I’m one of the oldest of my coworkers, though if it weren’t for the emerging smile lines, a few gray hairs, and my complete lack of Nickelodeon trivia knowledge, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell. They all act way older than I do. They’re settled in a way that has never felt right to me. Other than my Assistant General Manager (late 30’s) and the General Manager (early 50’s), most of the people I work with are in their late 20’s, and all either have children, spouses, houses and cars, or spend their time talking about attaining any of a number of those things.
My closest coworker, job-wise, is also one of my favorite people at work. He’s a really sweet guy, and we share some similarities, like hailing from North Carolina. He’s 27, in the process of buying a house, and has also just started shopping for a ring for his girlfriend. He announced these things at work the other day, and I appeared to be the only person who absorbed the knowledge with something akin to dismay. The others are taking it with a grain of salt, and in general are giving off an excited vibe that implies these steps are only right. There’s a feeling that my friend will be joining a different tribe when he takes these last steps into manhood. The other work guys crowded into his office to offer slaps on the back, or talk over ring prices. I did my best to keep my facial expressions neutral, for fear that I would betray too much of my inner workings.
It’s like they’re all familiar with a particular model of invisible conveyor belt, and they’re all just chugging along toward a finish line (a giant, fiery-mouthed machine? a cliff? a bunch of angels in tennis shoes, idly strumming harps?). Meanwhile, I’m standing in a bucket of slowly-hardening concrete, watching them roll away – and the weird part is that I’m not all that upset about it.
In the real world, when I’m brought into these kinds of conversations, I do my best to be kind. It’s obvious that I’m definitely in the minority with my opinions, so I just smile and nod, and concentrate on not saying anything rude. But if I had any kind of impulse control issues when it came to holding my tongue, I’d have spent yesterday running around the office, screaming at them all to snap out of it, to jump off of their conveyor belts while there’s still time. Of course I didn’t say anything, even when I caught a glimpse of the engagement ring picture on my coworker’s computer (and hated it – so ostentatious and glittery, all diamonds and yet still, curiously, no substance).
Why stay silent? Because I know how this goes. I know that not only am I in the minority, my minority is so small, it makes me look like I’m batshit crazy to voice any of my opinions. I mean, sure, yeah, I can still imagine myself getting married one day. But I can also imagine myself owning a unicorn, so it’s maybe not the best thing to ask me if I believe that marriage is an intelligent decision. It’s definitely not right for me now, and let’s face it, I’m quickly approaching the sell-by date. But I guess there’s always a later, until you’re dead.
So let’s fantasize for a second about just how perfect this imaginary man would have to be to be husband material, shall we?
- He’d have to be artistic – not necessarily a painter or writer, but someone who finds joy in making and doing. If not someone who builds castles on paper, then someone who takes pleasure in working with his hands, and through this, is able to empathize with my own need to create (even when I’m being particularly shitty at it). He could love to cook, or to do woodwork, or to garden.
- He’d also have to have a firm appreciation for music, and he has to at least be able to sing. I dated a tone-deaf guy who disliked most of the music I liked, and it was heartbreaking. Not kidding, just remembering it makes my gut churn. Music is THAT important to me. Some basic music appreciation is a must; no compromises there.
- He has to read. That’s another place where I couldn’t compromise. I could find a way to work around a man who doesn’t like the cinema (it would be sad, but I’d survive), but I have a strong suspicion that I’d secretly believe a non-reader to be stupid, and of course it’s practically impossible to have a healthy relationship with a man you believe to be an idiot.
- I couldn’t give two figs for whether or not he’s athletic, or even if he appreciates sports. Actually, I really hate having sports games playing on TV in my home, so extra points for not being into watching sports things (baseball, soccer, and hockey get a pass, though). But he does need to love nature, and care about the earth. And I’d flip my lid for him to be the kind of outdoorsy that means he’d be genuinely excited to go hiking and camping with me. That would be really cool. But that’s also not expected; I’m fine finding my own tribe to support me in my outdoors endeavors.
- He’d need to make money – enough to take care of himself like a grownup when I’m not in the picture, and it would be nice if he made enough to take care of me a little bit, too. He’s imaginary, so he’s just as successful as my imaginary self is – he can easily pay rent and car note, take vacations, and put money aside for retirement. God, I love living in my imagination. But seriously, marriage should only be for two people who can take care of themselves without any help, so that when they combine forces, they become a super team, rather than one of them becoming the other’s sucking chest wound.
- He’d be open, spiritually. He’d know the difference between “agnostic” and “atheist.” He’d be respectful of religious exploration, even if he had a chosen spiritual path. He’d love to talk about gods and religions, and his own inner quest. Most importantly, he’d have an inner quest. Having already wasted time with a non-dreamer, I can confidently state that I will never, ever, be happy with a man who doesn’t yearn to find his own Truth.
- Then there’s the small stuff that’s really the big stuff, like making me laugh, conversing for hours, being a great kisser, always having time to give me a hug, never going to bed angry, holding my hand at the movies, giving good foot rubs, washing my hair, cooking me breakfast, being nice to my cats, always being up for an adventure (even the tiny kind, like trying out a new coffee shop), doing chores without me having to gripe, taking care of his health and wellbeing, and never EVER waking me up before my alarm clock goes off.
I know that you can’t find everything in one person, and that love means compromises. And I have compromised, in every relationship. I’m good at that part. Maybe too good, who knows? As it goes, my current relationship hits almost every one of these bullet points, plus a lot of the small stuff. It’s by far the healthiest partnership I’ve ever had a pleasure to take part in.
But the biggest bullet point is the one that’s not included here. It’s a personal bullet point, the thing that goes on behind the scenes. To be able to fall for someone, you have to also be capable of standing on your own two feet. And I used to feel like I had that part down, but now I’m not so sure anymore. It feels like I’m just barely doing a passing job of keeping myself in one piece, here. I am the one that’s not marriage material. I don’t want to make someone take care of me, just like I don’t want to take care of someone else. Sure, I want to indulge, and be indulged, but I want to also know that I am capable of holding my own in this world.
So that makes the real question, “What is it that everyone else sees that I don’t?” Are they just as fragile as I am, and hiding it, AND emotionally capable of happily sucking someone else into their own disaster – is everyone that terrible? Or are they so much stronger than I am? Or are they blind to it all, and just moving along at the pace they’ve been told they should be keeping?
All those conveyor belts.
When I look into my future, I never see a husband and children. I see a tidy little house in the desert, a pickup truck, a dog, a couple of cats, and me. Maybe horses, though I bet they actually belong to the neighbors. I see beautiful outdoors, and wrinkles, and gray hair, and an impressive collection of soft, natural fabrics, fun shoes, and ethnic jewelry. I see waking up early to a cup of coffee on the front porch. I see art projects, and crossword puzzles, and many more hiking trips before my knees start to give out on me. I might die in hospice, but I won’t die alone. I’ll have dear friends until the end. Maybe no husband, no children, no lover there to hold my hand when it’s time to let me go, but I’ll have a friend or two to say goodbye. And that’s OK. You can’t take any of this with you, can you? No one can.
(P.S. The music video above is off of Jonathan Coulton’s newest album, Solid State, and deserves a read/listen. Read more about the album concept here.)