An interesting article in USA Today conjured up feelings I had suppressed for over 50 years. As I read it I couldn't resist smacking myself in the head and shouting "YES."
The article was about a book, Serious Doubts, written by Carl Weisman. In it he points out that many men and women go to the alter already knowing that their marriage is destined to fail. It was comforting to know that I wasn't the only imbecile out there.
When I walked down the aisle the first time, I could barely drag my feet. The weight of the universe was bearing down on me. The dread I felt was so intense, I might as well have been heading for the gallows. I desperately wanted to escape. What I felt was not a common case of pre-wedding jitters. It was my gut screaming out that what I was about to do was wrong, wrong, wrong ... for me.
It's not that I didn't love the man I was about to marry. I did. He was everything I thought a man should be: strong, decisive, respectable and well-liked. And, most importantly, he would take care of me. My parents convinced me that I needed a man to take care of me, and it never occurred to me that they were mistaken.
My girlfriends dreamed of white wedding gowns, cozy cottages, white picket fences, babies, a dog and a cat. I dreamed of dancing barefoot on cobblestones, in courtyards, in exotic places like Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Brazil. I'd wear long, gauze-like skirts, peasant blouses, and large gold hoop earrings. My cascading hair would flow freely and I would savor my freedom and, mostly, my solitude.
I ended up borrowing a wedding gown at the last possible moment, from my future sister-in-law. I had no interest in purchasing one. My mother planned and executed every step of the event. All I had to do was show up. My lack of involvement should have sent up warning flares. If it did, they were ignored or excused away.
I was a neophyte. I had no idea who I was or who I wanted to become. Try as I did, I couldn't envision myself wearing an apron, preparing meals, scrubbing floors, changing diapers, packing lunches, and being the Little Misses -- even though I had watched my mother perform those tasks with a smile and a song. And even though she and my father were happy and visibly in love, I had no desire to sport a wedding band which, as far as I was concerned, was the same as being branded.
But my mother told me it was time I settled down, and my little Jewish grandmother pushed and pressed. "It's not nize," she scolded. "You're 19 already. You should be married."
I knew that marriage was not for me. I believed that with every fiber of my being. But, I was a coward; terrified to open my mouth and speak my mind. I couldn't bear to disappoint my mother and shatter her dream of a beautiful wedding for her only daughter. I couldn't live with the thought of causing my fiancé pain, embarrassment, and humiliation. And since I didn't have the courage to express what was in my heart, I caved to family pressure and lived to regret it.
I preferred a spring wedding, but that conflicted with my fiance's minor league baseball schedule (as did basketball and hockey schedules, and every televised sport continue to interfere with social events over the next 21 years) so I suggested October. But that conflicted with the World Series, so we got married 10 days before my 21st birthday, during a December blizzard.
It wasn't entirely my husband's fault that our marriage didn't last 'til death did us part. We had nothing in common, and after years of trying to be what he wanted, my heart stopped caring and I gave up trying.
He married me because he was physically attracted to me. I was his arm candy. But, after four pregnancies I lost the girlish figure that had drawn him in, and he never hesitated to let me know how disappointed he was.
We were two nice people traveling divergent roads that would never come together.
I once read that if you make a list of the qualities you like in your partner and another of those you dislike, there would be a great deal of overlapping. I had been attracted to his self-assurance, his decisiveness, and his athletic prowess. As the years passed, those same characteristic put a wedge between us.
Some of the reasons people gave Weisman for marrying, even though their instinct had warned against it, are:
I didn't want to be single anymore
I thought my partner was the best I could do
I thought I could change some aspect of my partner
I figured I could make it work
To escape family
To have children
It seemed the next logical step.
I fell into three of those categories: Family pressure, It seemed like the next logical step, and to escape family.
I had a lovely relationship with my family but I was tired of living at home and wanted to get an apartment with a friend. My father told me that only orphans and whores lived in apartments and as long as I had family, I would live with them. I didn't want to live at home anymore, so that aspect of marriage showed promise.
I had every intention of sticking it out forever, but after 21 years of marriage, my children were grown. It was then I realized they would be gone, and I would be alone with my husband, and no diversions. Thoughts of a lonely future kept me awake and crying every night.
I never regretted my divorce. I spent the next 21 years doing all those things I had once dreamed of doing. Living in an apartment and later buying a house were top on my list. I have always had an inordinate need for solitude, so for most of those years I chose to live alone, which I loved with a passion.
I often think about what my life would have been if back in 1958 I had bucked family and societal pressures, and followed my heart instead. It surprises me to realize that a part of me doesn't regret having been married. Granted, I wish I had left the marriage earlier, but that union gifted me my children, and gave me a frame of reference I would not have otherwise had. It was during that period that I learned about myself: my likes, my dislikes, my needs, and the kind of man I required in order to have an optimum relationship. Because of those years, I am now able to fully appreciate and enjoy my life with a man to whom I am perfectly matched.