The other day a younger friend, a woman in her twenties, called to share news of her engagement. She’s been dating a great-seeming guy for about a year, and she sounded exuberant, glowing, over the moon. “Congratulations, Eleanor! I’m so happy for you.” Yadda, yadda, yadda, and we wrapped up the call.
The truth is, as a divorced woman in her forties, it’s hard for me to get excited about anyone’s impending nuptials. Very hard to pretend the divorce and adultery statistics don’t exist, to push into the background my own painful memories of marital discord, the tedium and pain of having the same fights over and over again, the feeling of being unloved and trapped. What I mostly feel for Eleanor and others like her is a jaded sense of “Good luck dear. I’ve been there. Enjoy the good parts and take care of yourself when it’s bad. And try to have some sort of long-term back-up plan.”
So hideously cynical! I’m sorry! Blame it on the years. I mean, I can see why people still get married: when you’re in your 20s or 30s you have all of that ahead of you. It’s what’s expected, what seems inevitable, right, necessary. You want to make a home with someone, develop traditions, have children together. You’re wildly in love and know, or at least hope, that your marriage will be different, and maybe, God-willing, it will be. And I’m not immune to the fantasy or the almost delusional Darwinian pull: I too am looking forward to grandchildren and even being the mother-of-the-bride one day.
But from where I sit, post-divorce and quite contentedly sharing our growing kids with my ex, free and in charge of my own life, it’s exceedingly hard to wrap my head around the logic of (re)matrimony.
According to the 2007 US Census, for those 25 and older, 52 percent of men and only 44 percent of women are likely to remarry after death or divorce. The New York Times analyzed the data and reported that for the first time in recorded history, more women are living without a husband than with one. 2007 was the year I got divorced, and at the time I read those stats as proof that I’d be alone forever, that midlife dating would be a barren field. Now, in my own Divorce Afterlife, I have a diametrically different understanding of those numbers. It’s not for lack of willing and available men! Duh! Women don’t remarry as often because we’re not sure why we should, what’s in it for us.
Most men require a lot of care. They want to be fed; they require copious dry cleaning; they’re physically large and take up space; they demand attention in ways large and small. All these things are well and good, and I’m often happy to do my part. But why would I sign myself up to have to do it, 24/7? Sex on demand is a beautiful thing, but having the bed to oneself sometimes is equally a treat. Once the kids are old enough to go out and get around on their own, the feeling of liberation is pure bliss. Being able to do whatever you want, whenever you want, in your own home! People have fought wars for less. Do you really want to give that up?
The exception, and it’s a big one, is financial stability. If you can’t support yourself alone, or you crave a better lifestyle than you can afford solo, I can see why you might try to hook up and marry someone who could ease the burden. I just hope you really love him, because the numbers aren’t on your side. A whopping 60% of second marriages fail, and if there are step-children involved, that stat goes up to 70%. How could this not give a sane person pause?
I’ve been surveying girlfriends on this subject, and 14 out of 15 of my married friends, all women over 40, look mortified when I tell them that the subject of marriage has been raised in my current relationship. “No! Don’t do it!” is the swift cry. After that they all say “Why? What for? Isn’t it perfect as is? Living apart, seeing him when you want to? What could be better?” One women at a recent dinner party, married for sixteen years, told me that if she were to find herself single again, not only would she not remarry, she wouldn’t ever have another relationship again! This shocked even me. She said it’s just too hard; she’d rather just find men to occasionally sleep with. The 15th friend, Louisa, the only exception, seems to mostly like the comfort of marriage and wants the same for me. God bless her.
Ok, so, the pros? Comfort. Stability. Not having to go on Match.com. The Promise of Enduring Love. These notions all assume that you’ll continue to like each other — a fairly big leap of faith. To have someone with you when you die? He’ll probably die first — men usually do.
I’ve concluded that for me, the biggest draw lies in the smidgen of chance that I could experience something I’ve never had before, the old fairy tale that makes youngsters like Eleanor want to get married. Maybe it would be fantastic. Maybe we’d continue to hold each other in the night in this perfect way, resolve our differences with relative ease. Maybe the emotional rewards would trump most discomfort? That he’d be my partner and best friend always? Hmmm.
Then of course, there’s the other big factor: the fact that when you’re in a relationship, you need to take the other person’s feelings into consideration. Men like being married. It may be what he unequivocally wants. Do I want him to leave? No. Do I want him to be happy? Yes. So we may have to compromise. The jury’s still out.