A few weeks before my April wedding, a professional woman who I’d recently gotten to know asked me, “Were you happy being single?”
I floundered for a response and babbled on in a scrambled fashion for a few minutes and then finally had the insight to ask her, “Where does that question come from?”
And she said something like this: “My single friends and I have seen you speaking and counselling and living your life as a confident, single woman. We used you as a reference point to say that we don’t need a man to live a full and productive life. You looked happy and fulfilled. It was good to know that you were single, because, in a way, you were one of us, and we liked that. And now that you are getting married, we feel like you are joining the, ‘married side’ which has us feeling a little abandoned…and maybe like you are thinking it is better to be married…and so…I had to ask.”
Sigh…I stammered and stuttered a bit more with her. I’m trying again with an answer that is a bit more thoughtful:
Yes, I was happy being single. I believe that ultimately, I am a person that pursues joy more than happiness. Joy is not a function of circumstance but of mindset. (I remind myself that a year after winning the lottery or a year after becoming a paraplegic, after a catastrophic accident, the lottery winners are only slightly happier than the paraplegics).
I’ve learned by personal and professional experience that being in a destructive marriage is debilitating. I desperately didn’t want my marriage to end…but it did. My first six months being single were scary and hard and difficult..but much easier than my last six months of being married. It was a relief to not be married in my circumstance.
I put on a ring shortly after I became single again…a simple gold band engraved with a reference to my faith and my Junior Tribe Member’s (JTM) names on it. (I still wear it actually). It served to remind me of what was real and important in my life…it grounded me as to my primary values and priorities regardless of life’s circumstances. Where I was at in life was not going to define my level of life satisfaction. Striving to maintain alignment with my values I knew would be deeply enriching.
Yes, I loved parts of being single. I am an introvert, and loved going to see whatever movie I wanted to on a Friday night with no need to negotiate or collaborate on a decision. I could decide all sorts of things without having to consult…colour of shower curtain, vacation destination, what we would have for supper, what I would do on the weekend. I ate sushi, because I love sushi. I like my own company.
I loved the opportunity to pursue interests. Being in a good marriage takes a lot of time…that’s just being practical. It’s important to connect and spend time with one’s spouse. Without a spouse I had many hours in the evenings and weekends to prepare lectures, grade papers, write blogs, build our counselling centre, work on speeches I was asked to give. I simply wouldn’t have had the time to develop my career in the way I have had I been married. I like what I do…so having the hours to do it was a gift.
There were other unexpected gifts in singleness…I had a close relationship with my JTM’s, and we developed unique and special traditions that developed out of our unique life circumstances. Our annual Christmas Stocking Extravaganza Experience, the Sunday night America’s Funniest Video suppers, the hours in the car driving them to sports–somewhat overwhelming at the time, and infinitely precious in hindsight.
But I’ll admit I was lonely. This is a couples’ world, and often I would hear later that good “couple friends” had gotten together for dinner and cards…and I realized I was never invited. Families would go on vacations together…and single parent families rarely get invited along for these kind of events.
Some days I would have a hard day at work…and there was generally no one to listen to me vent…and no one to give me a hug, that might not have fixed the situation, but would have made me feel a lot better.
Single parenting is not for the faint of heart…parenting is best a tag team sport and when there is no one to spell you off, there are moments that aren’t pretty. Times when I would have nothing left…but still had to step up to the plate and do what was needed.
Being 100% responsible for mortgage, taxes, bills and all that goes along with running a household was daunting. And a lot of work. But it had me discover how strong I was. I liked feeling that strong feeling and was grateful for the opportunity to experience it.
I hadn’t planned on meeting J. In fact, because his late wife had the same first name and same profession as I, I actively avoided him. We had our first long walk the day I came home from the trip to drop my youngest JTM at university.
For 10 years I had worked to make my life such that my JTM’s would have a happy and healthy home environment..to give them a safe family to live in, and to venture out from. I was dreading coming home from dropping my JTM at his dorm at the university. In the best sort of way, I was being fired from “hands on parenting” and I was terrified. For years, my life had focused on getting to the finish line of getting my JTM’s all growed up…and I had no idea what came next. I had vague notions of book clubs, and gym memberships, season tickets to the theatre and professional goals but the empty expanse of time ahead without driving kids around, making endless meals, and all the day to day things that moms do scared me.
But I knew I would make it work, and I knew I would be content. I wondered if some day I might marry again, but I knew the odds were against it, and I was determined to make a good life for myself. I had adjusted to single mom of small children, now I would adjust to single woman with adult children.
But that never had a chance. I got home from the West Coast at 5:00 pm and at 7:30 pm I went for a long walk with a new friend. That walk was repeated several nights later, then regularly, and a new friend became a good friend who developed into my spouse…the love of my life.
