Life Alone or Life Coupled?

So what’s your preference? Find the woman of your dreams? The man of your dreams? Are you anticipating a rosy romance leading to traditional marriage?

Or have you been there, done that – and now prefer your life on your own?

Recently on the Huffington Post, I mused on the state of affairs relative to marital affairs – specifically – whether or not divorce has become a “natural” condition for the American man.

First wife? Choose well – one who can cook, clean, and mother.

Next wife? Choose differently – one who is lover, partner, and possibly something other than whatever you experienced the first time around.

And might this be true for the women as well? Or do they go for a different path entirely – away from marriage?

Generally, following divorce, men remarry younger women, and they remarry more quickly. Statistics bear this out. Women remarry as well – but at slower rates and in smaller numbers. Is it all a matter of demographics, or are some of us truly more content on our own? Whether we’re single, widowed, divorced, or in some other living “status” – are we happier alone, or prefer the lifestyle of the couple?

“I Want to Be Alone”

I’m no Greta Garbo, but single parenting being what it is – I love and need my alone time. I don’t get enough, I guard it jealously, and I admit there were advantages to my once-upon-a-time husband’s traveling schedule. Granted, it was too extreme to sustain our relationship and what I consider equitable parenting.

Little did I know that it would end up being a deal breaker.

But an occasional night off?

That would have been ideal – for me.

Cohabitation Pros and Cons

Having once lived with a man when I was younger, having been married, and having kept company with a man (on a regular basis) more recently, would I choose cohabitation over marriage? If I did choose living together, would I fall into the traditional role of wife (somewhat my tendency, I admit) – but without any of the so-called protections of legal marriage?

I’ve contemplated this topic before, knowing I’m fine living on my own, and I thrive when in a couple – assuming the man in the picture is good for me, and I’m good for him.

My preference?

I honestly don’t know. I suspect it’s that Big-Carrie arrangement, without marriage. His place, her place, scads of together time and commitment, but a “room of one’s own.”

Anger, Gender, Marriage, Divorce

Whenever something I write is published in a larger forum – the Huffington Post for example – I’m dismayed at the way the discussion ultimately deteriorates, and frequently splits along gender lines. The anger among those who are divorced is palpable. There are rallying cries for the men, for the women, and outrage over inequitable custody arrangements as well as the inevitable barbs and battles over money.

Serious WomanMarriage is a minefield when we’re in it, and all too often a war zone as we exit its muddy terrain, dragging our hurts and heartache, our children in tow, and hoping to make our way to higher ground – eventually.

Painful outcomes?

They aren’t gender-specific. Men hurt. Women hurt. And who can deny that children hurt when caught up in the fallout?

Alternatives to Traditional Marriage?

Despite the angst, the resentment, the bitterness – don’t most men and women share a desire for love and respect? Don’t we have that in common, even as we concede legitimate differences by gender, just as each of us acknowledges individual preferences due to nature or temperament, and life experience?

Some of us march blindly into marriage, and find it to be a mistake. We leave.

Some of us stick it out, no matter what the emotional cost.

Some prefer to live alone – or do so, by circumstance. Others close that bedroom door at night, delighted to be holding on to the one who is loved.

  • Do you know your preference?
  • Is it a choice, or circumstances?

 

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Comments

  1. I just had this conversation this morning with an about-to-be-newlywed. I blurted something about, “I don’t think I’d do it again,” and she took a step back.

    “Wait,” I told her, “I don’t mean that I regret my marriage. I don’t. It was fun, it was good for a long time, I have two great children from it, and it wasn’t awful until the end. I will never regret it. And I’m not against marriage. But would I marry again? No, I don’t think so.”

    Maybe I’ll change my mind, maybe someone will come along that makes me think twice. It can happen. My mindset now, however, is that I wouldn’t marry again. I’m not sure I will invest that kind of trust again. And I had forgotten how nice it was to make my own choices about the bedroom door and who was behind it— if anyone.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Trust is indeed an investment. We don’t realize how much “going in” to a marriage. We certainly do, in all its complexity, on the way out. Thank you for commenting, Madelia.

