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I Don’t — Why I Never Got Married

by Pam Gaslow about a year ago in marriage

"Any fool can be married," my Ivy League-educated and married friend Jenny, told me

Photo: Shutterstock

When I was twenty-five years old, I was explaining to my cousin Wendy, a newlywed, my confusion about several career paths that I wanted to pursue. We were at Thanksgiving dinner and she said in front of my entire family, “Why don’t you just get married and have kids?” She suggested marriage and kids as if this could happen overnight, like ordering a water filter from Amazon. I wasn’t even dating anyone. My cousin’s “solution” insulted me. I knew what she meant was Why don’t you just do what everyone else does and then all your problems will be solved? But I’ve never done what everyone else just does, and I knew that merely being someone’s wife wouldn’t satisfy me. And besides, I didn’t want kids, which made marriage seem even more pointless.

“Any fool can be married,” my Ivy League educated and married friend Jenny, told me a few months later. I always subscribed to the belief that marriage was a ridiculous, archaic trap that most people fell into for a host of wrong reasons, forgetting that it originated as a business contract. It was like a tattoo — exciting at the beginning, but too permanent. My parents divorced when I was twenty-one, which was late considering I grew up in the 80’s, but the threats of it loomed over us for at least ten years prior. Most of my friends’ parents had divorced way before mine, so I kind of came to age with the notion that marriage didn’t work. I wanted long term companionship, but the idea of signing a legal document where I agreed to love, honor, cherish, have sex with the same person for the rest of my life and commingle finances, panicked me. Marriage sounded like an end, not a beginning. Not to mention, I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to get involved in a life commitment that had close to a 50% failure rate. And besides the frightening statistics, I was smart enough to know that being married didn’t necessarily mean someone loved you, or wouldn’t cheat on you or leave you, no matter how big the ring. It just made it more difficult and expensive. If I wanted to end a relationship I didn’t want to have to call an attorney. If someone wanted to leave me, I didn’t want him to think he had to stay. I knew one thing: I wanted to be happy, not married.

When I was twenty-six, I got sober. With sobriety came the wonderful gift of clarity. What this meant was that I actually had to like the person I was with in order to sleep with him, and that having a drink to “take the edge off” anything was no longer an option. Sobriety added a whole new element of difficulty to dating, which was both a blessing and a curse. But I was grateful that I was young enough to have a newfound awareness and the opportunity not to screw up the rest of my life. While some of my friends were marrying for love, most were getting married because of social and family pressure, insecurity and fear. People were getting married to “prove” someone loved them, or because that’s just what you did at a certain age, no matter who you were with. But what I found particularly odd was that I was one of the only one of my friends questioning the idea of marriage. Did other people not understand the enormity of this life decision? Were they too afraid to think about it? Too deep in denial? Were they really ready to marry at 27, 30 or 32, knowing they would never have sex with anyone else for the rest of their life? Did they realize that meant they would die first?

I had opportunities. I was engaged when I was 30, after four years of dating a gregarious, smart, handsome and mature man. He was considerably older than me and had movie star looks; people would stare at us and whisper, thinking he was Robert Redford or Paul Newman. His ex-wife was the author of the First Wives Club, and I was highly enthusiastic about writing the Second Wives Club. I loved him tremendously, to the point where I agreed to read Kafka at his insistence, and terrorize myself by going sky diving with him. However, soon after we got engaged one of my guy friends began taunting me, “Do you really want to eat peanut butter and jelly every day for the rest of your life? Every single day peanut butter and jelly. You want a tuna sandwich? Sorry, only peanut butter and jelly for you.” My anxiety skyrocketed. I went to look at a wedding venue — Harry Cipriani on 42nd Street — and the events coordinator was so hot, I felt guilty just looking at him. I went to try on wedding gowns and I almost threw up. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t conform and I couldn’t pretend I wanted to. I didn’t want to have peanut butter and jelly for the rest of my life. I don’t even like peanut butter.

