As my final days of bachelorhood wind down, I’m compelled to reflect on what it really means to be single, and what I think it will mean to be married.
My life as a single man, or at least an unmarried one, has been rather adventurous. Not necessarily in an amorous way, or in a way that would preclude me from adventures in the future, but still I’ve been able to do and see and take part in my fair share of fun. I’ve partied, I’ve spent time alone, I’ve wandered here and there and everywhere I wanted to go. I’ve never had someone telling me what to do or how to think or who to be. Well, there have been those who’ve tried to do so, but I’ve never been obligated to listen to them. If I didn’t want to hear them jabbering at me, I would leave them out of my life.
Some jobs have tried to change me, and I’ve waved goodbye to them quite quickly. Relationships, both romantic and friendly, have been just as I wanted them to be. Perhaps my friends from long ago, and probably many in the present, will say that I’m not the most “available” person on the planet. I show up when I feel it’s the right thing for me. I am not one to keep close written or verbal contact, but I never shut someone out whom I consider to be close. If we were friends twenty years ago, I’ll treat you just as I treated you then, with respect and interest. If you’ve proven yourself to be a jerk, then I have likely cut you out entirely or keep you in the periphery enough to remind me what happens when good people go bad. All in all, I’ve been the one in charge as often as I felt I needed to be.
But as I stand at the threshold of a partnership, a lifelong commitment, I know that I’m not the only one I have to think about anymore. And guess what… I’m totally cool with that!
Not just cool with it, but happy to be in that position, joyous in fact. I want to have someone else beside me. I want to be close with another person, not just temporarily or close-from-a-distance, as ironic as that might sound, but physically and emotionally close. I’ve had close romantic relationships in the past, of course, but they’ve always had an escape clause, a way out. If I got sick of her, or if it just wasn’t right anymore, I could leave at any time. Yes it was painful and teary and it hurt like hell but once it was over, I was glad it had ended. This is not to diminish any of my past relationships, but they just weren’t right for me then, ultimately, and there was a termination date that had to be followed. But marriage, as I am approaching it, doesn’t have a termination date… only the grave will end this one.
I can hear some of you laughing maniacally… bwahahahaha! You just wait! Who doesn’t go in to marriage thinking that it will be forever? Well, perhaps some don’t, but I think most people get married thinking that it’s the ultimate sign of commitment. That’s what it is to me too. Why do I think that this will be different then all of those failed marriages? Because I don’t have any regrets. I have nothing left to “get out of my system.” I’ve sowed as many wild oats as I have, and now I want to broaden my experience as a human.
At a job I had recently, a delivery guy would come in at the same time everyday. He was always quite friendly and was well known to be be involved in a long-term relationship. Across the street there was a restaurant, and everyday when the delivery guy would come there would be a young woman working outside, setting up the porch for lunch service. One day, and pretty much each day after, he began slobbering over this woman, who incidentally wasn’t parading herself around to be noticed… she was just working! He would try to get me to participate in his ogling, to be one of those locker room guys who were recently made so famous.
At a certain point I had to say, “I’m basically a married man.” Meaning, I’m not gonna take part in this, bro.
He answered, “So what, that doesn’t mean you can’t look.” There was a twinkle in his eye and a big grin on his face when he said this. I wasn’t impressed.
Ok bud, this was more than looking, this was saying some pretty suggestive things about a completely unaware and completely non-participatory woman. (Being an attractive woman is not in itself an invitation.) I thought how rude it was to the woman to whom he was committed, and how much of a dirtbag I would be if I participated. My future wife deserves better than that, and that poor woman across the street deserves more respect than that!
Rewind two years to a different job and a different antagonist, this time a married man. I was not yet engaged to my now fiancé, but I was just about ready to pop the question. Well, one day this fellow decides to take up the locker room talk with me. I’m not sure why, but it was completely out of the blue.
He says, “Dude, there are so many hotter chicks here on second shift than there are on first shift. The new crop of chicks have me looking at them like…” and he opens his mouth in a slobbering-type of imitation. “Don’t you think so?” he pressed.
I said, very sternly, “I have a girlfriend who I love very much.”
He laughed. “I love my wife, but just because you’re on a diet doesn’t mean you can’t read the menu.” I cringed and remained silent.
What I wished I’d said then was, “If you’re on a diet and you’re reading the menu, that means you’re probably thinking about ordering something.”
Furthermore, being in a commitment isn’t analogous to being on a diet. It’s analogous to a lifestyle. If I’m out of shape, let’s say, and I want to get healthy, I’m not gonna go on a diet. A diet ends. If there isn’t a complete commitment to living in a healthy way, about how I conduct myself all the time, then I will likely go back to being unhealthy. Then it’s a case of, “I read the menu one too many times, and I finally gave in and ordered something.”
This is how I think marriage will be. It’s a complete commitment to a new lifestyle. My stories about slobbering over attractive people were meant to illustrate just one of the facets of this lifestyle. Single-guy me would probably have participated in some way with the leering lechers, though my usual tactic in those cases was usually, “yes, she’s quite attractive,” or something similarly generic and hopefully harmless. But when I was faced with having to be that guy with my now fiancé in mind, it felt wrong, even to be a half-heartedly participant. It felt like I was being unfair to her. I would always try to respect my girlfriends, but before my fiancé there were none who I really felt like I’d be with forever. In these most recent episode, however, I found myself really feeling a push back against disrespecting her like that.
I realize now that I was already the guy who wouldn’t disrespect his girlfriend/fiancé/wife. I already am that person before being married, so it’s not like I have to be a different guy. I already am that guy. I don’t have to change. This is how I know that I can get married and not feel like I’m missing out on something, or that I’ll regret not being single anymore.
Being single was a chance for me to learn how to be a proper husband. I learned what a woman needs, all different styles of communication, and how to best accommodate her. I learned all the WRONG things to say, how NOT to behave around her, and how to give her space to be herself. But these were not things that were forced on me, these were decisions that I made, lessons that I learned during my bachelorhood. I choose to learn from them not because of the requirement of another, but because I want to.
Maybe it took me a little longer than most (I’m nearly forty!), or maybe I was smart to have waited until I was ready, to have a really real commitment on my own terms. I knew at age twenty that I wasn’t ready for marriage, in fact I thought it was a rather bogus institution. The same at thirty. But by the end of my thirties I felt like I finally wanted more. I don’t want an escape clause, a way out. Ok, yes there is the D-word (divorce for those of you who are thinking of something else), but from my perspective, divorce isn’t an option.
Will Smith said it best: “What I found is divorce just can’t be an option,” he explained. “It’s really that simple. And I think that’s the problem with L.A. – there are so many options. So a huge part of the success for [Jada] and I is that we just removed the other options.”
So as I say goodbye to bachelor-me, I am so happy to become husband-me. The good news is that me as a husband won’t be much different than me as a bachelor, except that I’m committing to a new lifestyle, one that I’ve been practicing for decades. Now it’s time to put my practice into action and be the husband I know I already am!