From Chicken Soup for the Romantic Soul

A Fool in Love

When you live with a man for thirteen years, you become a well-rehearsed advocate of the unwed state. While people rarely question the decision to marry, the decision not to marry must be continually defended. As dependably as your dental hygienist sends the checkup reminder, you are asked to explain your rationale. By your mother, your friends, the UPS guy, your mother.

No one is pestering me of late. They’re sending flowery cards that say, “On Your Engagement.”

I’m not marrying the man I lived with for thirteen years. That ended. (See? Good thing we didn’t marry.) What began a year later has turned me, like a shipyard winch, 180 degrees around.

July 3 was our first date. By August he was on my speed dial. Mid-October, the M word made its debut. Here was a man who loved things about me I never knew existed (the way I whistle my s’s, for God’s sake). He wooed me with construction-paper hearts (“I found this on my sleeve. I’m sure it belongs to you”) and picnics on the living room floor. He brought me to his cardiology appointment and showed me his heart on the sonogram. “It’s yours,” he said, gluey wire things hanging off his chest, the doctor peering over his half-glasses. He left a high school picture on my desk (bad tie, long hair brushed like Lassie’s) signed, “Where are you, Mary? When will I meet you? “All this when I didn’t need to be wooed. I was in love with everything, the big picture and the everyday details. His children, his neck, the way he folds laundry.

I digress. This is not about love. No one questions love. Be in love, sing it high and low, throw a party, eat cake. But why change tax brackets over it? This is the odd thing: Here I am, altar bound, yet I still see no rational reason to submit love to the confines of a legal document. Marriage grew out of an early business deal: I’ll keep the home fires burning and you’ll bring things to put on them. My world doesn’t work this way. I bring home my own mastodon steaks; that’s how I like it.

Equally anachronistic is the notion that marriage is binding. Only a fool (and my mother) would argue it holds a couple together in times of trouble. Divorce is not global circumnavigation. It’s simple and commonplace. If someone wants badly enough to leave, he or she will leave.

Yet, yet, yet, yet. If my man presented the preceding arguments to me in an effort to lobby for cohabitation over marriage, I’d be deeply disappointed. Flattened. Emotional road kill. God help me, I want to be this man’s wife. I want to go where he goes and know who he knows. I want to wear a gold ring though all my earrings are silver. I want to be half of a whole—united, consumed, glommed, linked as tight as it gets for as long as we live.

In part, I suppose, the change comes of maturity. When I was twenty-five, I wanted the future to be unimaginable. I was on my way, in motion. If you haven’t reached your potential, how can you know who’s right for you? What if you become rich and important? Will you, could you, still be happy with the guy who runs slide shows at the planetarium? Life changes quickly in your twenties. You’re in a fast car. Marriage is some old coot riding the brakes.

But eventually the clouds clear and you can see the future. It isn’t quite what you pictured—who, in their youth, pictures incorporation, perimenopause, condo conversion?—but it’s solid and real, and there’s a comfort in knowing, more or less, what’s coming. And one of the things you realize is that if you could find someone just right, someone you loved like the best pal you ever had and the worst crush you ever had, it would be awfully nice to have that person in the seat beside you along the way.

Now that I’m thirty-eight, marriage no longer feels like a sacrifice. It feels like the winning lottery ticket. Nothing more perfect than this, I am certain, is ever going to appear on the misfolded, coffee-stained road map of my life. I know what Johnny Cash was talking about with that line: I find it very, very easy to be true.

I used to balk at the idea of lifelong fidelity. I wanted the falling part of falling in love. But lifetimes have been wasted chasing that. What did I gain for decade and a half of relative freedom, my dalliances, my so-called open relationship? A few heady affairs, chance encounters far away. The heart leaping off a cliff and flying through the air. And, shortly thereafter, hitting the ground. Heart pulp. Guilt and regret. The knowledge that by refusing to commit myself fully to a relationship I destroyed it.

I had romance all wrong. As a man I’ll call Bob said, upon hearing me extol the splendors of off-the-cuff, onthe-road romance, “That’s not romance. Romance is turning down the fling with the local smooth chest, going back to your hotel, and calling the person you love.” (Bob was, at the time, cheating on his girlfriend with me. But bless him, he was torn.)

Something else I failed to grasp is that all marriages are group marriages. I am marrying a man; his delightful, beautiful, children; his warm, welcoming parents; his sister; his cousins; their families. A whole clan of hearts and minds that wants me to sign on. What could be more wonderful? My own family was small and cut-off, a lone asteroid out of its orbit. Growing up, I had no grandparents and never got to know my aunts and uncles. I pictured my family tree as one of those bald, spiky pines on a burned-out hillside. No wonder I was such an independent lass. Independence is sweet, but not as sweet as belonging. Marriage is a second chance to belong.

Would I belong if we simply lived together? Past experience says no, not really. In my world, to share a house with someone but not marry sends a message to him, to our families, to everyone who matters to me. It’s a message I don’t wish to send anymore. It says, I love this man, but I’m not sure he’s it.

Of course, no marriage comes with guarantees. But you have to go into it believing, knowing, heart laid bare and eyes amist, that this is it, for better and worse, richer and poorer, liver spots and arthritis. If you do this and believe this, the what-ifs of divorce are moot.

I sometimes wonder if I’ve given in to the pressures of society, if I’m tired of being the odd one out, of not getting spousal health benefits, of not knowing which box to check under “Marital Status.” Yet it wasn’t society at large that got to me but my own circle: the unwavering and unignorable fact that, without exception, the people I love most are married, or would like to be. None of them makes decisions by following convention. There must be something to this.

At times I used to think that the people who wanted me to be married simply wanted me to be yoked. Stop traveling the globe, they were saying, stop having adventures. Be bored and predictable like us. I no longer believe this. I think they wanted to see me married because they wished me well. They wanted me to have a reason to stay home.

Mary Roach

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