  2. Blancmange says:

    After being widowed following a wonderful 20 year marriage with man who loved me and was faithful, I definitely prefer being married. I truly understand “’til death do us part.”

    I hate being single now, and being widowed as the route to being single sucks big rotten sulfurous eggs.

    I would only marry again if I could find someone who took marriage as seriously as the DH did. So far I’m not finding quality men or men who are as interested or invested in marriage to the extent that I am. Very disappointing.

    I can see spending a long time living alone at this point. I don’t prefer it but I am used to it.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Thank you for joining the conversation, Blancmange. And I’ll be brutally honest about something that many of us don’t usually dare to say. We envy you the “good marriage.” That’s envy, not begrudge – finding ourselves asking – why does this happen in great relationships? Where is the cosmic fairness in that?

      And of course, we have no answers.

      Your comment re living alone – “I don’t prefer it but I am used to it” – I think many of us understand this.

  3. During the day we may have our adventures together (wonderful) or sometimes separately (fine enough). For night time, we should be together most nights, double bed (no larger). Legal marriage or not… that’s a technicality. But commitment, yes (and that’s hardly synonymous with legality). We are married, to make our statement of commitment clear and public, and for legal convenience (one gets tired of explaining).

  4. This post feels familiar and I don’t know why…

    I have no idea. I’m also often inclined to say “There’s no way in hell I’ll ever marry again.” But I also know to “never say never.”

    I’m in a relationship now and have been awhile. I like seeing him often. I like his company. I hate when he leaves. But then, I also enjoy it. Recently the concept of him living with me has been bubbling at the surface. I can’t bring myself to that point. He has a key to my place but he doesn’t live in my place. I don’t honestly know if it’s because I’m not ready or because it’s not for ME.

    30 years old and I still don’t know what I want. LOL

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      @Supermodel – 30 years old? I’d say you’re finding your way just fine… You’re going with your gut, and that’s usually a good sign.

  5. I have no idea what living alone might be like. Nor do I require a lot of “me” time. With 36 years and counting of marriage I still say, “I would never advise anyone to get married. But I would say it is the best thing that ever happened to me.” YMMV.

    Sometimes you get lucky and I won the lottery when I picked my soulmate. That probably doesn’t make for good copy though.

  6. Pj Schott says:

    I’m turning into crazy cat lady and I like it.

  7. Personally, I love sharing life with someone, but need my time. Oh, how I need alone time. My husband travels. Not as much as he once did, which is good, because parenting is a team sport, but still there are nights I know I will be alone. That freedom from external expectations is glorious to me. The quiet and stillness of my own space, the kids asleep, is precious. And when he returns, I treasure who he is more.
    I need both.

  8. I have always loved being a married woman and the thought of being alone is frightening. I like my alone time and my fun times with my girl friends but I always seem to be wishing and wondering what’s going on at home and missing it. If I were alone, I could manage to fill up my time but it would feel empty at the same time.

  9. You make me think, Cathy.

    Those of us who don’t marry young are forced to learn to “fill ourselves up” – with ourselves. I think my temperament was to do that anyway, but certainly, the many years I was single provided me the time to explore, experiment, and become comfortable with who I am – or was – at that time in my life.

    Then there was marriage, and quickly thereafter, children. The rest is a bit of a blur, for a number of years. And then there was no more marriage – and that emptiness you speak of. And a new process of exploring, experimenting, and becoming comfortable with my evolving self.

    Now? I love when I’m emotionally involved with someone special. I love spending that time together. But I do believe we learn to adjust to whatever life dishes out, and with time, to use that to make room for something else – possibly even better – including a mix of time to ourselves, and time open to others.

  10. I have spent many, many years learning to be with myself. Remember the book by Ram Dass, Be Here Now? It should have been titled, Just Be With Yourself. I had to learn this in relationship and out of it. I think of Rilke and his ideal of “two solitudes.” There isn’t one problem I’ve had in relationship that I can’t trace to the problem of being with myself.

