Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Day I Realized I Might Never Get Married

I think the first time it really occurred to me that I could end up alone was a couple of months after my thirtieth birthday.  I had pondered the thought a few times previous to that, but it was always meant in an exasperated sitcom-y "why do I keep dating strange men?" sort of way, rather than something realistic.  After all, I could get dates whenever I wanted, not just hookups, but dates.  They weren't always good dates, admittedly, and they oftentimes didn't go anywhere, but they were dates.  I was smart, funny, had a job, and perhaps most importantly for online dating (though superficially), I was cute.  Like, I've always been cute-baiting the hook was never the challenge-it was keeping them on the line.

But a couple of months after my thirtieth birthday, something happened: my last close single friend got married.  I had other single friends at that point, admittedly, but you know of the group of people you went to college with who were of your crew and you knew "were going to get married eventually"-the last member of that group got married.

During the engagement the thought hadn't occurred to me because, for the first and only time in my life, I had a boyfriend whom I could see me actually going the distance with.  I started dating him earlier in their engagement, and dated him close enough to the wedding that I checked "plus one" on the wedding invitation.  While it normally would have hit me that that friend was the final friend, that I was "the runt of the litter," I figured I could get away with it-the guy I was seeing felt like a perfect match, someone that would fit in well in my life and I in his, and so I'd be the grand finale of our wedding rotations-in a game of reverse musical chairs, I'd managed to get a seat before the music stopped.  I'd be the last one to get married, but I'd get married and would be able to catch most of them before the kid cavalcade started.

And then something happened-he dumped me.  Totally blindsided me in a way that pretty much broke my heart.  By the time of the wedding, though, I had recovered, but at the wedding I realized something as so many people who had been vitally important in my life previously came out and I got to briefly be twenty-years-old again: most of these people I'd probably never see again.

The thing about weddings is that the list stays large enough if you get married close enough in a string (say, one a year), so the people who were once intrinsic parts of your life but then slowly disappeared come back.  The more people from when you were young, the younger you end up feeling because jokes that you shared or stories you know by heart bring you back to a place you adored.  For me, that's college-I don't think there will ever be a time in my life where I was happier than those four years.  I felt confident, loved, happy, almost constantly, and the world seemed limitless.

With that wedding, especially on the drive home, I realized that the only way I was going to see some of those people again was through, well, my wedding.  And I wondered-is that going to happen?  Because when you see people you haven't seen in eons at a wedding, your romantic life inevitably comes up.  And while "I recently broke up with my boyfriend" was a different answer for me, it still added up to being single.

That realization, that I might never get to that moment, was easily dismissed for a while after that since I'd recently had a boyfriend and knew it was a possibility, but then guys never seemed to come along anymore that gave me the same sense of "maybe" that that boyfriend had.  And then the dates started getting sparser-the number of guys interested in me didn't decrease, but it felt like more of them were interested in me less as a potential boyfriend and more as something complimentary to their lives (the number of married men that hit on me has dramatically increased over the past two years for reasons I can't even begin to understand).  I started getting broken up with by guys who said that I was "too old for them" even though they knew my age from the beginning.  And then the dates became harder and harder to book-whereas I could have had four dates in a week at 28, at 32 one in a week seemed about as much as I could muster.

As I write this, in my mind I've almost entirely given up on ending up getting married.  I don't say this out loud very often because I hate people's reactions to it as they're always the same.  "You're still young" or "it'll happen when it happens" and "you just have to wait," all of which may be true but are rage-inducing coming from people who met their current spouse in college; as a hint, the correct answer to this is "why do you feel that way?," "how can I help?" or "let's look at your dating profile to see what we can change"-dismissing it just makes me want to talk to you less.

The problem with this is-I don't have any dreams left if I give up on this one.  Don't get me wrong here-I don't dislike my life.  I enjoy my job and have an apartment I like.  I feel like I finally reached the place where I love my family as an adult, and not just as people I grew up with or raised me.  I have had experiences and stories that I can be proud of from my twenties.

But in terms of dreams I had for myself in college, I have to admit that none of them came true.  I never went to grad school to become a psychologist or a filmmaker.  I never ran for public office or published a novel.  I don't live in New York or Paris or London-some city where you feel history at your feet everywhere you stand.  And I don't think any of these things will happen.  And I was fine with that, knowing that the one dream that trumped them all since I decided at the age of 18 that I was going to come out could still come true-a husband and a family.  Even then I was willing to make concessions-I'm old enough now and far enough removed from most of them that I'd be willing to have a civil ceremony rather than a wedding reception, and perhaps even I was willing (if need be) to give up on the dream of having kids if I had to if I could just get that guy.

I don't know what to do without that dream.  I am someone who lives very much in reality, and while I put myself out there again and again and again, I cannot deny evidence.  No guy has wanted to stay with me longer than two months since the year of that final wedding, and objectively that boyfriend wasn't in my life a particularly long time.  I think a big difference between me and most people my age is I don't have the solace of knowing a guy who was there for a year, or several years.  I don't really have the knowledge that "someone wanted you" in the way that might sustain someone who is divorced or single at my age.  No guy has ever made me think "maybe," since then and not because I wasn't willing to let that happen, but because I could see they wouldn't want to stick around.  I think the hardest thing about the "it'll happen when it happens" thing is that faith and hope are hard things to muster when everything in your life is telling you "give up."  It's not self-fulfilling prophecy so much as you knowing every time you jump off your roof you're going to break a bone-it's just a surprise which bone you're going to break.  Hope is easier in your twenties because you see success blooming for all the people around you, and you think "well, that'll be me soon enough."  But I don't see that anymore-everyone in my life has been married for years.  There are no weddings to make me feel young and free again-I don't know that I'm ever going to feel "new" again.

But the problem still remains-I don't know what happiness looks like in the future without a husband.  I know how to make myself happy in this moment. or to enjoy my current life, but my current life always felt temporary, like a giant prequel to the main event.  If I give up on finding a man, I'm giving up on the only thing I've ever truly wanted.  The only goal I've ever truly cared about, something I'm mentally incapable of totally realizing.  And so I keep dating, praying that perhaps I'm the lucky one-I'm Annie in Sleepless in Seattle or Celine in Before Sunset, early thirties where I find that guy "just in time."  A romantic, beautiful eleventh hour number after so much disappointment.  And when I say things like that to myself, that that's possible, I can still just barely believe them.  But it's harder than it was the first time two years ago when the thought occurred to me, and every failed date or birthday or Christmas where I sit around a sea of couples, it gets just another step harder.  I am dreading the day when I have to give up on my last dream, and realize that the main event of my life started years ago-that there wasn't a prequel at all and I was simply Edward Mayhew, not Celine or Annie.  I am dreading the day when the only dream I allowed myself to pursue won't come true, and how hope will be displaced with regret.

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