Despite my feminine obsession with romantic love, I’ve spent most of my life collecting evidence against marriage in a large wooden box. Although I get excited when I meet a likable guy, and try him on, as all women do, in the imaginary changing room at Boyfriends ‘R Us, I do not listen with envy when a girlfriend talks about her boyfriend. I usually try to persuade her to break up with said boyfriend because I cannot imagine why weekend drives and the odd moment of emotional honesty compensates for the smells, insecurities, compromised schedules, conversational weaknesses, and general costs of putting up with someone for more than three weeks at a time.
Don’t get me wrong, I have great respect for the experience, sacrifice, courage and sheer time couples share. But despite my best intentions, my box of evidence has grown into a collection of boxes, overflowing with dried corsages and wedding veils, photos of smiling couples, letters from distant relatives, birthday cards for baby’s first year, tickets to concerts, weight loss pills, tummy-tucking pantyhose, breath mints, a timeline of haircuts, the cologne he wore at twenty but not at forty, the dirty running shoes, the coffee cups, the Sunday mornings in bed, the pets, the cars, the houses, the friends, mutual and separate, the jobs, the fights about jobs and bosses and overtime, the fights at the dinner table, the children you raise with love, the adults they become, the truths you face at fifty, the vows you renew in your heart or in a church or in a courthouse, and those you don’t. The years you think were spent being true to yourself and those that weren’t, the future you see as warmed by love or empty of companionship… the centrality of your marriage. Does it remain central? And is it supposed to?
These boxes are not filled with “bad things.” They’re simply filled with the truth. A married life is not more blessed than a single, divorced, widowed or currently-still-illegal one. It is not Cinderella leaving her garret room for Prince Charming’s palace. It is a life, complex as any other, blended of joys and sorrows.
Despite these boxes of evidence, forming a lasting relationship with a man seemed important to me because I have for years wanted to start a family, defined for the sake of this blog as “two romantically committed adults who raise children together.” Simmering down long enough to do so seemed unthinkable in New York, and seems very thinkable here, one of the reasons I feel at peace with such a quiet existence. Imagine, then, the fantasies I tried on in Boyfriends ‘R Us when I met Mr. Hotness.
Taking the train home yesterday after spending the night with Mr. Hotness, though, I reflected that as much as I love getting to know someone sexually, from the first kiss, to the peeling off of the shirt, to the waking up in a relative stranger’s bed and seeing how his sunlight hits his wall and how he behaves when he’s waking up in his birthday suit, to the moment when you’re comfortable enough to say out loud WILL YOU PLEASE TOUCH ME THERE instead of just wishing it, well, my thoughts returned once more to those boxes of evidence.
These boxes contain evidence of their collector, as well. Their collector goes to great lengths to avoid romantic attachment, and their collector feels both better about herself and less interested in wedding rings than she ever has in her life. Their collector may love children, but may wind up raising hers alone. She may even find that her desire for kids of her own, like her desire for Prince Charming, was formed while collecting all this evidence. In other words, my to-do list in New York (one: fall in love. two: get married. three: have babies) might have been drafted during a lack of alternative inspiration.
I don’t want to shut people out, and I don’t want to bitterly rant about the male species (any more than anyone does about the opposite sex, anyway). But I do want to be honest, so that I can focus on what’s important to me, instead of wishing I could add to the boxes of evidence.
These boxes are painted with respect and admiration for my parents, my aunts and uncles, grandparents, and friends, who’ve stayed together through good times and bad, somehow managing to decide, day after day, to climb back into bed together that night. Despite the smells, despite the insecurity. I respect and admire that commitment, but have no desire (never have, if you consider my actions instead of my words) to make that commitment myself.
So maybe I should move on, and for once, I don’t mean, “It’s time to pack my suitcases!” I mean that it’s time to find a warm, dry storage unit, monitored by CCTV, arrange the boxes neatly inside, perhaps in chronological order, perhaps by size, and then lock the door and drive away.
I’ll drive out to the country, where, out in the fields, people are collecting their own worn flannel shirts and photographs, their own teacups and letters slick with re-reading, their own TV Guides found underneath the couch, and putting them in their own boxes. Boxes filled with life as they live it, not as they see other people live. I’ll set mine down, small and undecorated, and see what’s growing in this field. What fits? Time will tell, and that’s the rush and the scare of your personal story compared to that of others. Only time will tell.