By TAMMY La GORCE
Odds are far better than even that the relationship of Dianne Cox and Michael Cammer of New Rochelle, N.Y., is not the fleeting kind. Still, some eyebrows were raised last summer when they announced that they had decided to marry.
Not because anyone feared they were making a mistake — but because most everyone thought: Why now?
After all, the couple have been together for 25 years and have two college-age daughters.
When the news spread, a former student seemed disappointed with Dr. Cox: He told her he had viewed her as a standard-bearer for the legions of unmarried partners.
Dr. Cox’s father, Albert H. Cox, a retired carpenter in Medford, N.Y., admitted, “I was perfectly content with the way they were.”
Even the couple’s daughters, Natasha, 19, and Rachel, 21, sensed the atmosphere of anticlimax that surrounded their parents’ wedding, though they did look forward to being bridesmaids.
So why did Dr. Cox, 58, and Mr. Cammer, 50, replace their unofficial theme song — Joni Mitchell’s “My Old Man,” about lovers who needed “no piece of paper from the City Hall keeping us tied and true” — with the wedding classic “At Last,” sung by Etta James?
Some anxious hours in a foreign hospital did the trick, prompting both of them to start thinking of marriage as more practical than pointless.
It was January 1992 when Dr. Cox, now a professor of anatomy and structural biology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, met Mr. Cammer, now a microscopy specialist at NYU Langone Medical Center. She was a graduate student at Einstein then, and he had been newly hired as the training director of microscopy there.
“He knew about microscopes, but he had no biology background,” Dr. Cox said. She was enlisted to bring him up to speed.
The tutoring sessions, which found them studying Dictyostelium amoebas together for hours at a time, yielded unexpected dividends. “I thought she was cute when I first saw her,” Mr. Cammer said. “And then, after we started working together, I found out she was smart and nice and a good teacher and all that kind of stuff.”
They began dating, and Mr. Cammer soon became a regular at the potluck dinners she hosted for graduate students at her on-campus apartment.
“He was very confident, bordering on arrogant, which was one of the things that intimidated me about him but also one of the things I found attractive about him, because I wasn’t very confident,” said the dark-haired, slightly built Dr. Cox, whose right wrist is tattooed with a three-pronged symbol representing science, nature and spirituality. “Once I got to know him, I started to appreciate his dry sense of humor and how sensitive he is.”
Dr. Cox wasn’t without her light side either. A few months into their relationship, she enlisted her cat, believing him to be a good judge of character, to evaluate Mr. Cammer’s suitability as a live-in partner.
“Tigger was his name,” recalled Mr. Cammer, now white-haired but still carrying an athletic frame. “He kind of peeked his cute little head around the corner and looked at me, and it was clear he liked me. I was in.”
In he was, but perhaps not in the way that most suitors would have imagined.
Before they moved in together, in an apartment near Einstein, Dr. Cox made it clear she wanted to have children but no wedding ceremony.
“I had just never envisioned myself being married,” Dr. Cox said. “But I always knew I wanted children. When I met Michael, I was 34, and there was the fact of my age.
“So I kind of said: ‘Well, I want to have children, and I want to start having them now. Do you want to do this or not?’”
His reply? “Fine by me.”
As the years passed and no marriage materialized, there was little pushback from either set of the couple’s parents, though her father said that her mother, Olive Ann Cox, who died in 2008 and was an administrator in the department of geosciences at Stony Brook University, would have preferred a wedding before the girls were born. “But we figured our children were old enough to make up their own minds,” Mr. Cox said.
Mr. Cammer’s father, a lawyer who died in 2014, had no problem with the setup, and if his mother, Wendy Cammer, a retired professor of neurology who also taught at Einstein College and lives in Larchmont, N.Y., wanted him married, it was only for practical reasons.
“My only concern was if they split up, would he have custody rights like any legal husband.” Dr. Cammer said.
No one ever had to find out.
