I’m married, married for the second time. The first one didn’t go so well. I’ve spent a quarter of my life with a wedding ring on my hand. Most of my years were single, and in many ways, most of my hours are, too. I like being married, but I also enjoyed living alone, and I’ve hung on to everything that was good about that time. What we trade when we merge lives with someone else is completely negotiable.
There aren’t really any rules about marriage. Oh, sure, there are certain legal strictures and definitions. Otherwise we wouldn’t have a reason to acknowledge the distinction between marriage and any other type of relationship. My husband and I got married precisely because of what it symbolizes. In many ways, we are a unit. We refer to ourselves in the first person plural. “We” have a dog. “We” like Ethiopian food. “We” like Delta blues and flamenco music. “We” are getting the flu shot. “We” have an exclusively monogamous relationship. When other people see our wedding rings, they can guess certain things, such as the fact that we live in the same house and file our taxes jointly. It’s convenient.
The Venn diagram of us still would show two distinct circles with an overlap. We are individuals. While we share many likes and dislikes, what we do have in common is probably less than what we don’t. I love eggplant, he hates it. He eats meat, I don’t. The only items we can both agree belong on a Thanksgiving menu are mashed potatoes and olives. We’re sitting in our living room right now, and he’s wearing shorts and a t-shirt while I’m dressed in a long-sleeved shirt, cardigan, pants, and knee boots. (It’s 61 F outside). I’m a night owl, he’s an early bird. He’s an Upholder, I’m a Questioner. I like poetry, he likes hockey. He wants to build another battle bot, I want to learn to light a fire without matches. (He probably knows how to do that already). In many ways, we’re an improbable match. If we were both on a dating site, we wouldn’t have met. No way.
Being together doesn’t have to mean anything more than we say it does. We got married basically because cell phone service was too unreliable at my new house. We wanted to talk to each other for at least an hour a day, and living together makes that so much easier! Funny how that works. We do share values about managing finances, planning for the future, working on our flaws, enjoying simple pleasures, having pets, maximizing our contribution to the world, learning new things and pushing our abilities, traveling the world, and being accountability mirrors to each other. We both get a lot out of being married. We’re true believers. An intimate romantic relationship can be the fastest path to emotional and spiritual growth. Mental growth is on that list, too, as we bring our completely different academic packages to the table. Our friendship has been intellectually rigorous from the start. We’re married because it’s a value-add.
I like to say that I’m “extremely married.” That’s true. I feel like a lot of people forget there are other options besides squabbling all the time. That’s probably because they let themselves start to dissolve around the edges. If you don’t protect your need for a certain basic level of privacy and independence, everything gets that much more difficult. What “marriage” seems to mean, from some of the public arguments we’ve heard, is a depressing trap in which freedom is traded for financial security and the ability to let oneself go in every respect. Let’s stay together and try to ignore one another’s flaws so we can both relax. Why would marriage have to mean giving up privacy, independence, or freedom? What if marriage was more like a nice restaurant that you both went to most nights?
When I was single, I listened to whatever music I liked. I still do, I just use headphones more often. I used to go to horror movies alone, and sometimes I got candy. That’s still true, and if I do eat candy, that’s probably where I’m eating it. I used to hang out at the library a few days a week. Still do. I got a parrot, and she’s still here. I still eat eggplant as often as I ever did, just at restaurants, when my hubby is ordering something (anything) else. Everything I did when I was single, I still do, with the exception of eating cereal for dinner.
I asked my husband whether there was anything he did when he was single that he didn’t do now. I mentioned having cereal for dinner, and he said he used to do the same thing! I said it was funny that we both used to eat cereal for dinner, so we could do it now, if we wanted. We both paused, then looked at each other and shook our heads. Cooking “real” dinners is one of those marital choices that turns into a lifestyle upgrade. I mean, breakfast for dinner was nice, but not compared to a pot pie or a curry. Or a curry pot pie. Or a curry pot pie with sweet potato tots on top.
Part of the deal with marriage is that it represents a watershed in the timeline. There was ‘before’ and now there’s ‘after.’ The ‘after’ tends to represent what is popularly known as ‘adulting.’ It can be scary, until it becomes apparent that adulting leads to more options in life. It’s precisely like getting a driver’s license. Learning to drive is really hard and potentially dangerous, but then you have the societally sanctioned ability to go wherever you want. Adulting means that one day you have actual money in the bank, instead of a stack of bills. Adulting means there are delightful aromas coming from your kitchen, instead of nothing. Adulting means you sit on comfortable furniture and go to bed on clean sheets. This process of becoming a competent, grown-ass mature person should not be confused with the process of making an abiding marriage, because they are separate, though related. Being married is easier when you’re a competent adult, but neither requires the other.
