I never wanted to get married young. Even back when I still thought I might possibly fit into the typical marriage with children mold (not sure when exactly I thought this, but I think I did at one point), I wanted to take my time. In college, when I’d get a serious boyfriend I’d worry because I didn’t want to meet the man I was going to marry yet. (Phew! Good thing none of those relationships lasted!)
Even now, when I’m staring down 30–yes, it’s just a tiny dot out in the distance you might mistake for a speck of dust, but I can still see it–I don’t usually wish I’d done things differently. Each man I’ve dated wasn’t the one I was supposed to marry. Simple as that.
But yesterday, as I listened to an elderly couple recount the tale of how they met (the woman was dating the guy’s friend and he stole her away from him; 6 months later they got engaged; they had 4 kids and have now been together almost 50 years), I felt a pang of regret. In practical terms I didn’t wish I’d gotten married at 21. Still, in romantic terms, it was pretty great that this couple could say they’d spent so long with each other.
I once told a guy I had just started dating that I was looking for a serious relationship (because I don’t have a filter that tells me, “Hey, please keep these words from slipping out of your mouth!”), and his response was, “It has to happen organically.” Which, yeah, sure, I get what he meant: “Whoa, slow down there for a second!” And don’t worry, I felt dutifully ashamed for having voiced a desperation that is supposed to remain locked up inside of me until I get the ring.
But this old couple reminded me that I don’t want to just let things happen. I don’t want to force them, but I also don’t want to just let it be–because I don’t really believe there is only one right person for everyone, and that’s an idea the obviously-perfect-for-each-other senior citizens reinforced. The fact is, they never would have gotten together if the man hadn’t taken a serious action. If he’d never called her up despite the fact that she was dating his friend, if he’d never taken that risk, if he’d never done something that wasn’t easy, they wouldn’t be together. Maybe she’d even be with the friend, and maybe those 2 would be just as happy together.
So then if there isn’t just one right person for each person, what distinguishes relationships that work from those that don’t? I mean aside from obvious things like if one partner isn’t funny? It’s what the old guy put in 50 years ago: effort. It’s what I believe needs to be put into a relationship if it’s truly going to last. It’s what the people I’ve dated haven’t seen worth it to put into ours.
I’m not saying I necessarily want a man to fight for me. I’m suggesting only that I want the man to think I’m worth fighting for. Cause I am. And okay, I understand it’s possible that I will eventually meet someone who agrees with me on that point.
But another thing that happened yesterday was my super knocked on my elderly neighbor’s door to check on him because his brother hadn’t heard from him. Now, sure, maybe this man had once been married–but maybe he hadn’t. Maybe he’d waited and waited to find someone worth fighting for and never found her. Maybe he’s all alone not by his sweetheart’s death and not by choice but due to some cruel mathematics that made all of the women who could have been right for him choose to put effort into relationships with other people, and by the time he got around to realizing it and deciding to settle for someone he didn’t really feel like fighting for, there was no one left.
I guess I just feel like if I had married young–if I had stuck with the high school boyfriend who claimed he wanted to be with me forever, if I had chosen to keep an uninspiring college relationship alive–I wouldn’t have this tightness in my throat when I listen to an old couple talk about their earlier days, and how now all they want to do is live a little bit longer so they can stay with each other a little bit more. I wouldn’t be more afraid with each passing year that all those men who could have been suitable for me have already found the one they want to fight for. And I wouldn’t have to be ashamed to tell potential boyfriends, “I’m looking for a serious relationship.”
Most of all, if I had married young, I wouldn’t have to risk turning into Mr. Heckles. Though at this point, judging by how much I already complain about the neighbors above me, it’s almost a certainty.