The very first days after I had moved out from living with my ex-husband (after a 10-year-long relationship with him from when I was 20 to 30) I felt like I could breathe for the first time in years. The sun seemed brighter. The possibilities around me seemed endless. I felt high with the new freedoms that suddenly surrounded me.
I dated different men, and years passed.
I turned 32. Then I dated one man for a few years. I saw the coupling marital target looming in front of me. Everywhere I turned: marriage, engagement, marriage, engagement, this is how you know you are worth something, can you close? Can you close?
I could not.
We did not get engaged, and I ended the relationship. I dated different men. I drank a lot, and years passed.
I turned 35. I dated a man for a little under a year. I was sober. It was nice. I did not see marriage in the cards at this time, and I knew that the "you have until you're 40" clock would be running out on me in a manner of years. Also, my gut told me to end it. My gut has been a reliable pal over the years, and even when it gets me in trouble, I'm always glad for the trouble it has brought.
I ended the relationship. Years passed. I dated different men, but I also grew more selective as I listened to my gut even more.
I am now 38. I've had three major relationships in my lifetime, with several more that lasted weeks or months and fleeting dates and flings in between.
Lately I've been on a range of dates, and I've suddenly been reminded of that sun shining brighter feeling I used to have back in the freshly divorced day. It's little things, like, remembering that I can go home and curl up in bed just the way I like to, or planning to spend the entire weekend writing or escaping into entertainment, or feeling the flush of friendships that keep me laughing more than I have in almost any relationship.
I've had specific flashbacks, not just from the major relationships, but other stabs at coupling, when they didn't quite work.
- "I need some time alone."
- "You don't spend enough time with me."
- "We don't go out enough."
- "Why do you always want to go out?"
- "You cooked this wrong."
- "Why do you want to order out? Why don't you cook more?"
- "Why can't you see what I'm saying?"
- "Have your own point of view and stand up to what I'm saying."
- "Your outfit is too uptight."
- "Your outfit is too revealing."
- "I don't like that friend of yours."
- "Why don't you like that friend of mine?"
- "Your tastes are too mainstream."
- "Your tastes are too weird."
- "I don't know if I love you."
- "I love you more than you love me."
- "Let's take a break."
- "We can't give up on our relationship."
Of course a great and (mostly) effortless partnership is ideal, but why does it have to be so hard so often? Especially when you are happy with so many things in your life already -- but you just happen to be single? If I want sex, I can have it. If I don't want sex, I don't have to have it.
There's a certain thrill and freedom that comes from not having to indulge a man when the situation is less than ideal. Of course, there are awesome guys out there (I went on a date the other night where the man was pretty stunningly thoughtful from start to finish), but there's no reason or need to compete in the keeping up with the Joneses ratrace game that can sometimes lead people to force things in situations that aren't quite right.
That's how I ended up married in the first place. At a certain point I succumbed to the pressure from so many people asking, "What about you, huh? What about you guys? When is it going to happen?"
Without even realizing it, I started to buy into the myth that I couldn't have happiness without marriage, without a man, without changing my status on the tax form from "single" to "married." I found our relationship talks grew more frequent. The pressure intensified. Wedding plans were laid out, and then it was done. Twenty-five and married. Done. I had done it! Except, if I were to compare myself at 25 (the best age to be right?) and married to myself now, single and 38, life is so much better now.
I do believe marriage and romantic partnership can be one the of the most beautiful, satisfying things in the world when all the elements are right.
It can be so amazing that words can hardly describe it. It can be so amazing it ranks as one of the greatest pleasures one can ever experience in life.
It can be so amazing... it's almost as good as time spent all alone.
Find Mandy long-form at http://tinyurl.com/stadtmiller.