Mary Higgins Clark is proof that it is never too late to fall in love. Following the death of her first husband Warren, with whom she had five children, she put love on hold, deciding to raise her brood on her own, rather than risk marrying a man who might not love all her children equally. But at 68, Clark once again found love and she has been married to John J. Conheeney since 1996.
Clark is an inspiration to women everywhere, especially because she wasn’t a best-selling author at the time of Warren’s passing. So she worked a 9-to-5 job, came home and, despite having five children, wrote, instilling her values into the heroines of her books.
When her daughter Carol Higgins Clark decided to follow in her mother’s footsteps, the two women decided to collaborate on one book a year. Now, the Hallmark Movie Channel is running “The Mystery Cruise,” a two-hour movie, backdoor pilot for a possible series, on Saturday, Oct. 5, at 9 p.m/8c, based on their book The Santa Cruise in which two best friends and unlikely business partners team up to solve crimes.
In this exclusive interview, Clark opened up to eHarmony about what she has learned about love.
eH: What do you love most about your life right now?
MHC: My life is very content. I’m 85½ years old. My husband and I have been married 17 years, widow/widower. My children live near me, which is very lucky. They have their own homes but somebody is always popping in. My life, I think, considering my age and the fact that I’ve had marvelous experiences, and we are planning a cruise in October, has been rich and satisfying.
eH: You were married before your current husband. Your daughter Carol told me her father died when she was in the eighth grade?
MHC: Well, the point is, when you’re left with five little children and Warren was not insurable at the time, there was no money for me to do anything but get to work and get busy. With five young children, I would never have married any man, rich or poor, because that man might have liked four of them and not the fifth, or he might say, “I’m not paying for colleges.” So, I thought, “I’ll take care of them myself and if something happens after they’re grown, that’s fine but it won’t happen until they’re grown.”
eH: Wow! That’s a devoted mom.
MHC: It’s so much better than having problems all through life. They had the picture of a father, who loved them dearly, and they still remember him, even the one who was five at the time. It’s nearly 50 years ago.
eH: Do you think it’s more important to be loved or to love?
MHC: It’s a funny thing, a friend of mine whose first marriage was not happy, but it was to a guy who had a lot of money, she said, “My grandmother said it always happens that one loves more than the other, and it’s better if the man is the one who loves the most.” But I have felt that in my two cases it was pretty mutual.
eH: What do you think is the hardest thing about love?
MHC: To lose it. To lose a person you love. To me, having experienced it, it’s a heartbreak. It doesn’t stop; for years you’re saying, “If only.” In fact, I have a young widow in this new book I’m writing [I've Got You Under My Skin which will come out in Spring], and I just wrote a scene where she’s looking at a restaurant from her office window. It’s Rockefeller Center, the outdoor restaurant, and she’s remembering how they used to love to go there occasionally. A wave of longing for him sweeps over her because you do have that, that longing goes on.
eH: When would you say was the first time you really found love?
MHC: Warren proposed the night that we went on our first date. When I was 21. But I had known him. We had never gone on a date. I had had a crush on him since I was 12 actually. It was the year my father died and my brother almost died of an injury that became infected. Warren went to the hospital when he came home from college, volunteered blood, and then he drove my mother and I home and he put up our Christmas tree. I think that night I developed my crush on him.
eH: Because he was so kind?
MHC: Kind and good looking and fun. He said, “I’m no Saint Joseph but let’s see if I can put up the tree.” He was exactly right. The tree fell over.
eH: Funny story. So can you talk a little bit about how the meaning of love to you has changed over the years?
MHC: It hasn’t. Again, I lost my father when I was 11, so I knew the loss of love of a father, and then of a husband. The only thing, I made a bargain with God that nothing would happen to my children. Of course, he didn’t answer yes, but thank God, I raised my children and they were all healthy.
eH: How do you know if someone is “The One”?
MHC: I think that I was blessed in both cases, but I remember a priest once said, “You should know someone for four seasons before you commit yourself to him.” I think that’s probably true. In my case, I had known Warren and the Clarks all my life, and John, my husband, he lived in the next town, and my daughter knew him at work. So I knew about him before I met him.
eH: What do you think one needs in a partner to make a successful relationship?
MHC: I think one of the big things is to have a good disposition and also not to hold a grudge. I know women who are always gnawing at their husbands and jawing at them about this or that and I think, “Oh God! You’re so stupid!”
eH: What advice would you give to people who are still looking for love?
MHC: Well, I can understand it. I missed being married for all those years and I would look wistfully at a couple and remember when I was part of a couple. There are many people who just happened to end with the right person, but I was 68 when John and I met and married.
eH: So, there’s still hope?
MHC: There certainly is! I think if you’re open to being out and around. If you keep yourself to a tight group of friends, you are less likely to run into someone. I mean you’re not going to meet anyone sitting home watching the 6:30 news. But if you get into some activities, you’re more likely to meet people.
eH: Did becoming a mother deepen your ability to love?
MHC: Oh, of course, it did. I mean the feeling of your first baby is indescribable and knowing that you would kill for it. I did that five times and I felt the same way every time. That’s why when you read people leave their babies in the car, you think, “How could you!?”
eH: You said in your new book the character is a widow, do you like to have romance in your books?
MHC: I always have a sprinkle of romance in my books.
eH: When you’re doing that, how do you want your characters to fall in love? What’s the key?
MHC: Well, obviously, someone who is the likely kind of person that they would want. I always have romance in my books, or just happy endings in one way, shape or form.