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Nyet, nein, non, no!

April 1st, 2007

BY LANE BROWNING

ladyrefusing.jpgIt’s celibacy, not chastity.

Just a peeve of mine; I don’t use “celibate” to mean “doing without sex.” I use it to mean “forgoing marriage” or “unmarried,” and celibacy is embedded in my hemoglobin. I never “got” the whole marriage thing.

Chastity is quite another animal. Chastity sucks.

But where was I….

OK, here: I was compatibly unmarried to the same person for a very long time. A very very very long time. Throughout our history, we got the same tedious roster of questions, and I always delivered the same responses:

“Don’t you want a commitment?”

“No.”

“Don’t you think it’s unfair to the child?”

“No.”

“Aren’t you a little old for just living together?”

“No.”

“Isn’t it a hassle with legal stuff and paperwork?”

“No.”

“Don’t you feel insecure?”

“No.”

“Wouldn’t you like that special ceremony and a cake and a ring and those memories?”

“Uh, most definitely no. But cake is always good.”

The inquisitors never really cared, of course. My answers bounced off their stern knitted brows and spun off into irrelevance.

My partner and I weathered illness, financial strife, deaths, multiple relocations, nightmarish parenting challenges, ennui, long-distance communication and separations, and decades of tedium-leavened-by-lust; but getting married was never on the menu, not for even a moment.

Why, people still wondered.

Gloria Steinem was glib (“I don’t marry because I can’t mate in captivity”) and Mae West was glibber (“Marriage is a great institution, but I’m not ready for an institution”), so what one-liners were left for me? If I answered at all, I said, “There’s no reason to” or “We’re happy with things the way they are.” If peevish, I snapped “What? Jeez, why don’t we marinate ourselves in lye instead?”

My “insignificant other” and I met as teenagers and were together for more than twenty-five years. We had a common mortgage, a common kid, and abiding affection/affinity, so out comes the pronouncement, “Oh, you were the same as married, anyway." No. Whatever their interpretations, I was decidedly not married. In fact, when he decided he wanted out, he simply handed me a letter saying, “I hereby announce the withdrawal of my romantic feelings for you.” Yes, it’s like clicking your heels together three times and declaring, “I dump you.”

(I’d like to say the tidiness continued but the bleak irony is that three years later we both had divorce attorneys and court-mandated child support. For this bilge I thanked new-girlfriend-from-Hades, who flipped our neat post-breakup arrangement on its ass. To an anti-marriage iconoclast, there are few things as gullet-choking as paying a divorce attorney $250 an hour to write letters one could do infinitely better oneself.)

Everything in me opposes the concept of marriage. I felt this way when I was in grade school, and I spent my adolescence and college years petrified that my youthful fortitude would evaporate in the face of overwhelmingly prevalent behavior.

It never happened. I still think marriage is provincial, antiquated,unromantic, unnecessary, illogical, and too often expensive. A fossil of only minor curiosity.

And even though Ms. Steinem “caved” after age sixty and made it legal, I feel sure that will not happen for me. It will never happen. As time goes on I am more and more disinclined to marry. I cannot imagine becoming a wife. I cannot imagine making promises about how I’m going to feel in the future. I cannot imagine asking anyone to make any such promises to me. I don’t want to sleep in an anthill, and I don’t want to be married.

As for the trappings and traditions, ceremonies are anathema; ritual is anathema; religion is highest on my list of aversions.

Deliver me from weddings, with their awkward sentimentalism, profligate financial spasms, and anachronistic rituals. Spare me the role of gawky interloper watching people display their hopeful passion. If they must do this thing, send ’em off to City Hall with ten dollars and a sense of modesty. “You’re missing the point,” they protest. “It’s the bond, the beauty of a sacred commitment and a careful, loving decision to share life’s hardships and blessings.”

Americans love marriage. Matrimony makes Americans mindlessly happy. They love it when divorced people find one another and marry, they love (yeeep!) fiftieth wedding anniversaries, and they especially love it when people who’ve been “cohabiting” decide to tie the knot.

Dramamine, please!!!!

The pragmatists go further: “Marriage reminds you to work hard when things get rough.” Yeah sure. You can have a lousy, unloving marriage, and you can have a loving, caring nonmarriage. The license is just a license. And the law has an option on your relationship whether you are married or not, alas, but at least living in a state that doesn’t recognize “common law marriage” gave me a wee sense of sovereignty. I don’t want to be a common bride any more than I want to be a “comma, bride.”

“Well, you were married in spirit if not on paper,” they say. The explications are their own, and I’d sooner try explaining algebra to a salamander. Staying not married isn’t a political pronouncement for me: If no one else got married, I’d be a conformist. I take no special “pride” in my choice, any more than I take pride in having brown eyes or an ear for languages. However, the lifestyle is definitely a well-deep preference. I have no interest in being married.

Most married people tell themselves it’s going to work. In my “thing,” I never thought about the long term. We stayed together because we wanted to, day by day. And when he found something — someone — he wanted instead, he left. It was every bit as hard as a typical divorce; but I know with great clarity that we wouldn’t have made it through our twenty-five-plus years of travails if we had been handcuffed to one another. Observers used to say we acted “just like a married couple” (a meaningless simile, because there is no standard of behavior for married people). No, we acted like people who knew each other well and wished each other well. The distinction (and it is a tremendous one) lay in our minds, but it was very meaningful to us.

My ex-boyfriend wants to get married. In fact, he’s frantic to do the deed, or at least to have it on the horizon. Since he left me he has been engaged to at least two women. The marriages never happened, but he trusts in eHarmony and is working on his third engagement. I meanwhile have stayed on the fringes. What’s interesting is that my alliance with my best friend Mike is on track to outpace the tenure with my lover. Mike and I never made any promises to each other, either, but year after year, on we go, marathon phone conversations and shared humor untrammeled by convention.

So now I live alone part-time and with my son the rest of the time. I’m no more “alone” than any of the millions of divorced or hermitic celibates out there; I seem to have as much in common with the “never had an LTR” people as I have with the “married for twenty-five years” people and the “thrice divorced” people. None of it really matters. I can’t quite agree with Robert Louis Stevenson’s acerbic claim that after marriage “the road lies long and straight and dusty to the grave,” because I know people who are happy being married. And Cervantes was unnecessarily cynical when he wrote “Marriage is a noose.”

And don’t get me started on funerals. •

Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Marriage Issue, Browning | Link to this Entry

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