I met with an old friend over the weekend. She is single and living life in the bay area. I am married. I’ve been married almost 10 years now. To some people that seems like an eternity. For some reason a decade seems to be the time required to convince people it’s not a fluke.
“What’s your secret?” asked my friend.
It’s not the first time I’ve been asked. I never know what to say. I could pretend to be some wise old sage, but the secret is, I don’t really know what the secret is. I have been married for ten years and I can’t attribute that to anything specific that I’ve done. I tend to be selfish and constantly in need of time to myself, so it’s sort of a mystery that I’ve made it this far. My husband probably deserves more credit than I’d like to give him. I’m not an easy person to live with but he claims to be happily married and appreciative of every day we share together.
A few years ago, we asked friends of his parents their secret. “Do you give 50-50 in the relationship?” They said.
We nodded automatically, but it was a trick question.
“No!" they both replied, smirking. "You give 100% each.”
Then the advice went on. “I keep a clean house. I cook.” Said the wife. “I do everything inside, and he does everything outside.”
This marked the moment when I began to tune out. The HOA takes care of most of the “outside” part of our house and I’m the one planting the flowers. I like washing my car by hand (yes, I mean *gasp* outside). My husband is an able bodied adult who will clean the inside of the house more thoroughly than I do. He is generally the one wielding the vacuum cleaner too. Obviously this advice, while it worked for them, elicited a bunch of eye rolling from us.
One couple’s secret may not work for another couple.
I mentioned I’m selfish sometimes. I know it’s not the best quality, but it’s good to recognize it in yourself. I tell my single friends to appreciate their alone time. After you get married you might lose that time. If you have kids, you can count on losing that time. It’s nothing personal against your husband and kids—you don’t love them any less, you just miss doing things you want without having to get a vote, or do a chore, or make sure someone is fed, bathed and put to bed. You don’t have to worry about anyone but yourself.
My husband said “Sometimes you seem like you want that apartment in the city with your single girl life.”
I said “Well, I’ve never had that.”
Yes, I really said that. What a brat, right? I think anytime anyone wistfully looks at someone else’s situation as ideal, they do so without considering the flaws in that kind of thinking.
Dating—I am damned lucky that I didn’t date more. Sometimes I think maybe I could/should have but I’m kidding myself. I found a great guy. He is not perfect, but who is? I’m not. So why am I thinking this way? Because every date I’d have (in my mind) would have been with some other great guy who whisked me off in his:
a) exotic sportscar
b) private jet
c) 70 foot yacht
d) Exotic sportscar which is driven to the airport, where the private jet awaits for our flight to the island paradise where the 70 foot yacht is docked
What I don’t imagine are the ones who would have been awful, or scary, or creepy. You don’t think of the ones who are obsessive, shady or who have poor hygiene. The bad possibilities count just as much as the idealistic ones.
I also forget that there is no back up when you are on your own. You’d better get a job, or hope you have some rich, generous family members or else you’re shit out of luck. There’s a co-pilot there when you’re married. Yes, it’s good to be able to work and contribute, but depending on your agreement, one of you could opt out, or go to school, or do something else knowing you’re supported. If you lose your job, you will be okay. For richer, for poorer.
You also have to do all of the bullshit work, not just the tasks you don't mind. I hate the phone. I hate ordering food over the phone, answering the phone, calling people on the phone—all of it. Guess who does that for me most of the time, without bitching? I know it’s called being an enabler, but you can get away with it as long as you’re married to someone who doesn’t mind handling it. Conversely, this same person likes to eat but isn’t a fan of cooking, so guess who cooks breakfast every weekend morning, and does it so often that it’s just kind of expected. Guess who doesn’t mind most of the time? Me. It’s fine. We trade. I don’t have to do it all and neither does he.
There are good and bad parts of being single and being married, but the secret is this: you can be happy either way.