Am I happy now? Heck, YES!!
I know it’s only been four months…and you may think the newlywed glow is still skewing my perspective, but I love being married. But it’s not about being married…it’s about being married to J.
It’s not about simply being married, it’s about being married in a relationship that is life giving.
I’d promised myself a long time ago that I would stay happily single rather than be unhappily married.
I didn’t want to compromise my quality of life to be able to have a man/any old guy in my life. Life is too precious to find a guy just to couple up. I wanted my married life to be better than my single life…and I had a really good life. Marriage in my 40’s would require major readjustments, and I wouldn’t do it lightly. A man does not complete a woman.
The sort of relationship I wanted and the man I dreamed of seemed unlikely. It was gonna be quite the man that would have me feeling like the great life I led would be bettered by being married to him.
I didn’t know if he existed.
J is loving and kind…he is so slow to anger that I can’t wrap my head around it. He is patient and loving. He’s interested in what I am interested in…when he hears about something I’m learning about, he looks it up to become familiar with it. He has made it his mission to be calm and trustworthy for those times when, because of my past, I become fearful and have questions. He doesn’t mock or become impatient…he smiles and enjoys the opportunity to show me that he’s there for me. He tells me often that he has thought of and prayed for me.
I matter to him.
He’s clear that he wants me to feel like his “queen”. His eyes light up when I walk into the room because seeing me makes him happy. He thinks I’m beautiful. He brings me lattés in the morning, and goes for walks with me at night. He shops and cleans...there are things done around the house without me making them happen…I still marvel at that–after all those years of single parenting, it feels like magic.
We share the burden of household finances. Not being completely responsible for absolutely everything all the time…sharing that with a partner who loves to bear the load…well, sometimes I feel like I’m on vacation.
I feel cherished and valued. I am loved. He’s got my six. He hugs me at the end of a hard day…and listens to me rant. He hugs me at the end of a great day to celebrate. He hugs me at the end of everyday, just because.
That’s a wonderfully powerful feeling. We are created for connection, and a rich and close marriage is a fulfillment of something that we are created for.
But it’s a boatload of hard, too!
I have eaten sushi rarely in the last months. A busy family means I am making meat and potatoes for a crew.
I am delighted by bonus children…but the gentle negotiation of relationships with Junior Tribe Members whom I love as my own, but for whom I am a “bonus parent’ means constant mental gymnastics. I am constantly considering my approach–to be loving and respectful, to be close but not assuming of closeness, to care but not to smother, to be mothering but not their mother.
While I was on my own, I didn’t have to face the painful shadows from Relationship Past. Now, in close relationship, I experience stress and distress, questioning his motives and mine far more out of what I remember than what is happening now. While it is healing to experience a close relationship, it is also challenging to be reminded of relationship dynamics long forgotten. Healing but hard.
I’ve had to let a lot of furniture and familiar things go. We merged two households worth of stuff into one…that’s a lot of letting go…inevitably loss and grief. We have two groups of friends…and with added parenting, I see my friends less than I used to. I read less books, take less naps and listen to less audiobooks. Bringing in “new good” has involved letting go of “old good”. Grief of any kind is hard.
We’re figuring out how to do life together…finances, vacations etc. While most of this is going smoother than I would have thought, his relaxed approach to life sometimes feels too loosey-goosey for me. I long to nail things down to plan, and he lives freely in the now. That’s why I married him…but sometimes it drives me crazy.
I blog less…far less. There is less time for writing…he frees me to go off and write, but being newly married well takes a lot of time. When there is a misunderstanding, I work to drop whatever I’m doing to allow us to have a conversation to clear the air. We have to get to know each other’s rhythms and preferences. And strong love needs time to marinate…long hours of walking and holding hands, or sitting on the porch and chatting. A good relationship is a long road of intentional investment.
When you’ve each known tragedy and are fortunate to find love again, there is sweet patience. A dirty sink that might have bothered me years ago is now are a sign of a husband who is around. It is precious to wake up every day to a man who wants to be with me…it’s so much easier to major on the majors, and minor on the minors when you’ve each had a broken heart from the death of a marriage.
I didn’t want “just” a marriage…I wanted a good marriage. One where together, we would be greater than each of us could be alone. Where we would celebrate each other as individuals as well as being part of this pair. Where the sum of us together we would be greater than the sum of us as parts. That would involve him being just the right fit for me. And me prepared to do the work of being the woman who would make a marriage be good.
It’s not just good. It’s great.
I’m in a life that I could not have imagined a year ago. A year ago I was a happy single woman. Now I’m a delighted and thrilled married woman.