In 2009, Dr. Cox wrote an opinion piece for The New York Post in which she memorialized the couple’s nonmarriage.
“People are often surprised to find out that it’s me and not Michael who doesn’t want a wedding,” she wrote, adding, “Some people have accused me of being afraid of commitment.”
“In fact, I think my commitment is actually deeper than someone who has a legal contract certifying her relationship,” she continued. “Michael and I work at our relationship because we want to be together, not because there’s a legal contract that makes it hard for us to leave each other.”
Being unmarried had its negatives, too, with things like separate health insurance policies and 1040 tax forms. But they could manage all that. It was a trip the couple took to Cyprus in June 2016 for a former student’s wedding that changed everything.
Mr. Cammer was hospitalized the first night of their trip with a case of septic shock, the result of a mysterious infection run rampant. Dr. Cox sat at his bedside through the night as a monitor showed his blood pressure falling precipitously. “The reality that I could really lose him struck me, and it was pretty scary,” she said.
A hospital employee asked what her relationship to Mr. Cammer was. “Rather than trying to explain this complicated thing, I just said, ‘I’m his wife,’” Dr. Cox said. “I’m incredibly uncomfortable lying, and I’m always very upfront about our status. But I needed to say that to be expedient.”
During his recovery, she began thinking about the potential for similar issues to arise. “There are hospitals that won’t allow you access unless you’re a blood relative or married,” she said. “I didn’t ever want to risk being denied access again.”
Just before the Cyprus trip, Mr. Cammer had read Larry Kramer’s book “Reports From the Holocaust: The Making of an AIDS Activist.” “Part of it is about men who weren’t allowed to see their partners in the hospital when they were dying,” he said. “I started thinking about it. As much as I don’t want the government to have anything to do with what goes on in people’s bedrooms, this is the way society measures relationships.”
As one might have expected after nearly 25 years of nonmarriage, the proposal that eventually did surface was a measured one.
In bed one night that July, Dr. Cox said, “We have to talk about something serious.” Then a pause.
“I think we should get married.”
“Clearly you don’t want to do this,” Dr. Cox said. “It’s O.K.”
Mr. Cammer recalls saying something to the effect of, “But I love you so much.” Dr. Cox doesn’t recall hearing that.
Dr. Cox said Mr. Cammer teased her for advancing the idea. But he began to come around, and, a few days later, he finally had a suitable, if not particularly romantic, response. “I think you’re right that we should get married,” he said. “Why not?”
Not all of the guests who attended the March 18 wedding at the Glen Island Harbour Club in New Rochelle knew that an illness in Cyprus had led the couple toward marriage. To most of them, the event was just a reason to celebrate 25 years of unbroken love.
“I wrapped their gift in silver, with a silver bow on top, because it’s more like this is their anniversary party than a wedding,” said one guest, Joan G. Jones. Dr. Jones’s husband, John S. Condeelis, is now Dr. Cox’s department chairman and was the one who had asked her to help Mr. Cammer get acclimated all those years ago.
“No one really cares one way or another if they’re married,” said Ruth Topol, one of two matrons of honor. “We’re just excited to come together and support them making it official after all this time.”
The vows written by the bride and groom were heartfelt and polished, unsurprising considering they had had a quarter-century to compose them.
Mr. Cammer said, “Dianne: You are the best decision I made when I was 25, and the best decision at 50.”
Dr. Cox said: “Michael, throughout the years, you have given me your strength and confidence. You have made me braver than I ever believed, stronger than I thought possible, and convinced me that I was smarter than I thought. This has allowed me to accomplish more than I ever thought possible. I hope that you will always be with me.”
The officiant, Margaret Cammer, a retired acting State Supreme Court justice and Mr. Cammer’s aunt, said her initial reaction had been absolute joy when she learned the couple would finally wed.
“Then, I confess, I paused for a moment,” she added impishly. “I began to worry whether perhaps they were being too hasty.”