My longtime worst nightmare about being single was that I'd develop "back cancer" — a mysterious malignancy preventable only if detected by routine visual inspection of the spot between my shoulder blades I can't see. When I shared this phobia with a 37-year-old friend who last December had her first child, she said, "You don't need a husband; you need a mirror."
I've never lived with someone I'm dating, and throughout childhood and adolescence, I assumed I'd be a wife and mother by now. My mom and dad married and had finished having kids by the time they reached my age. During my 20s, I lived in Los Angeles while many of my Dallas peers married, bought homes, and had kids. After returning to Texas in my 30s my closest friends in California started cohabiting, getting engaged, and marrying (though few can afford homes, much less kids). The timeline for Southerners seems slightly more accelerated than it is for singles who couple on the coasts. For awhile I wondered if I'd missed the proverbial boat coming and going.
But I've always dated, with varying degrees of success. Both in L.A. and here in my hometown, I've met plenty of never-married men in their 20s content to party, play games, and sleep around, while single men my age and older are more likely to be divorced and have children, but still like to party, play games, and sleep around. Through experience and by listening to my intuition I can discern which men won't work out within a date or two ... and only a few times have I been involved with someone for more than a year. Had I settled and married when I was younger, it would've heaped a lot of fertilizer on my relationship, but neither I nor the boy would've instantly grown up.
If you rush into marriage out of fear, then the terrorists have already won. Though it's anecdotal rather than scientific, my friends and family members who have stayed married are each others' Mr. & Ms. Right. These model couples don't deny it's sometimes tough, but know the lives they've built together make working through hard times worthwhile. When people I've known settled for marriage fearing loneliness or just wanting a baby, they ended up divorced.
One of my closest friends is an Ob/Gyn I call "Dr. Chin, medicine woman." We were in the same Girl Scout Brownie troop; roommates after college; and I was her maid of honor. Throughout our 20s her career goal was to deliver my children. (She's had two kids and might adopt a third.) When she recently asked if I want kids, I said, "Definitely maybe." Although I've never been pregnant, I have more child-bearing years behind me than in front of me. Personally, if I have kids, I want them to have two parents, and I'd avoid fertility treatments. Fortunately I'm not a woman heartbroken and desperate to reproduce for whom nature won't cooperate. If I marry a single parent, I'd love to be stepmother. If my partner doesn't want children, I'd respect that too. I don't feel I'm delaying or denying myself. Rather, love and intimacy define my family. I vacation with friends and neighbors, and when we aren't traveling together I care for their pets, plants, and homes while they're away. When my contemporaries' sons and daughters ask too many questions, my pals answer, "Ask Auntie Catherine." If kids want to run away from home, their folks know I'll offer shelter from the storm. Conversely, should my goddaughter get in trouble, I'll seek to help her.
Wedding vows don't magically ward off adultery, immaturity or selfishness. My pastor says, like others’, her marriage has lasted because she and her husband haven't fallen out of love at the same time. Even under the best circumstances, people change, making divorce a humane option. Never mind people legally denied the protection of marriage. Whether I reproduce, adopt or abstain; am step-, foster- or godparent; or just love my neighbors, I'll teach children in my life they are precious, unique individuals who should respect themselves enough to enter a relationship only if they find a worthy partner. Meanwhile, I'm active in church; practice yoga and meditation; and have worked with a therapist and a personal trainer — so if an ideal mate comes along, I'm ready. In my professional and volunteer work, I pursue my passions, surrounding myself with people who share my values and interests. I don't believe it humanly possible for any one person to meet all my social, emotional, spiritual, and physical needs. Rather, I live in a gracious and generous community with married and single people, some with and others without children — some by choice, others by circumstance. While I find both total independence and codependence unhealthy, I've happily achieved inter-dependence. Members of my various overlapping circles care for each other in sickness and in health; share with and support each other during joyful and painful times; laugh, walk, eat, hug, dance and sit in silence together; and nurture each other's dreams.
After a friend's recent surgery, he needed help to change his bandages ... which he couldn't reach ... because they were exactly where I feared I'd get dreaded "back cancer." Despite feeling slightly grossed out upon seeing his stitches, I conquered my silly irrational fears about single-hood by helping. I realized that if an opportunity for lifelong mutually caring partnership presents itself, I'm in good shape. Meanwhile, my life is more abundant, wilder and grander than I ever dreamed it would be when I was growing up (and I have quite an active imagination).