Monday, August 19, 2013

Not the marrying kind

I'm adjusting well as I return to my single life. I have more time for friends, dinner parties, myself, reading, writing and getting to work on time. I lived alone for 13 years before my five-year marriage and, after we got the dog, I really missed coming home to an empty apartment. I love having my own private space that I invite my friends into regularly. Friendship is a priority in my life. Even at the very beginning of my marriage, I kept seeking out new acquaintances and carefully nurturing my friendships, and that focus never diminished.  Now I'm seamlessly slipping back into being single with my close friendships and support networks all in place.

Sometimes I wonder about the experience of celebrating a 25-year-wedding anniversary, of building a close life partnership over decades, of having chosen so well that you know you're with someone who's good for you, even a lifetime later. I wonder what that's like and it's still possible that I'll find out (although I'm 47), but I'm not sure that experience is for me. As wonderful as marriage can be, I might not be the marrying kind.

In her book Women Living Single: 30 Women Share Their Stories of Navigating Through a Married World, Lee Reilly explores the idea that heterosexual marriage requires the woman to subsume her identity in order to be the wife (and often mother) she needs to be in order to have a successful partnership and home. I'm not sure what parts of their identities other women compromise with they get married, but I imagine it's things like  hobbies that take them away from home, strong opinions that aren't shared by their partner and anything that collides with the responsibilities of parenthood. Maybe wives give up the person they become when they're with their closest friends, or at least tone it down when their husband is around.

The part of me I had to pretend wasn't there was my chronic mood disorder (depression). The part of my identity I eventually realized wasn't welcome was my tendency to do what I want without worrying what others think. These two parts of me did not fit into my marriage. Either these two parts of me had to go, or the marriage had to go. 

Maybe some women are better at marriage than others. Maybe they find the person who doesn't require them to lose any part of themselves. Maybe they build relationships that allow them to be who they truly are, while their husbands support -- or at least accept -- them completely. Maybe I just didn't attract a good match for me.

But friends have reminded me that years ago, man-less and miserable, I declared that I didn't care if I ended up divorced as long as I could end my protracted spinsterhood. It wasn't til-death-do-us-part that I wanted. I just wanted the damn ring on my finger, even for a short while. Sadly, I suspect my desperation for a husband didn't come from wanting to be a wife as much as from wanting to no longer feel like a failure for not being one.

For better or for worse, my self-hatred over my failure to get a guy to marry me disappeared on my wedding day in 2008. Since then I've healed that self-hatred. The fear that being alone makes me a loser will not be back.

So while I wonder what it's like to spend most of one's adulthood with one life partner, I won't try to find out. Instead of churning out children or anniversaries, I birth creative works: music, writing, humorous speeches, very good apple walnut cake. Everyone's life is unique and the one I've chosen leaves me without the experience of motherhood or a relationship that spans decades, but I have more in common with women who live single whether by choice or not, and we're a pretty interesting bunch. Being married was often fun, fascinating and gave me an exquisite feeling of safety and -- at least in the beginning -- of being adored. There were plenty of good things about being married, but this is where I want to be: on my own. I've been single and married, and I think I prefer being single.

[Maybe read this, too: I just like being single. It's on the same subject.]

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