The fact that I didn’t have a boyfriend for much of my twenties wasn’t a concern at the time. Now I won’t say that I didn’t want it otherwise; it can be lonely venturing out into the world solo, especially as your friends are pairing up around you.
Moreover, I knew I didn’t “need” a man, though I wanted to love and be loved. Like many women of my generation, I was raised wirh a sometimes conflicting and contradictory set of gender-based values — some traditional, some seemingly rebellious — in transitional times.
Would I have preferred a committed, loving relationship when I was 27 or 30, even as I was pursuing my career?
Waiting for Life to Happen?
Did I have any intention of waiting around for life to happen?
Did I set aside dreams until Love with a capital L arrived on scene?
That too is an unequivocal no.
Although my solo status left me wanting in certain ways, I worked, I traveled, I sampled life here and there. I didn’t crave marriage, I didn’t feel pressed by my biological clock, and I had no conviction that permanent coupling was either possible or advisable. (Watching my own parents’ marriage was no doubt a factor.)
Much as I adored my women friends, I wanted to share my life with a man, or at least, to know what it was like. To know in a mature way — a relationship of equals, if such a thing was possible — passionate, intellectual, complementary.
Ten years later, looking back from diapers and toddlers and waking at all hours, from working in the middle of the night to get “must do” items checked off my list, and from superficial conversations on the weekends with my spouse, I was too busy and too tired to think about anything more meaningful than getting through the next 12 hours. Or even to miss the blissful bubble of single life I once wrapped around myself, blind to the realities of motherhood.
Ten years after that, I was again on my own. I was divorced, caring for children alone, and disenchanted with any prospect of compromising so much of myself on the altar of relationship. Incapable of imagining that I could ever depend on anyone to come through in a pinch… except myself.
Frankly, it would be more accurate to chalk up my disillusionment to a scarcity of time, energy, and reserves. I was tired — all the time. I was on “high alert” in a post-divorce fracas that seemed unending. I was vulnerable — financially and emotionally. When I finally felt my interest sparking again, I would date for awhile, then face long periods of no social life whatsoever. My “new normal” was much as it had been in my twenties — a whole lot of work and a sort of no man’s land — except that I also experienced the pleasure (and lunacy) of raising kids.
In the days after divorce when I wasn’t dating — more accurately, the three years when I declined to date — I was surprised when people would ask me if I missed being married, if I missed going out, if I missed having a man in my life, and so on. Yes, there were times I missed intimacy, both emotional and sexual, but basically my boys kept me busy, my work or looking for work kept me swamped, my interests are many, and I’m virtually never bored.
I understand that this isn’t true for everyone. Many people need far more socializing than I do. But shouldn’t we strive to be content with who we are as individuals? Don’t we do a better job of bringing a full and confident self to a relationship when we are?
Now… I can certainly say that I had my share of amusing dating adventures. I also experienced my share of infatuation, falling in love, falling out of love, and what I now think of as being “duped and dumped.” (My, my… how naive we can be at times. How fickle, the online meet-and-greet process. But ah… those excellent lessons in reading people that we pick up from those encounters.)
Here I sit, a few years later, reflecting on a relationship I thought would weather the inevitable storms knowing that it did not, yet fully aware of all the reasons that it came to an end. And when I am most honest with myself, I saw the signs. I saw them early. I wanted all the wonderful moments to blot them out, to obliterate their probability of causing problems, to be stronger, to make us both stronger, to hold us up for as long as we needed to get through whatever we needed to survive… as a loving, committed couple.
It wasn’t to be. And of course, I take my lessons from those years and hope to carry them forward into any new amorous adventure. Better still, if I am fortunate, into a real, deep, and adult partnership.
Should Marriage Be a Cure for Loneliness?
As do we all, I struggle with some challenges in my everyday life, and solitude on steroids can be one of them, though less than you might think. Yet I have never thought of marriage as a cure for loneliness. Not in my twenties. Not in my forties. Certainly not now. But that is my view, it may not be a traditional one, and it may not be yours.
Still, I find that my life is rich in the ways that count for me: two healthy sons; a small but caring coterie of friends; a few exceptionally good souls recently encountered.
Once, some time back, I told myself that were I to dwell in that old no man’s land for an extended period again, it would be difficult to imagine starting over in a new relationship. It would be difficult to imagine wanting one, or thinking I could trust my judgment when it comes to men. I would be “me” living my life, “wholly owned me,” and that would be fine.
And it is fine. But sometimes, we dare to think that we can still hope for more than fine — giving and receiving. Sometimes, as age begins to creep in, we understand the benefits of “being there” for a partner, and his being there for us. Sometimes, we put that toe in the water and reconsider love in all its sweet madness and multifaceted impracticalities — how it grows, how we must nurture it, what causes it to stall, what encourages it to pick up steam again, how not to hold on to self-blame when things don’t go perfectly or even well; how to learn from our mistakes and try to do better.
Sure, while “fine” is fine, I remind myself that “difficult” is not impossible. Some of us change as our circumstances change, and with time, what we want changes out of both desire and yes, need. We may look back at chapters in our lives and know we can do better. We may look back at those same chapters and know we did pretty well. We may wish to team up in a committed way again — “for keeps” — with or without a piece of paper to publicly (and legally) declare our marital status.
If we can create wonderful groups of friends or family or community in which we feel like our lives have meaning? Isn’t that fulfilling? Isn’t that all about love as well?
Listen. I’m delighted when I hear of marriages, remarriages, births, and other joyful events. Family is vitally important. Babies are always happy news. But why do we still define our women in relation to men? Why do we ostracize women when they aren’t paired up? Why do so many of us still feel “not good enough” without the designated partner or spouse?
By the same token, shouldn’t it be acceptable to state that we do want someone in our lives — a committed relationship? A passionate and devoted partner? A playmate, a supporter, a best friend? Will we ever stop making assumptions about a person’s worth, her life, her priorities — based on her romantic, sexual, or marital status choices (or their absence)?
My views of love have changed over the years, in terms of understanding its challenges, its complexity when money and legalities are involved, and in particular, when you share children or blend families. I’d say this is natural given that I married late, divorced after a dozen years (hoping to the end to save the marriage), cohabited once, and have been single since. Now that I am at Empty Nest (at last!), it is just as natural that my views would shift yet again. In some ways I am feeling freer and wanting no ties whatsoever; in other ways, I want nothing more than the sort of tenderness and partnership I had hoped for in marriage, but did not experience.
In a recent conversation with an old friend I reiterated that I hadn’t remarried after all these years not because I didn’t believe in marriage, but rather, because I did; I consider those vows sacred. Yet nor do I consider marriage necessary to establishing a deep and enduring commitment.
What is right for me at this point in time? I’m trying to figure that out.
You May Also Enjoy