greeting cards but questions their ability to express authentic emotions to her husband on their wedding anniversary.

This story was created as part of Ideastream Public Media's “Sound of Us” audio storytelling workshop. We are featuring stories about marriage. With the proportion of never-married people 40 and older at an all-time high, our community storytellers explore why they got married or not — and, if they are married, how they're making their unions work. Tell your own story!

Uh oh — my 22nd wedding anniversary was coming up, and I needed a quick and easy way to acknowledge the occasion. I headed off to the local drugstore in search of the perfect card.

"Taco ‘bout a perfect match," one card said. Another featured two champagne glasses clinking. There was another one that featured Snoopy — complete with a recording of the famous Peanuts theme song.

I loved browsing the wide selection, from pop-up cards to cards with attachments and cards that play music. One card even had a picture of fireworks that light up.

Worth the money?

I used to make my own anniversary cards. I'd cut out little hearts from my leftover wedding invitations and thank-you cards and glue them to paper. Then I'd write a special message.

I sometimes wonder: Are manufactured cards meaningful and worth the cost? Some of my friends think so.

Greeting cards line a mantle.
J. Nungesser
Ideastream Public Media
Lisa Chiu's mantle is lined with greeting cards her family has received.

"They’re gonna pop open and butterflies and doves are gonna fly out and it’s gonna play a song and it’s gonna have recorded voices and all this other stuff," said Dawn Arrington, a nonprofit manager in Cleveland.

Arrington said her husband, in particular, is a big fan of giving and receiving cards.

"The cards are able to say things that he can’t probably say himself, like showing appreciation, the sentimental part of our relationship, thank you," Arrington explained. "And then if he tries to write a message at the bottom, usually he flubs it, which is OK. That’s not his jam."

Brooke Zelwin is a graphic designer who enjoys picking out cards for her husband.

"I am always on the lookout for a card that is going to be specific to our relationship, make him laugh," Zelwin said. "Because the cards that are like, ‘I appreciate all you do’ — I mean, after 17 years of marriage and three kids, I think it would be nice to get like a, ‘I still find you smoking hot’ kind of card."

An analytical business

But some people are cynical about greeting cards. My friend Mike, who worked for nearly 10 years at Northeast Ohio-based American Greetings and asked that his last name not be used, said he does not buy cards for his wife.

"It’s a very analytical business," Mike told me. "Statisticians look at these cards to say, 'This is a good card, this is a bad card, what’s the value of this card?' Because they want you to pull it out and fall in love with it. And then you’re not gonna put it back."

I showed Mike my favorite card that I've given my husband. I think it's a charming card, full of little foil hearts.

I told him I imagined some adorable graphic designer working at a desk with plants around her coming up with beautiful, cute little designs.

"This card was created in a cubicle, probably passed around different departments and went through some board meetings," Mike said.

Yikes, Mike! He had a lot to say about greeting cards. And he was just getting started.

Greeting cards contribute to clutter, he told me, and many can't be recycled because of the glue and special materials used to create them. He said he thinks people should come up with their own personal sentiments and not rely on commercial greeting cards to replace original, authentic expressions of love.

"There’s a little bit of a lost art of writing. People are afraid to express themselves with their own words and I think greeting cards can just perpetuate that," Mike said.

I understand Mike's point, but cards still serve a role in my marriage. They’re more than paper and glue. They reflect milestones, special occasions, emotions and the evolution of her relationship.

So I'll still buy a card for my wedding anniversary. But I'll write something special inside. Thanks to my friend Brooke, I'll personalize it in a way her husband will love: “Happy anniversary. I still find you smoking hot!”

Lisa Chiu and her husband pose together on their wedding day.
Lisa Chiu
Lisa Chiu and her husband Vic Thomas pose together on their wedding day.

Lisa Chiu is a writer, editor, storyteller and communications strategist. She lives with her family in Solon, Ohio.

Thanks to Literary Cleveland for its partnership on this series.