“A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.”
When I first heard Gloria Steinem say these words I thought, "Wow, someone finally gets me." (True, Gloria did eventually marry David Bale, a millionaire no less, but I was sure she did so because she had found a devoted life partner, not because she actually needed him.)
Growing up in a family with five sisters and one brother, I saw every day how self-sufficient, capable and complete women can be. My mother and father were married over 60 years, yet my mother was as progressive as any new wave feminist.
With my father overseas in the Navy for much of my childhood, Mom took care of the household and her kids, admonishing her girls they must get an education so they would never have to depend on any man. I took my mother’s words to heart.
I used to tell folks I was married to my career. I had written a couple of books and I landed my dream job as a professor at a local college teaching, you guessed it Women's Studies.
I felt blessed to have a healthy, happy daughter who has her own life, an 89-year-old mom who I still call to gossip about politics and family, and a network of longtime and newly found friends. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to travel to places like Paris, Rome and Panama, and I planned many adventures for after I retire… all by myself.
Turning 60 was a head rush, like the way my brain freezes when I eat my Ben and Jerry's too fast. Though I have the energy of a woman 20 years younger, but I could no longer deny the fact that I had more years behind me than I did in front of me.
My daughter had moved out and the empty nest felt like an chilly cellar. Nate once said, we were in the "home stretch" of our lives. I no longer wanted to be home alone.
My relationship with Nate has been a long and winding road. For two decades, we were just friends. I felt emotionally safe in that space but secretly longed for a more intimate connection.
Later, we became friends with benefits, crazy, sexy, cool lovers, ending our dates with “I call you laters” and no ties. Handsome, hardworking and a devoted father, Nate more than anything is my ride or die bestie.
My most poignant moment with Nate was at my dad's funeral. We were at the gravesite, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw Nate. He was standing at the edge of the crowd, hand crossed in front of him like the martial arts expert he is. Our eyes met and through tears, he gave me a slight nod, as if to say everything was going to be all right. I knew then how much I truly needed his support, reassurance and strength in my life.
Nate didn't so much pop the question as float it, like a trial balloon. “We could actually do the darn thing ” he said, meaning get married.
The first question I get from nonplussed family and friends when I tell them we got engaged, is “What took you so long?”
Nate has one annulment and one divorce from 30 years ago under his belt. I have never been wed; not to my child’s father, nor to Darrell, an abusive shoe salesman who presented me with an engagement ring on my college graduation day, in front of my delighted mother (Mom swears I threw the diamond back at him). And definitely not to Terry, a man so adept at hiding his crack addiction that it wasn't until he had stolen the Christmas gifts he had bought for my little girl to buy some drugs, that I knew my picker was broken and I was in big trouble.
In group therapy, I learned that much of my aversion to marriage and commitment came from growing up around alcoholism. Family members on both sides struggled with addiction. I learned to adapt to this family disease in unhealthy ways, like isolating, denying and being overly responsible. I chose men who were either alcoholics or addicts, or who like me were influenced by the disease, generations removed.
Sharing my inner self with men and women who are like me, helped me to peel away the layers of fear and denial and learn to love and forgive myself.
Today, I have exchanged my independence for interdependence; Nate and I are living together, laughing and making plans.
On April 5, 201, we plan to go to the courthouse and exchange our vows with our kids along to bear witness. The following weekend will be the blow-out party in a restaurant near the beach with a cappella love songs, chocolate cake, champagne and around 100 of our closest friends and family.
Most of our friends are working on their first, second and in some cases, third marriages. They are normal people who got married for the first time in their 20s. Some of my girlfriends are committed to being forever single and see marriage as too big a price to pay for potential happiness. Besides, they tell me, who,wants to pick up after a man at this point in life?
It's true that you never know a person until you live them, even after 27 years of love and friendship. He calls it bumping heads, I call it him acting out his “mannish” ways. Our disagreements don't last more than an hour or so, long enough for we two imperfect souls to forge an imperfect union.
Being engaged at my age actually reinforces my feminist beliefs. Hasn't the world always afforded men the dignity to have whatever relationship they desire, at whatever age, with whatever partner they choose? Well, women have those rights too and I refuse to follow the narrow path society has prescribed for women "of a certain age."
Today, I am making the choice to be with a man I love much more than I need. And that's what being truly liberated is all about.