I am a spinster, but a spinster in a relationship.
A great relationship, the best one I’ve ever been in with a man who is more than I ever expected to have in a partner. That phrase not perfect, but perfect for me, fits who he is and what we have. I am amazed sometimes at having found someone I enjoy being with as much as I enjoy being with him.
But the other night at dinner, I felt this anxiety building, this skepticism not about him but about long term commitment. It’s a subject we’ve talked about, but before the other night, I would have said I felt very comfortable with the idea of lifelong partnership, whether it got labeled marriage or not.
There is this fear for me though, a kind of a double-edged fear: What will my life be if I don’t get married? And what will it be if I do?
I so wanted to be married when I was younger, expected that it would come into my life easily, much as it had for my parents: you meet a friend of a friend in college, have an intellectual debate, and a couple of years later you say your I dos.
A husband did not come to me that way. Even with that ideal and simplified path to lifelong romance, I was skeptical, unlike some of my college girlfriends, about jumping headlong into coupledom.
My parents were part of the reason for that. This month, my parents celebrated their forty-sixth wedding anniversary.
Growing up most of my friends’ parents were either divorced, never married, or in marriages that were distant and cold. My parents still brightened at the sight of the other, still kissed and chased each other around the dining table. I never doubted that there was deep love there. But, I also never doubted that it had been hard to keep that love going year in and year out.
I was a soothsayer of sorts for some of my college girlfriends, Beware the Ides of Marriage. Because if you were going to do it once, you should be really sure that you loved that person.
Also, (and how you figure this out I’m still not sure) that you wouldn’t end up hating them after all the years and maybe kids, and certainly the compromises and inevitability of the seesaw effect: that sometimes one partner was figuring out their new career or new self and the other partner was finding a way to support them while continuing to live the life that was best for them.
Loving someone is no easy feat. I don’t mean being infatuated with them or liking the way your family or friends respond when you say you have a boyfriend. Or the daydreams you have about that person when you should be plugging numbers into a spreadsheet at work. I mean loving them even when you’re annoyed, even when they’ve said or done the thing you didn’t like or when they’ve disappointed you and it hurts.
I hated the first time I told my boyfriend I loved him, really hated when I recognized that’s what I felt because I have loved before and know that the loving is when it gets tough.
At dinner the other night, I felt that anxiety, but I also felt this closeness to him, this comfort that had been present but not yet consistently. We had dropped the pretense of staying in the relationship until something better came along.
I don’t know when or if I’ll get married, but, in the comfort of that time with my boyfriend, I knew that I no longer wanted to be afraid of whatever future was to come.