Neither requires the other. That’s true about us. We don’t need each other, we just rely on each other sometimes. We share the load. Many things in life are easier with a second set of hands. We help each other to do things we would have to do alone otherwise. Together, we only have to cook one dinner and mop one floor. We can take turns and give each other a break. We’ve removed each other’s splinters, massaged each other’s shoulders, replaced each other’s bandages. We’ve gone to the store to get each other cold medicine and saltine crackers. We’ve lectured each other about doing our physical therapy exercises. We’re inseparable. Our lives wrap around each other in so many ways – by choice.
We’re independent. In some ways, we’re both more independent now that we’re married than we were when we were single. We travel separately more often than we travel together. That’s partly because one of us can stay home and pet-sit while the other takes off. The year before we got married, I went to Cancun with my brothers, and my then-boyfriend stayed behind and did my taxes for me. (See why I married him?) After we got married, he went on several road trips in which I packed him a sack of pasties, snacks, and still-warm cookies. Our home is a sort of resupply station. Taking off and doing our own thing keeps it fresh. We’re gone just often enough to miss each other and remember how cold the bed is when we sleep alone.
We check with each other before we make plans. I’ve been criticized by single girlfriends who think that means my husband owns me or something. Like I can’t think for myself or make my own decisions anymore. I do what I want. I do what I want much more often than I did before, because I have this logistical support system and personal cheering section. I do, however, check in and keep him informed, just as he does for me. It’s polite. If I had a roommate to whom I wasn’t married, I’d tell her (or him) that I was leaving town. Simple as that. We don’t have to do more than check in with one another, because we already worked out the guidelines under which our marriage would operate. We have a system for how to keep house, manage money, and share a calendar. We haven’t had to have repeated arguments about any of that stuff because we talked out something we could both agree on. Fidelity is the same. Asked and answered.
He wants to do a solo multi-week motorcycle expedition when he turns 50. He started planning it before we met, and I see no reason why he shouldn’t be able to do it. I went on two backpacking trips this year, and he was only invited to one of them, because the other was women-only. He’s talking about a couple of intensive business courses that would have him in a different time zone for a couple weeks. Sounds cool. I might very well do something similar, in the nature of a language immersion school. We’ve both flirted with the idea of grad school (though he already has one master’s degree). The undercurrent here is that we both see the role of a husband or a wife as a coach and sounding board for the other partner. We don’t “allow” each other to do things, we encourage each other to do things.
You should, babe. That sounds great. When does it start? Is it in the calendar?
Marriage is associated with a lot of FoMO. Fear of Missing Out on opportunities, on freedom, on new love interests, on steamy hot fantasies. Well, we were both over 30 when we got married for the second time. It turns out that the same people you’ll meet at 2 AM were there at 10 PM. It’s not like we don’t know about partying. We just lost interest in it. My hubby went to bed at 9:40 the other night because it sounded decadent. That’s something he’s more likely to do as a married man, because he can count on me to put the dog in his crate, lock up, check the stove, and turn the lights out. Married is cozy.
I’m a part-time bachelorette. I sleep alone at home when he’s out of town. I sleep alone in my backpacking tent. I’m free to play with my hula hoop, wear rainbow-striped socks, and try to teach my bird to whistle movie themes, just as I always was. It turns out that my independence is a big part of what my husband likes about me. I do what I want, and that keeps me interesting. Same for him. The part of the time that I spend putting away laundry or making soup stock is just part of the job description. The chores are just like any boring task I would do at work in order to collect the paycheck that funds my “real” life. We put the time in cleaning gutters and balancing the checkbook and getting the oil changed because those things need to get done. The only part of that that’s different from single life is that I always put out two towels and put pillowcases on two pillows.
Marriage can make us into better humans. He’s made me more confident and I’ve made him more sensitive. We help each other to work through awkward social situations. We interpret each other’s dreams and remind each other of our visions. We see each other’s inner superhero just as we see the villain that lurks there, too. We remind each other that we have missions to accomplish in this world. Our superhero personas may be single, but our secret identities wear matching rings.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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