  11. In my younger days, “having” someone was terribly important to me. I have had good relationships; I have had relationships that were good at times and terrible at times. I now have a marriage to a man who is also my friend that works for the most part, but he has terminal cancer and when he is gone, I’ll stay single. And live by myself. I’ll enjoy doing things with my kids and my friends, and I’ll love making my own decisions and having my quiet time. At the end of my life, I will have had the best (and worst, I think) of both ways of living.

  12. Oh, how I’ve pondered this lately! When I was married more than a decade ago, I was the obedient, domesticated, submissive wife. It wasn’t as terrible as some may assume, but after all these years alone, I’m in a relationship again where I tend to fall into those same patterns. I wonder about it–the whys, the what-ifs. I don’t know if it’s better for me to be partnered or to be alone. I’ve done both for nearly the exact same amount of time in my adult life. Twelve-alone, twelve-together. I think I like together more, but after so much alone I find that, like you, I still need a room (at least) of my own.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      It’s interesting how easy it is to fall into certain patterns, isn’t it? They aren’t necessarily “good” or “bad” – but they may not be quite as good as hybrid versions, if only we could achieve those in conjunction with a partner who also wants some hybrid version.

      Maybe we don’t have to swing to one or the other extreme. (I’ve been thinking about this a great deal lately.) If we communicate clearly and openly with a new partner (or potential) – about how much we care and value him, but also need some “self” time – and that “self” time could be together – I wonder how receptive he would be?

      I believe a really good man would like to know what we truly need, and provide it if possible – just as we, in loving a man, want to provide him what feels good and loving.

      I think we can modify our absolutes, and find a middle ground. Not easily done, but I plan on trying – if and when given the chance. But it means thinking carefully about what we do want, being willing to hear what he wants, and speaking up, setting limits, and viewing that as good for the relationship.

      I believe men have an easier time at this. I think we could learn a thing or two from that.

  13. Well, let’s get one thing clarified. Not being coupled doesn’t make one alone in the world. At least, not for me. There are tons of friends and family in my life, and I enjoy spending time with all of them. But when it’s time to go home, yes, I prefer to do so alone. That’s my time.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Good point, April. It’s different as you get older and family dwindles. As kids go off into the world – as they should – you may indeed find yourself more alone, particularly if you’re not in a traditional work environment, or if friends are married.

  14. I’m smack dab in the middle of a separation so I oft times don’t know if I have the “experience” (for lack of a better word) to comment but here goes! My husband has checked out emotionally from our marriage and I truly believe it would take a miracle for things to turn around at this point. So IF (yes, I still have some glimmer of hope, no matter how scant) this does not work out, my life will be about me and my daughters. I am in love with love but as it stands now, as I look at what I want for myself and my daughters, I need to stay focused on them. I need to find me as well and at this rate, that in itself could take an entire lifetime! The concept and idea of marriage remains beautiful and sacred to me. I did it once and it apears to be at the end of its line…I can’t do it again. If love happens to find me years from now, it will take on a different form, that I know. One which doesn’t involve rings and talks of soul mates and lives so closely meshed you can’t discern who is who…

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Joy, thank you for commenting so candidly, and of course you have the “experience” to do so!

      I hope that things may improve for you, but if they don’t, I also hope that you will enter any next stage well prepared, and making no assumptions.

      That aside, I believe that our romanticized version of a beautiful shared life is problematic. How can anyone or any real-world situation hold up against that? Much of life is tedious – certainly parts of parenting, certainly parts of the working world. It isn’t about expecting less from marriage or a partner, but perhaps expecting something different might lead all involved to more satisfaction, fewer walls, and greater appreciation for each other and the relationship.

      I know nothing of your circumstances of course. I speak from my own (life) experience.

  15. I am terrified of being alone. I find myself in a relationship right now that I know is not good for me. I want to find the courage to leave but can’t muster up doing so. Help me.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Why are you so afraid of being alone, Suzie? And if the relationship isn’t good for you, what is keeping you there? Is it marriage? Are there children? There are some great men and women who “light” here and discuss. How can we help?

