Next week, I have a date with a man who stated on his online dating profile that he is looking for his life partner. Like me, this man is in his early 40s. “Looking for my life partner” no doubt translates into “I am finally ready to take on a wife.”
I am not interested in being a wife, though.
When our first-date banter transitions into are-you-a-good-fit vetting, I will have to explain to him that I want what seems (to me) a reasonable love structure: a committed, monogamous relationship with a man I adore who lives around the corner from me. I, too, am looking for my life partner and I do not want to do paperwork on the partnership.
When I was in my twenties and thirties waiting for matrimony to become a relationship goal for me, I never thought about this place where I am right now: A 43-year-old woman whose autonomy and independence have only increased in importance as she’s aged. A single woman who did not arrive here as a result of poor dating choices in her youth. Rather, a woman who never loved with the notion that the natural progression of romantic love leads to legal marriage.
This is quite confusing for many (men and women). The assumption has been that I am either being coy so as not to frighten the man I really want to marry or I am just immature and/or broken, which causes me to convince myself that marriage will crush my soul. For years, I was able to get away with not having to address either assumption because I was not of an age where I was supposed to be remorseful about not focusing more on marriage.
That age has arrived. I still feel no remorse.
Yet, I enjoy the company of (properly vetted) men. I have never had the emotional energy to seriously date more than one man at a time. When I have seen the qualities in a suitor I value, I have entered into a monogamous relationship with him. Much like with my small circle of good girlfriends, I have been loyal and attentive to the man I loved. I have never wanted to become his wife nor have I fantasized about relinquishing my autonomy and personal living space so as to include a husband in my home.
“If this won’t lead to marriage, then I am starting to wonder what is the point of us being together.”
My most recent ex-boyfriend admitted this to me after I confronted him about the lack of emotional labor he was putting into our relationship. We had been together a few months shy of a year and had talked about my decision not to be a mother coupled with my life-long indifference to matrimony early into our courtship. He continued to embark on a relationship with me and seemed to accept that traditional coupling was not my calling.
That is until I made it clear I had the same expectations of him as any woman (traditional or otherwise) with a sense of self worth. I expected to have the heavy lifting of emotional work and supportive nurturing I performed equally reciprocated by the man I loved.
Embedded in my ex-boyfriend’s admission was a commonly held belief I have never understood: if marriage is not the ultimate destination of a romantic relationship, then complete commitment to the relationship itself and the other person in it is optional. There is no reason to perform the work required in a relationship if you will not eventually share a mortgage with your significant other.
I could not articulate my confusion about this belief when I was younger. I could not even see this is what people were saying when they asked, “Well, what do you expect if you won’t have his babies and are not even trying to become his wife?”
Over the years, this has been several people’s retort when I have expressed dissatisfaction with trying to deepen an emotional connection with a man who seemed unable (or unwilling) to open himself to it. What seemed like a basic requirement to love someone has been suggested by more than a few to be a prize exclusively awarded to wives (and bearers of children).
People won’t say it, but what they really mean is: A woman should not even expect one third of a man if she is not willing to offer up her entire self.
I am looking forward to my date next week. I will put on a cute summer maxi, my special occasion lipstick and enjoy the conversation that will unfold over a cup of coffee and pastry. I have been dating for quite some time so I have learned to think of these first meetings as just that: sitting down with a man who seems nice, but who I barely know to see if I am interested in sitting down with him again. It may turn into something substantial. It may not.
The vetting portion of the date should come rather quickly. It will be interesting to watch my potential suitor’s body language as I explain there are very few iterations of marriage that appeal to me, though I am not diametrically opposed to it. I am assuming my date has been on the open market for some time, too. He, too, has had drinks and meals with all kinds.
Surely, a woman of a certain age saying she is not thirsty for marriage is the most mundane of the oddities he has had to smile through until the check came.