This begins a two-part essay that will be the last in my “Wayback Wednesday” series. In full disclosure, I wrote this essay 10 years ago, so specific facts (for instance, ages, shared life experiences, etc.) are no longer accurate.
After my husband dumped me (or, as I prefer to think of it now, “released me for good behavior”) nearly seven years into a bad marriage, I stumbled through a serious of unfortunate relationships. I was engaged for about half an hour to a lithium-resistant fellow on disability for his bipolar disorder. I spent several years dating a guy whose idea of a romantic birthday gift was a rain gage. I had dinner with a thrice married man and his young daughter nearly every night for a couple of years. I was imagining a married life in which our little threesome would be a happy family. He was imagining me babysitting his daughter while he dated other women.
Eventually, I came to the same sad conclusion that women have been coming to for centuries. There’s gotta be a better way to run a love life.
Although I never would have admitted it, I was always one of those women who defines herself too much by her relationship status. Oh, in the light of the “real world,” I said all the right things. I grew up in the first blush of the modern feminism movement. I graduated college in the eighties and went blithely into the workforce, wearing shoulder pads in my polyester business suits. I knew that my happiness and power were supposed to come from within me and they were within my control. I knew a modern woman was supposed to concentrate on her own career, her own interests, and her own personal growth. I knew I was supposed to believe that, if I did all those things, love and marriage would take care of themselves.
However, in the darkest part of my soul, I doubted. I doubted so loudly, I could not hear all the wise, conventional axioms about modern womanhood I knew I was supposed to believe. No matter how strongly a voice inside me tried to insist, “you should be yourself and make your own happiness” and “when the time is right and you are ready for it, love will find you,” an uglier voice rebutted vociferously. That ugly voice said, “no one will ever fall in love with you” and “you are not normal or adequate enough to find a husband and have children.” That ugly voice won the shouting match, I am sorry to say.
Therefore, when a boy I met in high school asked me to marry him (largely because he wanted sex and good Catholic girls didn’t put out without at least an engagement ring,) I accepted. My acceptance of his proposal mystified everyone who knew me. The common opinion was that me getting engaged to this guy defied all logic. It did not defy logic at all. When you are certain that no one will ever want you and you are sure that the only way to be happy is to get married, it is perfectly logical to accept a proposal from pretty much anyone.
As you might imagine, given its genesis, the marriage did not work. Eventually, my husband left me and I was again alone. His departure convinced me that the secret was out that I was “too” something or “not enough” something to enter that “young girls club” of marriage and family that I read about and saw on television. I was too ugly or too inept or not sexy enough or not nurturing enough or something. I did not know how to fix any of those things. I also did not understand that the only way to fix them was within myself and not by snaring another man. My campaign began in earnest. I was on a mission to marry.
For the next several years of my life, I tried numerous techniques to find love. I tried personal ads in the newspaper. For all you youngsters out there, this was the primeval equivalent of internet dating. I tried joining clubs. As it turns out, all the clubs I chose seemed to be already populated by many single women. Not that there aren’t men out there who enjoy ceramics-painting and small art house theater, but it seems clubs centered around these pursuits are often magnets for desperate women who just need to get out more. I tried going to singles dances. I experience some success with this activity because the venues were usually dimly lit. I am sure I would have fared better in that environment if my appearance did not so readily remind single men of the “before” pictures in TV commercials for various self-improvement products. I tried hanging out at church after services. Shame on me for using the House of the Lord as a spiritual singles bar! It didn’t work, anyway. I tried flirting with men at work, which was just plain terrifying. I even tried joining a professional video dating service. I do plead a certain amount of innocence on that one. I won the membership in a drawing. It would have been gut-wrenching to actually pay for something so unsuccessful.
I remember going to one singles dance sponsored by a club at a church. I found myself to be the belle of the ball that night. I danced constantly and had masculine company at every turn. Several asked for my phone number. One invited himself to my upcoming 35th birthday celebrations. I had a line of admirers to walk me to my car at the evening’s end.
The next day my mother called me. “So, how did it go?” she asked. I paused and asked tentatively, “Does Daddy like me?” “What?!” she replied, “Of course he likes you.” “Well, so does every other 70-year-old man in the country,” I replied. It says something about my state of mind that I was considering trying to lure one of these lovely gentlemen twice my age down the aisle.
This incident highlights a hallmark of that place in my life. I thought I was taking control of my own fate and doing things that would get me what I wanted with such single-minded ferocity… a husband. How could I look slimmer? How could I present as sexier? How could I make small talk more easily and breezily? How could I appear more “normal” and subdue my naturally childlike (and now, can I say… charming?) personality? And, above all, how could I hide my addiction to all things Tinker Bell?
The real story is that I never really did think about what I wanted. I was always too busy plotting to figure out how I could present the traits the single men out there wanted and how to hide the parts of me that I suspected would be unappealing to a prospective husband, I never bothered to evaluate the men who I were so sure were evaluating me and finding me wanting.
When I hit my wall after parting company with the guy who bought me a rain gage for a birthday present, I realized there had to be a better way. I realized that, while the break-up with Mr. Rain Gage had been mutual, it was I who initiated it. Why did I initiate it? He was a perfectly nice man. It just occurred to me that he wasn’t what I wanted! It was a novel concept. I was alone, not because I was somehow lacking or because the potential husband saw past my façade and realized I wasn’t what he wants. I was alone because the man I was seeing wasn’t what I needed. I realized it was okay.
To be continued….