When I was 32, I dated an extremely successful, funny and hot entrepreneur, who a few years later found himself as one of Hamptons Magazine’s top bachelors in Manhattan. He wanted marriage and children, and I remember lying to him and telling him I wanted both, too. I also remember almost vomiting in the car when we were driving around the suburbs of Westchester (where his parents lived) when he said, “I can’t wait to live here when I’m married.” We looked great on paper, but something was missing, so we took a break after a year of dating. When we met for lunch a few months later he looked at me and said, “You look great; you don’t age. Maybe we should get married.” His shallow comment seemed to imply that he would be settling for me, but I wasn’t going to settle for him. The truth was he was moody, judgmental, unaffectionate, and rarely wanted to have sex, and when he did, it was only after dark. When I confided the sex information to my cousin she said, “Well, that’s when most people do it.” That’s great, I thought. For most people. But I wanted to have a sex life for as long as I could, and definitely not only at night. If I had wanted to “just get married” I certainly would have picked one of the top bachelors. But I didn’t want to be married and miserable, or married and ignored, or married and not having enough sex. Because at the time I had already lived through a year of that with him, and I wasn’t about to sign up for a lifetime more.

By the time I turned 35, I had learned the expression, “Don’t marry someone you wouldn’t want to divorce.” Armed with this information, I started dating an adorable brown hair, blue-eyed lunatic who left me love notes in the freezer because he knew I ate Eggo waffles every morning. He had been married twice before and had a four-year-old son, so I figured there would be no pressure to get married or have children with him. Things were going smoothly until the third month when he started talking about, of all things, marriage. “Marriage?” I exclaimed. “You just got divorced for the second time!” I asked him why he wanted to get married again and he said, “Well, if we’re married then you’d have to come home every night.” “Really?” I said, “Where is that written?” He didn’t want a wife, he wanted another hostage. After three years together and my still not being keen on the idea of marriage, he began starting baseless and ridiculous arguments with me and told me the fact that I didn’t hike was a problem. “Hike?” I responded. “Feel free to go out and find someone with all the qualities you love in me, who has a body, brain, and sense of humor like mine, and who also likes to hike.” But the real problem was his drinking, and he refused to quit. He had stopped for a while, but when things started to go sour with us he started up again. He got nasty and mean and told me that while I was funny, I was not fun. He only considered people ”fun” who got as drunk as he did, and acted equally as stupid. We had an extremely long, painful back and forth breakup that went on for months. Not long after, he found a new girlfriend who was more his speed. They had a great time getting drunk and high together, and he explained to me that she was far more fun than I was. Two years later she died of a drug overdose.

When I was 38, my mother said to me. “I worry that you have no reason to get married.” She was right. I didn’t need anyone to take care of me, my work and friends fulfilled me, and I always had more sex than most married people I knew. So I avoided the whole marriage, kids and divorce game, and went directly to the next stage of life: sleeping with a personal trainer. To be clear, he wasn’t my personal trainer, because God forbid I worked out, but he was a trainer. He was 6’, 200 pounds, and fourteen years younger than me. He also had the most perfectly sculpted body I’d ever seen, and was the most well endowed man I’d ever been with. He had thick dark hair and piercing green eyes and even my dog panted when he looked at him. But besides his beckoning physique, and the fabulous sex, he was brilliant, funny, extremely confident, and crazy in a way that made me fall in love with him. He said he would never get married, and based on the fact that he was a raging sex addict I thought that was a wise and thoughtful plan. Shortly after we met though, he got back together with his ex-girlfriend, and six months later he proposed to her. When he told me he was getting married I asked why and he said, “After five years, she deserves to be married.” What she deserved was someone who would be faithful to her, but I didn’t say that. A year later he filed for divorce.

As the years passed I heard more and more war stories — women who lied about domestic abuse to get men out of the house, children that had to be passed off from one parent to the other at a rest stop on the side of a highway with a police escort, and grandparents not being allowed to contact their grandchildren. Terms like attorney, judge, restraining order, family court, domestic abuse and parental alienation replaced words like fun, happy, joyous and free. I watched adults’ lives get ruined. I watched children’s lives get ruined. I saw people become physically, emotionally, financially and spiritually depleted. I asked everyone who was divorced what had happened and heard similar responses: “I thought she’d be a good mother,” or “I really liked his family,” or “I didn’t think I could get anyone else.” Sadly, the answer I heard from so many people was that they knew they were making a mistake when they were walking down the aisle, a decade before. I could have made that mistake, too. And of course there are times when I’m lonely, but I’d rather be lonely by myself than lonely in a marriage. And now, at 50, I’m still growing and changing. For example, now, ten years later, I do hike. If my ex-boyfriend had only been a little more patient, he would have had nothing to complain about and perhaps we could have stayed together, happily unmarried

marriage

Pam Gaslow

I write observational humor and occasinally more serious pieces. Based in Miami Beach.

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Read next: The Long Walk

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