|Being unmarried does NOT make you inferior.|
Six years went by.
After one year of shacking up and five years of marriage, I've now moved back to my old block in Rogers Park (Chicago, Illinois USA), once again on my own. I'm just four buildings away from my former spinster pad and have even reunited with my old landlord. I'm six years older, four clothing sizes bigger, a quarter of a head grayer, forty pounds heavier and a hundred times wiser than I was when I left. This is what I've learned.
Being single is just as good as being married.
Speaking only for myself, I believe marriage has as much potential for yielding me happiness/sorrow as singlehood does. It's been pretty much a push on that one. I can name ten things I love about being married and ten things I love about being single right now. I can also name an equal amount of things that suck about being married as that suck about being single.
Uncoupled people are not inferior to coupled people.
Oh my god, f#%&-ing christ on a stick, I HATE that I ever doubted that, but I did. I spent years convinced that people in long-term relationships were superior to us floundering around alone. This belief was warped and twisted, and it was fueled by self-hatred and chronic depression. My low self-esteem would not allow me to consider that other singles might prefer to be that way, or that being free of a relationship didn't mean I was any more defective than the partnered. Now I know couples simply do their own dance of insecurity, pain and joy; they just do it while trying to never step on their partner's toes, which is impossible.
Depression is harder when I'm married.
Again: I'm talking only about me. I've spent over a decade learning how to manage and live with the symptoms of chronic depression. Being all alone in life while dragging through bleak, empty days was hell, but being married to someone who didn't understand my depression was worse. I'd heard that being with someone can be lonelier than being on your own and now I get it.
When living by myself, depression means pulling myself together for the work day and then falling apart when I get home. When I'm married to someone with limited understanding of mental illness, depression means pulling it together to go to work and then having to keep it pulled together even at home. I felt guilty because I knew my depressive episodes affected my husband and strained our marriage, so I would try to act -- twenty-four hours a day -- as if I weren't depressed. Of course, I couldn't. At times I longed for the single life when I could feel my emotions without dragging anyone else down with me. And my husband's resistance to understanding mental illness made me feel more alone than dealing with it on my own. As he realized the depth of my disease and I felt the inertia of his indifference, a crevice opened between us.
Marriage can really slow down one's sex life.
Don't worry about weight.
I used to spend huge amounts of time, money and energy maintaining a clothing size 8. I relentlessly exercised and criticized my every bite. I felt terrified of looking unattractive, unsuccessful and not in control of my body. I believed that becoming fat would be proof of my loserdom.
After years of intense work on my self-esteem, with professionals and on my own, I have finally broken through the illusion that thinness equals happiness. It doesn't. That's bullshit, which I know because I was a skinny self-loathing person for most of my adult life. As my self esteem has improved, I've stopped worrying about my body. I feel so much better about who I am and where I am in life that my bulk is way less important to me. Size 16? Fine.
I also thought staying thin was the way to keep a man interested in me. That turned out to not be true.
Screw looking beautiful!
Since I stopped believing my self-worth was reflected in the eyes of men sizing up parts of my body, I've felt much freer to be who I am without worrying about my cleavage or waistline. Now that I've thrown off the pressure to be attractive all the time, I feel so much more relaxed. I actually like that my body is pudgier, saggier and more stuccoed with cellulite. I love my salt-and-pepper hair and deflating cheekbones. These signs of middle age protect me from stupid male attention that I can't be bothered with anymore. I used to be gorgeous with guys always trying to talk to me and it was damn annoying. Now they leave me alone and it's wonderful!
At the age of 47, when I walk down the street I move slowly, sway my hips, let my gut hang, plant each step solidly with my 170 pounds and don't look into anyone's eyes for approval. I keep in mind that I'm old enough to be the mother of many of the young men I pass and this gives me even more confidence. Indeed, they look right past me to any young women that might be around. Free of the male gaze, I feel so much lighter! I'm finally at home in my body. As much as I might envy a young woman's smooth arms or slim waist, I don't envy her for the struggles she has ahead. I'm glad and relieved to have the life I've lived behind me.
There is power in middle age.
I am so much stronger and happier with myself than I have ever been. If I have traded youth and beauty for the wisdom to truly appreciate and take care of myself, then I've gotten a bargain.
Maybe remarrying makes some feel like they have a second shot at marriage, but I feel like I'm being given a second chance at singlehood, a second chance to live my life exactly the way I want without those crippling fears of unworthiness. I relish my divorcee pad, at peace with myself and how it all turned out. This is a happy ending.