I have friends, quite a few, who are, as of late, going through breakups. Not the kind you shrug at and say, “this too shall pass.” Decades. Half decades. I have a friend, of course I do, who dated a guy for 9 years, through her entire wardrobe of too thin and super fat. Well, that’s her fault, because who goes 9 years just dating a guy? But people do, people who say, “I’m just happy being with him, and I don’t care about being married.” But every time they go to a wedding, he dreads the ceremony, and she bites her tongue and cries audibly. They have to spend the night having “a talk,” and he’s come to despise Crane’s engraved papers. She thinks he’ll grow up, eventually, and growing up has to mean marriage, she assumes. And, if time means he’s going to grow up, then she might as well be there when it happens. But he doesn’t grow with status quo. It rhymes and could be as misleading a nursery rhyme as “there once was a man from Nantucket” because we all know, it’s never that long. And no man grows when he’s not pushed to do so, so ultimatums happen.
But is that true? No man grows up when he’s not pushed to do so? Can we really make anyone “grow up?” “Growing up” seems to imply “giving up fear.” The small boy who’s terrified of the dark, grows up and willingly enters darkened theaters, bars, and bedrooms. He has given up the fear and grown up. If he’s afraid of marriage, is there anything we can do to force him to grow up? See, sometimes growing up happens with time (and information), so we sometimes think, “if I give him more time, and thus, more information about what we’re like as a couple, then he should come around.” We assume growing up means giving up fear. And I honestly believe that’s just about right. When we face our fears in life, we usually feel liberated, but what if, just if, we should have honored our fear? That incredible gift of an instinct. How, the question becomes, do we know if it’s instinctual and should be trusted or if it’s irrational and we’re just fucked up?
Instilling him with a fear of loss might work, though usually it’s temporary. Isn’t wanting your man to commit to the relationship the same as saying, “I want you to be different”? I don’t think so. I think it’s about being lazy, lazy and terrified of “forever.” “But nothing will be different,” she argues. “I mean, we’ll be closer, but our lives won’t be any different when we’re Mr. and Mrs. What exactly are you afraid of when it comes to marriage?” She cannot understand. And he plays her, assuring her that he cannot imagine his life without her, when he thinks of his future he sees her in it, yet, still, he cannot take the next step, even though they’re practically living together. She doesn’t understand. “But nothing will be different once we’re ‘MARRIED’!”
“Then why bother?” he argues.
“Because it’s a commitment to work on the relationship until death do us part.” Not a good idea to mention “death” as an argument for marriage.
If we put the fear of loss in them, will they “grow up” and decide the fear is more frightening than choosing a partner for life? And is this your job, is this what it takes, to get the person who swears you’re family already to commit to you, as a unit?
Respect yourself enough to say, “I need more,” if, in fact, you do. Some people don’t. Most young, never-married, people do. One of them wants marriage, and usually, not always, but usually it’s the woman who is ready for marriage. And once she insists she needs it, and he says he cannot, they breakup, and there’s no breakthrough. Once they insist for themselves and they’re broken up, they retract it. “I didn’t mean it. Why was I pushing him? I love him and just want to be with him. I’ll wait until he’s ready.” No, she’ll wait until the next time she gets fed up. And we’ll dance it again, and this time, her words will mean less.
It’s hard for me to believe it, even harder for me to believe that THEY believe it themselves, the ones who say after years of dating the same person, that they don’t need to be married. No, I’m not saying that every woman wants to be married and she’s not grown up unless she is. That’s absurd. What I’m saying is that I’ve seen it, been witness to women who give up on their own dreams and needs because they’re afraid. They spend their time hoping he’ll grow up and be ready for marriage instead of maybe, just maybe, growing up themselves and loosening the grip on their own fears. They’re frightened of what alone might mean, scared they won’t do better. They worry they won’t click so easily with someone else, and then worry about how long it will take to even find that someone else. That was me for a long damn time. Still, that’s why it’s so hard for me to believe her when she says, after years of dating, “I’d like to be married, but I’d like to be with him more.” Because eventually, she’ll get resentful. Eventually she’ll stop believing that and realize there’s nothing wrong with needing things for yourself and leaving someone who can’t provide them.
The women who are waiting with patient smiles aren’t easy for me to believe because I’ve heard them complain, because I’ve heard them wish, because I’ve heard them talk about their ideal wedding, and I watch them stare at older couples holding hands on the streets. They long for a forever kind of thing that starts with a ring, but they give in because they’re afraid of losing, or of being alone. Because really, when you’re in a relationship for that long, the excuses wear thin. The beliefs become uneven, shaky. And we begin to question ourselves. If I were thinner, had better hair or that exotic look. Don’t do that. Don’t question yourself. People do it when the relationship doesn’t work out, wonder what they did wrong in the autopsy of it. I could have been more understanding, more patient, “I should have listened, shouldn’t have taken it so personally.” The bullshit we tell ourselves is as long and old as the Nantucket rhyme. And we pedal it to ourselves, convinced. We nod our heads when our friends tell us differently, when they tell us it will be fun, that we’ll do so much better, but we don’t live there, at that happy address of confident and independent. We’re warped by then, thinking independent women are ugly and that way by default.
“But Stephanie, we were engaged!” Yeah, the kind of engaged that came from, “I’m an old-fashioned girl who doesn’t believe in living together until I’m engaged.” And the worst of it is this: “How could I have spent all this time with someone, growing together, compromising, for it to end as strangers?” And that is the worst part, leaving your best friend, your things still at his place, closer to him than you are. What the fuck is that? My things, my notebook and washcloth, and fat pants and my best friend’s sweater and futon are closer to him than I am, this man I’ve spent this long with. It’s strange knowing the items of your life are closer to this person than you will be. That your relationship can dissolve this quickly. But that’s the way it happens, the good breaks. A good break is a clean one, where intellectually, you just know you deserve more, and miracles of miracles, somehow you actually follow your intellect. You actually don’t just know you deserve more, but you resist calling him and live in the dress code of it. And when he calls, beyond your own belief, you manage to somehow KNOW he’s doing it because of guilt, or let’s face it, because he’s fucking lonesome and worries he’s a failure, and maybe, just maybe, despite what he’s heard about it being like shooting fish in a barrel, maybe he worries he won’t find someone better. But do men really think that? We think that way, scared to death, or to at least Duluth, that we won’t find someone as wealthy, as good-looking, as educated or charming. We never factor in nice or adoring, somehow. We never say, “Will I meet someone who treats me that well, who adores me just as I am?” We’re the ones who’ve got it wrong. Love should come with a poison control 800 number.