New Year's approaching is making me kind of reflective. I tend to think of New Year's as a good holiday for couples, and I'm not coupled. So, mixed in with the reflection is a soupcon of self-pity. I'll try to get over that.
As readers of this journal will know, I was in a non-legally-recognized marriage with another woman for over 25 years (I was a child bride). We broke up seven years ago this coming April. She now says we were never married, but I'm not accepting that rewrite of history. We were married; we are divorced; unfortunately we haven't had legal recognition or support for either state.
I wish I were married now. I don't regret leaving S. at all. I think - for a variety of reasons, some my fault, some hers and some just fate - things got to a point where we could not be married to each other. OTOH, I still believe in marriage, in a lifelong partnership, and wish to meet someone to spend the rest of my life together. I've dated and been involved in three relationships (two long-distance, one local) but - as Bertie Wooster is wont to say of his assorted engagements - no business resulted. Someone asked me a while ago why I'm looking for someone to marry, what I feel I would get out of marriage that I can't get out of a loving family and a strong network of friends. She herself is a single parent by choice and not very interested in changing that. She asked what is it that she's missing and this is what I said:
I am definitely very much in favor of a long-term committed relationship, for me personally. I join you in deploring the social expectation that everyone pair off, though. I feel about marriage (and I do think in terms of marriage, whether legally recognized or not) much like I do about parenting. It’s good for some people and not for others. It’s a huge commitment and not something to enter into lightly. Too many people do it because it’s expected of them, without really considering whether or not they want this enough to make such a big commitment. Many people would be more fulfilled without kids or marriage, and they should not feel pressured into either or both. But for some of us these are very fulfilling things to do. I feel both are very important for my personal fulfillment and I’ve been willing to work to achieve both of them and am willing to work to make them last and make both kinds of relationships fulfilling for all involved.
Why a long-term committed relationship? I think my personality lends itself to it. I think I am very much a pair-bonding type. I feel that I get something out of a close, loving relationship with one person that I don’t get out of friendship, although friends are also very important to me. Here are some of the things I like about being half of a long-term couple:
- I like having one significant other to whom I turn first with good news, bad news, and everything in between. I like the feeling of being “in it” with one other person, who is truly the primary adult I share my life with. I like feeling like we face the world together in some very real sense. I don’t want to be together all the time, but I like feeling like I kind of carry her around with me when we’re apart. When I’ve been coupled, pretty much anything significant that happens to me has accompanying it the feeling “I can’t wait to tell [insert lover’s name] about this.” I like that feeling.
- I like being the most significant adult in someone else’s life. I want to be the primary sounding board, consultant, recipient of news. I like that feeling of primacy. I also worry that when I’m not coupled, I might look for that feeling of primacy from my kids. I've seen that happen to others and I think it puts a lot of pressure on the kid to fulfill a role s/he really can’t and doesn’t want to and can only end in resentment.
- I think there are some real economies of scale and efficiencies to everyday life in long-term relationships. In my marriage this broke down over time (as did most of the marriage) but for many years we were much more able to function well together, both at home and as we went out in the world, than we would have been as singles. We had somewhat complementary skills and strengths and made the most of them. We ran a home better; we supported each other in our careers and facilitated career growth; we saved money better; we collaborated on all sorts of wonderful projects. I think the whole was more than the sum of the parts. We definitely worked on a “from each according to her ability, to each according to her needs” model. I know that that has gone out of fashion as a way to organize a society, but I think it’s still a great way to organize a family. I think it’s definitely possible to get some of that from friends, and my friends and I really do support one another in lots of ways, but I think the synergies are much more there in a couple, or at least have been for me.
- I like living with someone. I like sharing meals, going to sleep together, waking up together. I like sharing housework and household errands. I like just being in the same room or the same home doing different things. I love to entertain (from just having someone over for dinner to a big party once or twice a year) and I enjoy doing so together more than as an individual. I’ve been without a live-in partner for years now and have adjusted well, I think, to single life, but it’s definitely not my first choice. I manage fine being the one who kind of does everything, except for what the kids do. Unfortunately, I had lots of practice during the last few years of my marriage :-(. Still, it’s not the way I prefer to live. I do value time alone and I might have some difficulty adjusting to sleeping with someone every night, etc. but I really do miss living together in a lot of ways.
- I like going places with someone else, and particularly with a partner. I love to travel, and I love seeing a new place (or an old and familiar one) with a lover. I like sharing each other’s favorite places. I’ve vacationed with friends and with extended family and really enjoyed that, but I’ve enjoyed it more with a lover. From little weekend getaways to a month in India, the enjoyment of both the planning and the execution of a trip have been really enhanced by going with my partner.
- I like taking the long view. I like planning for or just dreaming about events years in the future and knowing that you’ll be doing them together. I’m mostly loving parenting actively now, but I know that’s only going on for a few more years. I like the idea of being with one significant other after the kids are grown and planning for that.
- I love the spousal exemption to mandates to tell no one. I’m pretty discreet about a lot of stuff. If someone tells me something in confidence, it stays confidential. There’s also a lot of stuff about the kids that I feel I have no right to share (not necessarily bad stuff, just private, but some of it really cute!) There’s confidential info through work I come by. And there are very private feelings that I don’t talk about much. I like having one special person in my life I can tell anything to, who’s exempt from vows of silence :-) and who similarly exempts me.
- I like sex a whole lot better in a long-term, committed, monogamous relationship. I know this isn’t true for everyone, and I don’t think it ought to be, by any means. I have nothing against casual sex, and certainly want to be having sex whether or not I’m partnered, but sex in the context of a long-term, committed, monogamous relationship is my ideal – and for totally unromantic reasons. Also, although you are quite right that one can have sex without a partnership, it’s kind of easier when you’re a busy person with kids and a job and other commitments to not have to go out and find someone to have sex with. A lot of single parents I know don’t have sex at all, or rarely do, just because it seems like too much trouble to find a sex partner. Of course, if one has friends who are single and amenable, that can work out, but it doesn’t for everyone.
- I like long-term, committed relationships for all the horrible stuff you go through. Okay, that’s not exactly what I mean :-). I do think that over time the difficulties that couples have can make them stronger. I found that when long term couples are dealing with stressful situations they can handle those problems better with time and with commitment than they could at the outset. Partly that’s because over time you develop ways of dealing with most problems. OTOH, it’s also because I found that over time you just develop a sense of confidence from having overcome problems in the past, and that confidence makes you stronger as a couple. Of course, the down side of that is that it can be hard to tell the difference between a bad patch and the end of a relationship – I think I probably left about two years later than I ought to have. But generally, although I don’t believe adversity makes you grow as a couple, I do believe that working through problems does, and everyone has problems.
- I like the sense of kinship that for me comes with marriage. I think it’s just absolutely the best thing to be having sex with, next of kin to, and living with your best friend. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I still hope to have it again.
So, that’s a bit of what appeals to me. Friends are very important to me. A strong friendship network has always been something that matters to me and always will. I don’t see it as an alternative to marriage. I think it’s important to me whether I’m married or single.
I wrote that a couple of years ago, and I still believe it all. Anyone want to weigh in? Single or married? What do you think the advantages are of either state?