Finding the Cure

When I was in middle school, the girls in my 7th grade class routinely played this game, which by its mere premise, excluded my active participation.  The game did not have a clear system of scoring and did not exist on the requirement that someone “win” each round.  There was no victor because there were no timed rounds, no markers of when the participants had successfully reached the winning score.  The game would spring up during recess, on the bus ride home from school, at slumber parties, during rambling late night telephone conversations.  It never ended.  None of the 7th grade girls with whom I associated wanted it to end, either.  I was a nerd who learned early on that in order to survive in the world of “normal, acceptable” behavior, you had to fake enthusiasm in dull, pointless activities that had been deemed “fun” by your peers. So, I made no mention of my disinterest in this game that so many of my friends relished. While I had little to offer as a participant, I sort of sat back and cheered my team members on until someone gleefully handed me a bat and told me it was my turn.

This game was called, “Who I am Going to Marry and What My Wedding Day Will Be Like.”  Sometimes, the number and names of children that would come out of this marriage would also be shared and commentary on smarter selection of names offered.  Where you, your handsome husband and cute little kids would live periodically found its way into the game, also.  My friends were very specific about their choices in husband and all the amenities he would bring them.  Although much of their specificity was based on naive, adolescent fantasies of what marriage entailed, it was clear that the concept of womanhood without husband was foreign to them.  Foreign, and more critically…completely incomprehensible.

I went to a tiny religious school in New Orleans, Louisiana. For a long time, I assumed that the obsession  my childhood friends had with marriage had more to do with their being raised as good little Seventh Day Adventist girls in the south.  Good Seventh Day Adventist girls from the south married.  They had children.  They kept after their husbands and children when they misbehaved and/or broke any of the litany of rules one followed in order to consider herself a good Seventh Day Adventist girl.  Surely,  debating which Luther Vandross song would serenade you and your husband as you danced at your wedding reception was not something that girls in other regions did?

Chances are, if you are a woman reading this, you are all too familiar with the game I just described.  Your religious background and region of rearing bare no distinction on how the game was played and it does not have any reflection on how much fervor your peers (and perhaps, you) put into the elaborate fantasy of the blissful life you and your husband would create together.

As a woman who is no longer religious or living in the South, I find I am sometimes expected to fake enjoyment in the more mature version of the game my middle school friends played.  The “Who I am Going to Marry and What My Wedding Day Will Be Like” game has now morphed into “I Can’t Believe I am Still Single and Haven’t Found A Husband Yet” game. It springs up during dinner parties, phone conversations about unrelated topics and even during (seemingly) harmless Facebook posts.  I find myself less willing to play along now, though.  Mainly, I choose not to participate because the tone of the game has shifted considerably.  It is not so full of hopeful anticipation anymore.  It is much less fun and pleasant as I remember the 7th grade version.  I have also changed a bit in the decades since I was first introduced to this favorite female pasttime.  I now accept that I am a nerd and am probably judged as “weird” for not understanding or engaging in acceptable female behavior.  I feel much more comfortable now simply asking, “Why is having a husband of such great importance? Seriously, will the earth fall off its axis and you go careening into a black hole of lonely abyss if you don’t marry and have chidren?”

I understand the deep desire to be partnered.  Humans were made to love.  To give and receive romantic love is the most basic of needs.  Seeking out a mate when your heart yearns makes just as much sense to me as seeking out a lamb chop when your stomach churns.  However, I am left with nothing to contribute when women commiserate over being 30, 35, 40, 45 and “STILL single” (insert moan of despair here).  I have tried to muster up the energy it takes to fret over the latest dude who did not fit the “husband prototype” and work myself into a frenzy of when-will-he-come hysteria.  Much like beating myself up over not having toned biceps and a flat stomach, I just can’t find the motivation to add yet another pressure, yet another anxious inner monologue that will play itself in my head repeatedly.

I asked a friend once why some women do allow that monologue to replay in their heads. My friend, Jen, is upfront and unabashed in her fatigue with single life. (Direct quote: It sucks ass!) When I talked to her about how long she has been tired of being single, she gave me a brief timeline of her search for a serious boyfriend or husband. From the time she was in her 20s, Jen has been on the search for a mate.  In the middle of a casual conversation, Jen can magically find a way to mention how much she hates being single.  She has started off conversations with: “Girl, how you been?  Ya know, I am SO sick of being single.” I do not speak in hyperbole; a recent conversation with her began in just that manner.

