To be or not to be

When I said to my wife that I liked being married, her response was of course I liked being married, men live longer married than when alone, unlike women who live longer when not married. As though I had checked the actuarial tables before asking if she would marry me, conducting a cost/benefit analysis on married versus unmarried lifespans. A cost/benefit analysis on the deleterious effects of divorce would have been of more benefit. Ahhh hindsight!

But why like being married?

There’s much evidence against it, from divorce rates, to the popular media’s incessant portrayal of unhappy couples (when was the last time you saw a film or television series about a happy marriage?), to an article in today’s (02/16/2020) New York Times titled “They’re More Than Happy Not Being Married,” about women opting out of marriage and finding they prefer being single. Now I see the cover article in the March Atlantic is “The Nuclear Family Was a Mistake,” by David Brooks. Yet to read.

No-fault divorce, pre-nuptial agreements, #metoo, open marriage, the women’s movement, gay liberation, gender blending—all symptoms of the demise of traditional marriage as a committed, meaningful, desirable institution. Why get involved in a losing proposition, especially if raising a family isn’t a consideration? There are other options.

Yet, marriage is a commitment to something larger than oneself. It’s a commitment to a way of being, to sharing one’s life with another human being. Otherwise it’s a piece of paper, a legality lacking in the creation of a new, combined future. To dissolve a marriage without trying to get beyond the way one wound up being, beyond the petty obliviousness of daily living, is a moral failing. It’s a lack of creativity, of creating a new future that didn’t exist before. To succumb to feelings (“I fell out of love with you.”) is what a child does before it learns the lessons of selfish self-interest.

My wife didn’t regard our marriage commitment as anything more than a quaint notion, a semi-formality of the occasion that was neither binding nor life-long. No richer or poorer, in sickness or in health, ‘til death do us part; definitely not poorer. Her words were something along the lines of a marriage commitment isn’t forever; nor was love. (I dare not quote her, much less name her, lest another lawyer’s sanction arrives in my inbox.)

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Still, I liked our mostly easy companionship. Though sometimes disagreeing, we rarely argued, never fought. Her rage against men remained below the surface, appearing only when affronted by an egregious remark that couldn’t be ignored. Not from me. Her fear of men on the other hand nearly took me down one evening on the sidewalk steps away from our doorway when I approached her from behind having stopped momentarily to retie my shoe. Lesson learned, that time without a broken arm or worse but decidedly chastened.

Where do I go from here? My older son David in New York repeatedly tells me, “Dad, no more girlfriends or wives, they don’t turn out too well for you.” Not that I’ve had many: one girlfriend, two wives. The girlfriend in between. The ratio seems all wrong. Clearly more sampling could have been attempted.

I’m about to move to my own, new place in Boston. Since September last year I’ve been living in temporary accommodations. I’ve called it homeless but housed, in truth very fortunately and happily housed, first in Oakland in the house of my friend Robin and now in Boston with my son Sam and family. These both have been comfortable arrangements. I’ve enjoyed living in the bosom of family life, here with Sam and his wife Saga and twin just-turned-four year old boys Miki and Ethan. I will miss it, and also will be happy to be on my own, reunited with my books and possessions, free to be and free to act. I worry, too, about loneliness. My mind tends in dwell in dark places when I’m on my own—something to resist, with plans to paint and read and cook and, at least for a while, continue to rationalize my too much stuff, sending some off to Goodwill, other things posted on Craigslist and eBay. Keep what sparks joy, as Kondo-san says.

Relationship(s)? I’m open, not looking. I bought a twin bed that converts to a full, just in case.

We’ll see what happens.

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