"Why would you want to get married? When you finally find a husband, they are A-1 pains in the Khyber*... with the exception of your father, of course."
This quote is courtesy of my friend's mom, an Anglo-Australian woman who, after a glitzy life traveling around the world for Alitalia -- during which she truly had her "pick of the lot" -- settled down with her chosen one to live la dolce vita in southern Europe.
As far as I can tell, that's not a shabby outcome, provided you like olive oil, sunshine and having the gentle spray of salt water on the nape of your neck as you lunch by the sea. So you can imagine my surprise when she revealed that husbands are actually pains in the tush. I mean really, who has time to notice that when you have a plate of lemon-infused mussels to tuck into?
Yet apparently she's not alone. Women from various socio-economic backgrounds seem to echo the same thoughts. A 60-year-old Thai immigrant I know who works in the service industry said to me recently: "Husbands are a pain in neck. Better stay single if you can." I found this surprising, considering her husband lives 8,000 miles away. How much can you really annoy someone across that distance?
"Just get a 'friend,'" she winked.
It is thought-provoking, this idea that you're better off aging alone than merging yourself legally with someone who might possibly drive you crazy.
I wonder, are husbands really that annoying? Isn't everyone annoying to a certain extent? I don't know about the husband thing since I've never had one, but I do get annoyed at a lot of people, e.g. people who honk for no reason or call me in the middle of a Girls episode.
Perhaps one's knight in shining armor only becomes annoying after years of marriage or co-habitation, when the delightful feelings of infatuation and sexual chemistry supposedly dissipate and all that is left is crusty laundry, expensive children and a kitchen counter plastered with bills and ketchup-coated plates.
Depressing imagery aside, what I do find supremely interesting is that this older generation of ladies is completely supportive of my generation suddenly declaring that being single forever is the new black. As in, it's a good thing that isn't going to go away.
Of course, the primary reason for marrying someone in the past -- before women had viable employment opportunities -- was financial security, and now that women in the West don't actually need husbands for money (or babies or protection) anymore, they have the freedom to do whatever they want, including staying single in an apartment where dirty socks don't litter the pristine floors. Woo hoo!
While there is nothing more intoxicating than freedom of choice, and we have made huge headway here, I have mixed feelings about this. As a staunch supporter of gender equality, I should be over the moon, but I fear in choosing ourselves we risk becoming (even more?) selfish.
Don't you ever get tired of yourself and your needs? I've certainly reached that point.
The latest trend, according to the media, is for ladies to stay single forever. To read the recent articles about this, it's great news. My own reaction was different: Isn't the thought depressing? Just putting it out there.
I do believe that after a certain age, both women (and men) can become too set in our ways to be willing to let some outsider enter our blissful habitats and turn everything upside down; therefore staying single seems to be the optimal path towards self-preservation.
At least in a relationship, you are compelled to give, in a good way, to a person who (ideally) you enjoy spending time and growing old with. Perhaps the expression of your love comes in the form of calligraphy love letters, homemade sushi rolls and an overpriced barbeque grill, or simply in letting your partner have the side of the bed directly under the air conditioning vent so that he stays cool at night (and you don't end up sleeping next to a sweaty mess).
Anyone with a tiny bit of depth and life experience recognizes that in giving to a person, you actually are receiving. Even marriage veteran Tracy McMillan has something to say about that; essentially people should be bringing things to a relationship instead of showing up empty-handed with large expectations of getting something out of it. I personally believe when you are genuinely ready for a relationship, it is because you're brimming with a compulsion to share and give what you have. Besides, it really is no fun hoarding it all to yourself.
Legal document or not, I'm talking about a partnership where you also share each others' highs and lows and reap in the comfort of knowing that person you've carefully chosen will be loyal to you precisely because you have (hopefully) created this loving exchange. After all, isn't there something to be said for that kind of companionship, the through thick and thin stuff? Besides, don't scientific studies say people do better in pairs?
Of course I'd never advocate for an unhealthy relationship and do subscribe to the idea that you're better off alone than with someone who makes you unhappy, but a) I do believe there are plenty of nice guys out there, even if they appear to be hiding and b) is it better to be lonely or annoyed? Not that being alone means lonely, but after a certain point, no matter how many cancer marathons you run, no matter how many divorce parties you bake walnut brownies for or how many friends you have inviting you to champagne brunches, don't you kind of become like What the F is this all about? Isn't there more to it all? It becomes an existential crisis. I suppose that's when single women may decide to adopt or have a child on their own, which of course solves the selfishness problem, and provides them with an outlet for the giving and sharing. But there still seems to be something missing there.
I look at my parents and they are two peas in a pod. A life-long companionship between two partners who have raised children together is very different from even a life-long companionship between platonic friends. I'd argue that it is a deeper, more challenging, more rewarding relationship, provided you choose the right partner, especially when you throw sexual intimacy, building a home together and child rearing into the mix. And of course giving to a partner or a child is very different than giving away to a charity (I'd also encourage that).
So although some ladies from a previous era might be cheering us on and would enjoy being single for a stretch, I bet that they would ultimately choose having a permanent companion beside them, because it really just is nicer to share things, and provides a sense of security that we seem to crave as we get older and more cancer-prone, even if it might mean putting up with some annoying behavior. As one long-time married person put it: "It's just nice to have someone on your side."
My mom is, of course, not convinced of this singles fad. "Just marry someone like your father," she instructs me, as if it's as easy as picking up a roll of Bounty at the supermarket. I have to constantly remind her. "Mom, they don't make 'em like him anymore."
Maybe they do, maybe they don't. I don't have all the answers. But when I'm older, sitting by the seaside (let's hope), I'd like to imagine myself sharing a plate of mussels with a lifelong companion more than anyone else, even if he does insist on leaving toothpaste in the sink. But I'd probably have taken up all the closet space, so we'd be pretty much even.
Because the fact of the matter is, we can all being annoying, including yours truly.
*Roughly translates to "pain in the backside." You know what she means.