It occurred to me today that my twenty-four year-old sister will be getting married in approximately ten days, at a lavish wedding she’s been planning for years that everyone she’s ever met has been invited to and for which my parents are digging themselves even further into crippling debt to pay. I love my sister, and I like her, and I think she’ll be happy in the marriage, certainly I hope she will. I have a few misgivings about her fiancé, but no serious ones, because I think he’s a good person who treats her well and will provide a nice life for her, the kind of life she wants. So while I’m not necessarily looking forward to the wedding, and all of the pomp and circumstance surrounding it and the fact I’ll be forced to interact with many members of my very large extended family, I’ll be there, and I’ll be happy for her, and I’ll be happy to be happy for her.
That being said, getting married at twenty-four seems like the height of lunacy to me. By and large, I knew who I was at twenty-four, and who I wanted to be, but in many ways I was still figuring those things out (and still am now, to some extent). So there’s just no way I could have stood up at some altar and made a vow to love someone, and be devoted them, for the rest of my life at that point. How can you possibly promise that, when you haven’t had time, real time, to be on your own in the world, to get to know yourself and figure out what you want, and what you don’t? I don’t know. I suppose we can never really know ourselves completely, so one could spend a lifetime putting off commitment waiting for that moment of complete enlightenment to come, knowing it never really will, so really, why wait until you’re thirty, or thirty-five, or forty, to do what you could have done at twenty-four, if that’s what you really want?
I don’t have an answer. It’s different for each person, I guess. My sister wants to be married. She wants everything that, in her mind, entails. She wants the safety and the security and the social privilege of that kind of commitment, and she wants it now. I suppose most people do.
I don’t, though. I’m not sure I ever have. I want love, sure. Deep love, passionate love, comforting love, content love. But I also want to be free, to be able to walk through the world on my own, perhaps hand in hand with someone at times, but never as one half of a whole. And I want the kind of relationship that thrives on and expands that kind of freedom, and marriage, to me, just seems like it would crush and suffocate it. I never want to be with someone only because I made a commitment to them, or vice versa. I want, as Captain & Tennille always taught me, love to be what keeps us together, not anything else. Certainly not a piece of paper.
And I want to be able to say to all of my lovers, without reservation, as Dolly did, if you don’t love me, leave me and don’t let it trouble your mind.
That’s the approach I’ve taken to love so far, anyway. And maybe that will change. Maybe one day I’ll find myself walking down that great long aisle as well, and maybe I’ll be thrilled to be there. But if ever I do reach that point, I’ll be arriving there a little older, and hopefully a little wiser and a little more certain in my choices than if I had at any time before, such that I’ll be sure, or as sure as one can be about that sort of thing anyway, that it is really what I want, and what I will continue to want moving forward.
But until then, I’m quite content with where I am, being a Jill Clayburgh-style unmarried woman. I have no judgment for people who marry young. Well, that’s a lie. I have judgment, but no ill-will. But I also have a sense, importantly, of confidence in myself, and in my choices, for choosing not to marry young, which is not something I’ve always had. It’s not easy being a single person in the world. You face judgment and indeed sometimes even scorn from many sources for bucking the norm, even now in the evolved, liberal society we purport to live in. And I’ve definitely felt insecurity about this over the years, at various times and for various reasons. I’ve sometimes even feared, in moments of true weakness and despair, that I’m actually a Charlotte Lucas, and not the Elizabeth Bennett I know myself at all other times to be.
Because the in the part of the world I come from, people follow the natural order of things. And the sacrament of holy matrimony in a crucial component of that natural order. On a recent but rare stalking expedition with my best friend, we discovered that nearly 100% of the people we went to high school with were married, or at the very least engaged (many to each other), as of this year, the tenth anniversary of our graduation. 100%! It seems like an insane number, but I know it isn’t. That’s just what people do there. They finish high school and maybe they go to college, maybe the don’t, but they find someone to hitch up with and they find a job and buy a house and start procreating. They don’t study literature and anthropology and spend a year in Europe and get a graduate degree from a gothic, hallowed university on the east coast and move to New York to chase waterfalls. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Nothing at all. But that is not what I wanted. What I ever wanted. I spent eighteen years with that crowd surveying the lives of everyone around me and thinking every single day, like the true Cathy Hiatt I am, that I could do better than that.
And I have done better than that. And I will continue to. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Wide my world, narrow my bed and whatnot. I hope Jill, and the other undisputed patron saint of unmarried women, the legendary Whoopi Goldberg, would be proud.