On Thursday D, as he frequently does, made dinner for me and a few of his college friends.
One of them has gone on a few dates with a girl that he likes, and all week had planned to call her the following night–Friday–in order to see her over the weekend.
The rest of us, myself in particular, took umbrage at this strategy.
“So if you want to hang out with someone during the weekend, when would you call them?” I asked the group.
“Thursday” was the immediate, obvious consensus. This suggestion provoked a response so aggravated, so extreme that even the guy in question couldn’t help but be amused–at which point the conversation turned comic.
“I don’t just think you should call her,” one guy chimed in. “I think you should marry the girl. Might as well propose.”
“You’re compatible, you’re physically attracted,” he continued, his wife making salad a few feet away. “That’s all you need. The rest you’ve got to work for anyhow. There’s no such thing as ‘the one.'”
This is a theory with which, in the abstract, I completely agree. There are lots of people one could find happy partnership with. With any of them, there would be persistent challenges. Different ones, perhaps, but challenges all the same. Sharing a life is never easy.
In other words, intellectually I know he’s right: the myth of “the one” is just that–a myth.
Emotionally, though, I’m not sure I do.
The other day my friend V sent me an article from the Huffington Post called “Why You’re Not Married.” The author, a woman who has been married three times, offers a list of (rather crude) explanations for why thirty-something women who want husbands and haven’t got them, don’t. These include things like: “you’re selfish,” “you’re a slut” and “you’re not good enough.”
I’m not totally convinced of the merits of this particular language–particularly coming from a woman with three failed marriages. Nevertheless, she’s funny.
One line in particular cracked me up and has stuck with me for days: for men, she writes, “marriage involves sacrificing their most treasured possession–a free-agent penis–and for us, it’s the culmination of a princess fantasy so universal, it built Disneyland.”
I challenge you to dispute that.
The irony, though, is that the whole “princess fantasy” thing might make it harder for some women to commit than some men. It’s so deeply embedded in our popular psyche: as women, no matter how otherwise rational and intelligent we may be, it’s kind of miraculous not to walk around every day feeling like we should lose five pounds and marry Prince Charming.
Last night I talked with a newish colleague in my program: a guy who, I learned, is (quite happily) married to a woman eight years older than him. When they wed, he was twenty-three.
“It’s kind of incredible to me that you were able to commit at that age,” I told him. “You didn’t feel like you needed to ‘sow your wild oats,’ or whatever?”
“Oh, I had enough of that in high school and college,” he replied. In other words: no. He didn’t.
I tried to explain why it is that, as a twenty-seven year old woman, the decision to commit to someone–for life–still feels remote.
“I think for me it’s that I’ve only had one serious relationship, and I feel like I should have more experience,” I said. “You probably had a few relationships before your wife. Right?”
He hesitated. “No, not really. I mean, I had one, it wasn’t great. I went on dates with other people, yeah.”
I looked at him, fascinated.
“I mean, there are always gonna be other people out there,” he went on. “I was just ready.”
I told him about the “free-agent penis” line. He laughed: “Yeah, I didn’t have that at all.”
But here’s the thing. Even if he had: if a guy wants to get married, ever, he knows there’s no way around it–he will have to, at some point, surrender his freedom. (Or he’ll get married and cheat, which, as D pointed out, is common enough.)
For women, though, realizing the “princess fantasy” isn’t so simple. On a certain level it’s going to feel like a compromise no matter what–I’m not sure if there exists a human incarnation of Prince Charming, but certainly the image I conjure is always animated. And I’d prefer a husband, ultimately, who isn’t.
Someday, that will be easier for me to accept–not just to say.