Jen asserts that a husband will bring her not only love, but several other comforts that she does not enjoy as a woman living solo.  Marriage will help her with her current state of being broke.  It will cure her of recurring feelings of loneliness.  It will provide her with as much sex as she wants when she wants it.  Wearing a wedding band will finally prove to her and the world at large that yes, someone does indeed love her.  “The older you get,” Jen explained, “the more you want someone to take care of you.  To love you.  God did not make me to be alone.  He wants me to be married.”

Listening to Jen made me want to buy Marriage a drink.  Folks dump a lot of shit on its shoulders.  And for an institution that is struggling to simply still exist in today’s climate, the last thing Marriage needs is the expectation to fill voids, clean up credit reports, and guarantee free-flowing sex.  Marriage has a hard enough time simply keeping people together; how can it take on all this other stuff Jen wants?

Another friend, Barbara, who is less annoyed with single life than Jen, has shared her legitimate complaints with being single several times, too.  “You just deal with a lot of wasted time and all around bull shit the longer you are single.”  She speaks of divine destiny as well.  “I really do believe God meant for me to have a family.”  She does not hate being single, but is clear that it is a state from which she must (and hopefully will) rid herself.  I admitted to Barbara that while I would like to have a man whom I completely adore in my life, I didn’t feel that such a love neccesarily had to lead to marriage.  She said something that stayed with me: “I don’t judge any woman who wants that kind of life.  But, I want the real thing.”

The real thing?  I thought that was what I wanted, too.  Is the litmus test for “the real thing” a marriage license?

When I talk to women who are marriage minded, I get the impression that while many don’t lie awake at night clinging to their pillow as they bemoan the absence of “The One,” many of them do have a very specific way of looking at their status of being single.  It is seen as some sort of illness.  An unpleasant, inconvienient nasty cough for some of us.  A cancerous tumor that threatens our life for others.  Whether it is a minor inconvenience or a major malady, women like Jen and Barbara are clear that they need to rid themselves of this illness.  The cure for them is marriage.  And nothing else.

And I watch these women work diligently to cure themselves.  They feverishly “work on” relationships with men whose greatest gift to them would be to break things off.  And when these men do grant them this blessing, they worry and fret about how much further this sets them back.  They were so close to being able to say, “Someone really does love me enough to cure me of this disease!”  I listen to them as they plan and plot, trying to figure out what they are doing wrong.  What could possibly be wrong with them since they are no closer to a husband than they were when they started this hunt back in college.  I watch and I listen and I wonder: Why aren’t they treating the real illness?  If fear of being alone is really what’s driving the hunt for a husband, why aren’t they addressing that?  Is the issue really a desire to share your life with someone or is it really, the desire to be vindicated?  To not be the only one at an event who is unpartnered?  What magic transformation of their lives do these women believe marriage will bring?

Like Barbara, I do not judge women who actively seek marriage.  Ultimately, I wish the same for each and every woman: To live the life that she truly wants.  If a husband is what Jen and Barbara truly want, my prayers to the Universe will whisper that request on their behalf.  I do wonder, though, if thier insistence that marriage is the divine edict for their lives only sets them up for a fall.  The reality is that more than a few women have planned to be married and never found themselves in the ideal situation to do so.  It seems that these women’s lives have not been affected too horribly by this ailment called “single woman.” 

Truly, what if they never find the cure?  What if Jen and Barbara leave this Earth never having said I do?  If that is their only regret, is it just me, or have both women lived a ridiculously charmed life?

One Response

  1. I have been married for two years to a great guy who I love very much. Since being married, I did clean up my credit, but that is because I made the sacrifices to do so. I do get more sex, but that is because I make it a priority. I don’t get lonely, but that is because I make a conscience effort to turn off the TV and have a conversation with my husband. Someone does, indeed love me, but I loved myself first.

    My point being, marriage doesn’t magically do any of the above things for me. I have to put time and attention and effort into our marriage every day. It’s full of sacrifices and lots and lots of compromise.

    Marriage doesn’t make me or my life better or easier. It only enhances the good stuff I already have going on.

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