I am not married. When there is a form on which I must choose a category for myself, I usually check “divorced.” But it has been so long – fifteen years now – that I cannot even really remember what being married was. It was another life. Another me. I certainly remember what it feels like to get a divorce. (Bloody awful). But being married is like a vague shimmer inside an occluded antique glass bottle. Me, now… I am not married.
For years I was the odd person out in rooms full of married couples, paired pairs, those with live-ins, breeders and non-breeders alike. Some of my friends even had multiple partnerships going on at once. Complications. For years I stood outside the window looking in, wanting to hammer on the glass. Hello! How do I get in?! They all looked so merry and content. Drinking their wines and eating pates and water crackers. And I don’t even like pate.
Don’t get me wrong. I have had my dalliances. Lots of romance. Lots of complications. Entanglements. Drama. Fun. But not that partnership thing. Not the ‘two souls made one’ thing. Not for years. Every dalliance, in my mind, was a potential partnership, never just the thing it was. Every day, “Is this the one?” “Is this the one?” Exhausting.
Then, at some point, maybe gradually, the happy smiles of the couples on the other side of the glass started to look a little strained to me. Like perhaps they weren’t really laughing, maybe instead they were grinding their teeth. Clenching their jaws. Sticking a pin into their own hand underneath the table. Biting their own cheek to keep from screaming. Every couple that I knew, one by one, disintegrated into a stubborn dissatisfaction with one another. Resentments. Grudges. Outright pitched battles. Secrecies. Subterfuge. Elaborate conspiracies. The “happy” dress-up game slipped out of place. Some of them even stopped pretending to be grownups.
Soon it began to dawn on me that there were benefits to being on this side of the glass. One female friend of mine said to me one day, “You’re lucky you have so much freedom. You can be anything you want every day you wake up. I’m stuck having to be what I promised to be the day we got married.” Suddenly it was she who looked like she was desperate. I felt for her. But mostly, I felt for myself a sense of relief that that wasn’t me. I might not have really remembered what it was like to feel married, but I definitely remember what it was like to feel trapped.
I spend a lot of time alone. I think I used to feel lonely a lot. Not so much now. I relish my time alone. I wallow in it. People I know talk about their partner in terms of being constrained by them. “So and so wouldn’t like it if I did such and such.” My mind just boggles. So and so can bite me.
But Valentines Day is coming. I keep thinking I should care. Bright red plastic hearts are everywhere. Diamond commercials. Fancy dinner reservations being made over the phone while I sit and read the free paper and drink my coffee in town. I make plans to buy myself some chocolate truffles and listen to Stan Getz.
In aloneness there is a lot of silence, or at least quiet. In it, sometimes, as T. S. Eliot said, you can hear the mermaids singing each to each. It is the rare relationship where there is enough quiet to hear such distant and uncommon things. Rare that two people should both care to listen, in the same moment. Some things only really come to the lone wanderer.
I didn’t plan to spend my life alone. Perhaps I won’t forever. But for now, deeply relished and unscripted, I will walk upon the beach, ride seaward on the waves, and linger in the chambers of the sea. Gratefully, passionately, not married.