by: Ayada Adler
My family doesn’t “believe” in divorce. Grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins, and even my brother married and stayed with the same person their whole lives. They are also some of the most miserable people I know. For their 38th wedding anniversary, my parents and I went to dinner. For most of the meal we ate in silence. To try to start a topic of conversation, I said, “Most of your friends and neighbors have gotten divorced but you two stay together. How do you do it?”
Together they both looked at me and said, “It’s not worth it,” and went back to eating in silence. Later on, my dad said to me, “We made a deal. Whoever filed for divorce first had to take the kids. It kept us from filing.”
However, just because they were miserable, didn’t mean that they didn’t expect their children to get married. When the family gatherings got large enough to put the kids at their own table, the dividing line between who got to sit at the grown-ups’ table was marriage, especially for women. My brother, who wasn’t married until age 34, always sat at the grown-ups’ table. I always sat at the kids’ table and was told to look after the children. I learned that a woman’s value was in her ability to get a man and make him marry her.
From my first relationship on, I felt it was my job to make any relationship into marriage. At 23, I stayed with a man I didn’t even like for three years because I thought he was my best bet for getting married. After we started living together, he stopped going into work, ran up the phone bill to $1,000 and stopped bathing. And he is the one who broke up with me.
At age 28, I settled into a long-term relationship with a very nice man named Kevin. My family was relieved to see me in a stable relationship. No woman in our family had ever turned 30 without getting married. I worked as hard as I could in every relationship, even staying with men I didn’t like so that wouldn’t happen to me.
However, as I got closer to 30, it seemed like we had suddenly stopped dating. We were in this happy and stable relationship, but he felt no need to spend weekends together. We never slept at each other’s apartment. Once we moved in together, the sex stopped completely.
Kevin had always been something of a homebody, but he slowly stopped going out with other people, and finally refused to go out with me. He left every day for work, thankfully, but other than that he didn’t want to leave the apartment. When my career started taking off, he talked to me about becoming a stay-at-home partner so he wouldn’t have to leave home at all.
I could see that he was very depressed. We talked about it, and what he could do to help himself. He assured me that he would work himself out of it his own way. So I waited.
Then it happened. I turned 30 as a single woman.
But as my family’s expectations of my relationship heated up, mine began to cool down. I realized that although my family saw marriage as necessary, I saw that marriage to this man meant a life of doing things on my own. Sure, he might marry me. He might even have kids with me. But he might never go to a movie with me again, or go on a walk with me on a warm spring night. Was that really what I wanted for my future? I was doing everything alone anyway. What about that would marriage change?
Still, I wasn’t ready to abandon that relationship. I stayed with him another two sexless years, waiting, giving him time and space to sort things out. But nothing changed. He became more set in his ways, more stubborn and less able to talk about it. I felt completely unable to deal with the slow and silent death of desire in my relationship.
Then one night I met an old boyfriend while I was out. We ended up sharing a drink, and against all good sense I went back to his place with him. As we lay on his couch making out like desperate high school teenagers, all I could think about was how horrible I would feel when it was all over. How could I do this to Kevin?
I ended our make-out session before any clothes came off. Back in my car I caught sight of my face in the rear view mirror. All around my mouth my skin was rubbed raw by the kissing, and the only thing I could think was, “What the hell am I doing in this relationship with Kevin?” I realized that I’d rather face my family as a single woman than face myself as Mrs. Kevin.
I broke up with Kevin two days later. He yelled and was angry, but it turned out to be a fight he didn’t really want to have. A few weeks later he left, quietly and peacefully. I think we were both relieved.
My family was shocked. They yelled and pleaded, much more than Kevin did. “But he’s such a good man!” my mom said. “You really think there are a bunch of men out there waiting to marry a 32-year-old woman?” my dad asked. “Don’t forget, you have to make time for love,” my aunt said.
And truthfully, starting dating in my 30s was something of a shock. Most of my peers were already settled down. In that first year of dating I ran into married men who wanted some action on the side and desperate men who proposed on the first date because they felt the time was right for them to get married. I started to wonder if I’d made a huge mistake.
But breaking up with Kevin proved something to the most important person: me. I no longer felt the need to bend over backward to try to make a relationship work just to please my family. I realized that work and effort still needed to be made, but I should put it into pleasing myself.
And you want to know the funny thing? Men responded to that. I had always been afraid of saying no, afraid of being seen as mean or unloving or superior. But this time, I wasn’t trying to audition for the role of wife; I was there to have some fun. So I finally said no to the gross-out humor movies I couldn’t stand, to the endless agonizing hours of baseball on TV, and to the mandatory third-date blowjob. And when I began to say no, to set limits and to stand up for myself, suddenly men were bending over backward to please me. I feel like when I backed off trying to be SuperGirlfriend, there became room for men to work to impress me and romance me by going to movies I was interested in, trying restaurants I had read about, and in long, passionate make out sessions that left us both panting for more.
I began to learn how to sort the good men from the bad. In the past few years I’ve been at dinner parties and potlucks where the majority of the single men competed over who got to sit next to me, walk me to my car or ask for my phone number. It seemed that my dad was wrong when he said that men would lose interest at the ripe old age of 32. The men I started seeing wanted to take me out and show me off to their friends. They wanted to cook elaborate meals for me. And, most of all, they encouraged me to write, something I had always wanted to do but I didn’t know how to start. I had several partners who were excited to see everything I was working on. Once I was complaining about not having enough time to write while having a lunch date, and the guy I was seeing got paper from the waiter and let me write while we had lunch. They were passionate about my passions because they were mine. They encouraged me to grow.
Now, I am in the happiest, most fulfilling, and sexiest relationship I’ve known. I swoon every time I look at my boyfriend with his dark, curly hair and big blue eyes. I love the way he holds me after a bad day at work and how he encourages me to keep to my workout and writing schedule, never letting me slack off on the promises I’ve made to myself. And in our intimate moments, he is committed to finding the things that set me on fire and satisfy me. He leaves me breathless and exhausted when I finally fall asleep in his arms.
I had to outgrow some of the assumptions I had about relationships before I was ready to be made happy by one. But I am. I am very, very happy. And if we decide to get married in the future, it will be because we want to make that kind of commitment to each other, and not so I would be welcome at the grown-ups’ table.
Adaya Adler is a jacqueline-of-all-trades and has worked many jobs from Fortune 500 trainer to phone sex operator. She is a part-time citizen journalist and a full-time adventurer, and wants to use all her experiences as fodder for future blog entries. She blogs at http://adaya36.livejournal.com/ and tweets at Adaya36. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.