Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Co-Existentialist Angst

My mid-life crisis involved a first marriage and buying a house

After many years of contented singledom, I re-encountered my first love about 18 months ago. Four months later we were married—a first for both. So far, it’s pretty damned good. We’re revoltingly lovey-dovey, combine passion with a steady background appreciation of each other, have survived a home renovation, and even work together. I thoroughly enjoy his company, and still get a thrill when he walks through a room. Frankly, it’s embarrassing to feel such a surfeit of emotion. I’m happy.

But. My life used to quite fearless, and now I feel it—that dread of a future parting. My morning newspaper has the notices of people celebrating their fiftieth anniversaries on the same page as the obituaries. I stare at the pictures of aged couples, and feel angry that it’s unlikely we’ll hit a golden wedding anniversary (we’d be in our mid-nineties). I now read the obits obsessively, keeping track of whether the person who died was married and, if so, was the surviving spouse male or female? I feel a weird happiness when I see spouses who have died within a few days of each other. It’s what I hope for, too, now that I’m sharing my life so profoundly.

But. I used to totally disapprove of infidelity, and scorn my married friends who stayed together after one or both of them had strayed. I thought they were weak; both for stepping out and for not doing their level best to destroy their cheating spouse. And now I know that I could tolerate it, under a wide variety of circumstances, although it wouldn’t make me happy.

But. My single friends seem to think I’ve won some kind of jackpot. Maybe I have, but it’s not the one they seem to want. They attach an almost magical significance to being married, some of them going so far as to say that they feel like losers because they aren’t. This comes more from women than men, but even the guys feel this pressure. I never felt that way—based on my parents and many of my friends, marriage looked like a great opportunity for unhappiness. The jackpot I won is finding someone that I don't just tolerate, but totally enjoy. It is in finding another human being that I am willing to change for, in order to accomodate our mutual happiness. It's not about the white dress and the diamond, or some societal judgement on those who live, for whatever reason, a single life (which is no way the same thing as a solitary life).

But. I’ve turned into a bit of a Wife. I make the dental appointments (because I’m scared plaque will migrate into his arteries and stop his heart), I do most of the laundry (because I notice that it needs doing and I don’t like asking), and I’m the one who handles the bill payments and does most of the picking up around the house because it hits my mess tolerance level before it hits his. Sometimes, I feel like I’m on the verge of nagging, as the boundaries are nowhere as clear as they were when I lived with a room-mate.

But. I’m agnostic, held back from atheism only because I can’t prove there isn’t a god. And, now that I'm married, I really wish I did believe in an afterlife; one where my love and I could be united for eternity, or share endless turns on the wheel of reincarnation, instead of my conviction that the biochemical network that is "me" dissipates upon death, and my slow dissolution into component atoms will occur.

But. All the buts don’t matter. This mystery of love that survives amidst the practical concerns of daily life is wondrous, forming an existence that is purely celebratory.

With thanks to Urquhart for sparking the thought chain