  16. No I’m not married legally. We’ve been together for 3 years. I guess it’s a dependency I have. I look at the good things we have together but at this point I’m not sure they out weigh the bad stuff. Everything we do is centered around his friends and family. I know that my life would be very lonely and empty. I’m not a very outgoing person and have a difficult time making new friends. I am stuck.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      If you are earning your living, if you don’t have children, if you aren’t married – the only place you’re stuck is in your mind. Do you have friends or family you can confide in? Do you live on your own? Have you tried communicating as best you can with him – about what you see as working and what you see as not working?

      I’m not a counselor, I’m not a shrink, and I certainly can’t advise you, Suzie. But what I will say is that all of us are capable of more strength than we realize, and I know many people who are not outgoing who make themselves a life with someone who cherishes them.

      I know I can be my own greatest obstacle in life. Sometimes I have to force myself to re-imagine my world differently, to take steps back, and to ask: Why not? There will always be legitimate constraints in life – physical limitations, health issues, money, lack of family, where you live perhaps. But believing that your only other option is a life that is “lonely and empty” keeps you in a situation that you say is not a good one.

      Find someone to talk to. Make sure you stay safe. Think through what you want and who you want to be. Lonely and empty isn’t the only other choice, Suzie.

  17. I was married for 28 years, had a 5 year relationship and now the one I’m in now for 3 years. I know the pain that comes with a break up. I guess I’m protecting myself from that awful pain again. Of course I feel like a big failure also. I see a pattern in the men I choose, addicts. The first one was addicted to work, second pot, and now this one the internet and internet affairs. He denies it but, I know better. I pay all the bills, I own the two homes we live in, I do EVERYTHING for him and get nothing in return most of the time. I am not a young woman, I’m 59 years old and showing wear. My common sense says I’m so stupid to stay. But………I don’t want to be alone. My relationship with my kids have suffered which is tearing me apart. They all live in different states so I don’t see them often. But when they do visit, I’m on pins and needles because of him. I know I need someone to confide in, I only have my two daughters and I know what they will say, they don’t like him because he has taken me away from them. Presently we are in a small town for the summer but will return to Florida for the winter. I do have family somewhat close now but in Florida I’ll have no one. Thank you for responding, I don’t mean to take up your time, I know this isn’t your job. I have needed someone to talk to for so long. Just typing helps a lot. I go back and read it and maybe it will become obvious how dumb I am to stay.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Suzie – You’re not dumb, you’re not taking up my time, and by sharing here – more than likely – many others will see themselves to some degree in your situation. Staying in a relationship that is unhealthy. Patterns that are repeated. Worries – legitimate worries as a woman in her 50s – that this may be the “last chance.”

      So if typing it out and reading it back helps, great. Typing it out and others reading it will also help – them – and maybe they, in turn, will have some wisdom or at least comfort for you.

      I understand what you’re feeling. And I will venture to say that you know what you need to do. You have financial assets – that’s more than many of us have. You don’t need to be a prisoner in your situation. You may not ever have another relationship. There’s no predicting. Or a good man may be a matter of months away. You don’t know. But the fact that your relationship with your kids has suffered is something you do know. What does that tell you?

      You aren’t the only woman who has “no one,” believe me. But if you don’t recreate your world – a world you feel good about – who will? Ask yourself this: Am I better off with him or without him? Are things likely to improve or worsen?

      Only you can answer these questions, and anything I might say is without context and a function of my own experience. Life is full of murky choices, and no guarantees. But keep typing, keep asking questions, keep weighing the factors. Perhaps it will help.

  18. Thank you, Thank you , Thank you. Just venting helps so much. Knowing there is someone that is unbiased is listening helps tremendously. Perhaps it’s a coincidence, but this afternoon after he spent 2 hours in hiding on his computer I lost it!! I told him it was time to make a choice. I said he was either in this relationship 100% and he quits the “shit” on the computer or else. I’m not sure he takes me seriously, he knows how dependent I am on him. But, I MEANT it!! The pain I will have after another breakup can’t be much worse than the pain and distrust I have now. I have a feeling the next couple of days, my life will be unfolding in new ways, good or bad?? Thank you for your caring ear!! Can I keep you posted??

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Yes, please keep us posted. But also – please – talk to a professional, a family member, a friend, and stay safe.

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