“Divorced people,” said the Boyfriend, who is one, “have baggage. But single, never married? You need a porter!”
“Why do you think I’m dating you?” I retorted.
We were teasing each other and laughing, but the thing is, he might be right. I remember when I first noticed, as a much younger adult, that my favourite married couples were all middle aged and that they didn’t seem to have any of the quirks and rough edges that my single friends and I had. They had quirks, but they were quirks that they understood about each other, and they each seemed to sort of mitigate each other’s quirks or translate them or something, to make them more palatable to the general public.
In contrast, once a couple of years ago I reunited with four of my guy friends from Nannyville–we got together for coffee and then watched a movie at the house of one of them. It was genuinely a lot of fun, but there was a little part of my brain which spent the entire evening thinking, “No wonder none of us has ever gotten married–we’re all so weird!” (Sorry guys–but we are.)
The thing is I don’t think, when we all met the first time in our twenties, we were quite so weird. The whole “single for a season, or single for a reason?” conundrum is, I think, patently unfair because I think every person on the planet has unmarriageable qualities and I don’t believe there are very many cases where the person as a whole is totally unmarriageable. But I do think people’s quirks solidify as they age, and if there isn’t a “constant” in their lives encouraging or cajoling or even (unfortunately) browbeating them into a better version of themselves, the quirks become more obvious and less desirable.
Sometimes I feel like married or formerly married people look on single-never-married people as being incomplete adults, and I don’t think that’s fair, but I do think we’re rather a different breed of adults. In some ways we have to be more mature and independent and strong, because we’re on our own and we have to do things for ourselves. In other ways–well, if we’re single-never-married-no-kids, we can still go to bars and coffee shops with our (also single and childless) friends more often than not, and even if we think we’d like to be in an exclusive, monogamous relationship, because we never have, we’re missing a practical aspect of commitment that married people have been working at for as long as they’ve been married. I’ve only had three boyfriends in my life, really, and they’ve all been within the last five years, and I have to say the one who was a doozy (and lasted the least amount of time) was the one who had never been married. The two divorcees, while having their own issues, were and are (respectively) quite lovely.
As for “baggage”–well, I suspect every single-never-married person’s baggage is a little different, and mine might be yet a little different than most. There’s a special kind of baggage that happens when the first significant romantic relationship of your life doesn’t start until you’re 36. No matter how sure you are that you don’t need a significant other to define you, it’s pretty impossible not to ask yourself with regularity, What is wrong with me? when it takes that long for someone to be willing to take a chance on you. I daresay some of the reticence on the part of men in my earlier life came from my inherent awkwardness and uncertainty of how to flirt and how all this dating stuff was supposed to work, but most people get to experiment and get that stuff out of their system in . . . I dunno . . . high school? If you don’t, the natural awkwardness turns into mile-high walls and hoops for the next person to jump through just because you can’t quite believe that they’re really interested and are going to stay interested and if they really are, why are they interested?
I don’t think I knew I had these still. Somehow I thought dating a couple of guys had grown my confidence and smoothed out my awkwardness, and I think in many ways it has. But these kinds of reflexes die hard, and they’re usually noticeable by onlookers more than the person exhibiting them. I guess I don’t really think that life-long singles have more baggage than divorcees, but it’s definitely unique, and I think the longer we stay single, the harder it becomes for us to get married. People don’t know what to do with our ingrained habits, and we don’t know how to fit other people into them. It’s not a hopeless case, but it is a challenge.