So last night I watched “The Way I See It”. That’s the title of Pete Souza’s – Official Photojournalist for the Barack Obama presidency – documentary. Amazing images & heart-aching memories for a lot of us here in the States. Pete shared a random detail about the close friendship that evolved. Obama, for most of his eight years in office, dogged his photographer with a very personal question: Why hadn’t he (Pete) married his partner after 17 years of cohab? “He (Obama) really believed that being married was better”, Pete said. Pete and Patty Lease (she kept her surname) eventually relented and married. In the Rose Garden. Nature abhors a vacuum, I guess (Aristotle penned the phrase, later borrowed by H.D. Thoreau). Even in 2020 The Single Life feels edgy; maybe a little desolate and desperate. Our married friends worry and wonder how we cope with so much freedom.
Hard and fast into my career and the accumulation of college degrees, I married in my late 30’s. Long after most of my friends had joined The Club, buying houses and making babies. Although I loved my partner, I never wanted or needed to be married. But conventions being what they were back then, I wasn’t brave enough to resist 360-degree pressure. From my lover. My workplace. My elders. My students (I was a high school vice principal). They all conspired, IMO, to see me in- harness. Tamed. Secured. Legitimate. Nature definitely abhors a vacuum: we’re all conscious of our status, and susceptible to the status-quo. As a quick check-in with our social media proves the point.
“Don’t you want to get married?” “Don’t you want to have a baby”? Everyone asked. My answers? No. And, actually? No. But once I’d relented, made those externally-driven choices, only the toxicity of my husband’s untreated (his choice) military-related PTSD had the power to curb my enthusiasm and commitment. Truth: raising my son while working, going to school and maintaining a household was a scorched-earth process that felt never-ending. (Those who choose, and embrace breast-feeding while trying to maintain a professional vibe have my sympathy and astonished admiration.) But once my emotional stability and sanity returned, being single got easier. It wasn’t only easier, it became addictive.
Over time, my single life taught me self-reliance. And whether it was about choosing the next travel destination, or what color to paint the kitchen, I celebrated not having to ask, coordinate, negotiate and reach consensus through compromise. I discovered my own wisdom and learned to trust it. I stopped feeling guilty about, and apologizing for: my intelligence, my drive, my independence, my love of travel, my need for solitude and space. “But that’s so selfish” I hear my grandmother say, with exasperated eyeroll.
Is marriage “better” for some personality types than others? I think so. But, married or single, the most important consideration is personal preference and personal choice. I’ve never felt sorry for myself, being ‘single’, because I know – deep down – my status is something I’ve chosen. I’m owning that, not blaming A Lack of Options (suitable men), My Age, COVID Quarantine, The Economy, My Schedule, My Standards. The reality is, if I truly wanted to be married, I would be.
Living more bravely now, after two decades my single life continues to attract attention and concern from people who think there must be something wrong…with me, with my attitude, my inner guidance system. I don’t offer resistance or try to convince them that I’m really and truly “ok”. More than just “ok”, being unmarried. Maybe Pete Souza just couldn’t ‘pass’ on Obama’s offer of the Rose Garden as a an uber-romantic wedding venue? For me, marriage continues to be a complicated prospect; but I’ll always stop whatever I’m doing for the sweet simplicity of Romance.
Support The Film Independent by viewing Souza’s documentary here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jFiskKkKKCg
For more on this topic, The Daring Life: challenging what we’re told