Where Is It Written?
Not long after I was divorced, people started asking me the most astounding question. “So, are you seeing anyone new?”
The implication was that my divorced state was a only temporary glitch in the otherwise expected state of being part of a couple. Hearing this question so often made me realize that my new status a single woman was assumed to be a highly undesirable, even unnatural state. Dangerous to the social order, perhaps, and to be remedied as quickly as possible. “Oh, you’ll find someone really nice, you’ll see,” well-meaning relatives and acquaintances assured me.
Once I might have agreed. I had lain awake more than one night haunted by a gloomy pronouncement – it must have been a quote from some Bette Davis movie, or perhaps overheard gossip between my mother and grandmother: “She never married again.” Would this be my fate? But in the months and the years after my divorce, I had slowly arrived at a startling realization. I discovered how intensely pleasurable, rewarding, and invigorating it could be to live a life without a partner to worry about having to please. Which led me to wonder: why this universal assumption that I’m supposed to want to find the next man? Where is it written?
Well, all right, so it is actually written in the Old Testament. As God ponders fashioning a companion for Adam, the lines read, “And God thought, it is not good for man to be alone.” But it doesn’t take a Ph.D. in theology to figure out that this was clearly written by a male. Of course Adam needed a helpmate, particularly since he had quite a lot of work to do to populate the planet. But did anyone ask Eve how she felt about it? Notice God never said anything about Eve needing a partner.
I can’t argue with the need to perpetuate the human species. Admittedly, this requires the collaboration of sperm and ovum. And I’ll grant that when one has young offspring to raise, having a second parent around is awfully useful. Sharing expenses come in handy too. But for anyone either without children, or whose children have reached a certain level of independence, it can be hard to imagine why anyone would willingly give up the immensely pleasant experience of going through life strictly according to one’s own dictates.
What’s to love about being single and independent? Let me count the ways. Freedom to decide where and when to travel, how to spend weekends, whom to visit, or what relatives to invite over for a dinner, regardless of how boring or annoying someone else might find them. Freedom to decide to how to spend my money. Coming home with a shopping bag full of some great new things from Ann Taylor that maybe I couldn’t afford but are going to make me feel dynamite, and not worrying for an instant that someone might ask, or even silently wonder (when you’re married long enough, you can always hear those thoughts) how many new clothes do I really need, anyway? Freedom to decide that the Queen Anne chairs look right in the family room despite someone else’s insistence on a leather recliner. Complete access to the remote control. Peaceful breakfasts undisturbed by verbal updates from the morning’s sports section. Driving in the car with a Norah Jones CD playing instead of the annoying rat-a-tat of a baseball announcer’s radio play-by-play. Not having to worry that the leftovers I brought home from a restaurant the night before might disappear before lunch. Not bothering anyone by flossing or rattling newspapers in bed at night. Falling asleep with the papers still spread on the bed, so I can resume where I left off the next morning. Doing everything my way, every time.
But it’s not all about these self-centered pleasures, either. Living independently has given me myriad opportunities to give of my time and myself, in ways that being bound to another person does not often allow. A friend calls on a Friday evening; she’s just had a terrible fight with her husband; her son is at the movies with friends. Do I want to join her for a walk, after which she’ll pick up a sandwich? Don’t even think of it, I tell her. Come on over and have dinner with me and Alex, we’re sitting down in twenty minutes. After his usual fifteen-minute dinner Alex absents himself, and my friend and I get to spend another hour or two relaxing and commiserating. I do not give her marriage advice, but simply listen. Although I had been planning an evening to myself finishing a really good book, I’m happy for the unexpected company. But even more than that, I am filled with immense satisfaction from being able to offer, to a friend I treasure having in my life, this temporary respite from what she’s going through. These moments with caring friends got me through the worst of my troubled marriage and divorce. They meant everything to me.
In my unmarried state, serendipitous moments like these have presented themselves again and again. Sometimes it would be a spur-of-the-minute walk with a neighbor. Or a forty-five minute catch-up call from an old college friend in California. A Saturday call to my brother who is going through his own difficult divorce, and has his children for the weekend; I offer a suggestion: bring the kids over, let’s go out for Chinese food. If I were sitting down to dinner with a husband, someone to whom it is understood I owe my weekend evenings, would these be possible? Hardly. Nor would my friend or my brother have felt comfortable intruding on the walled-off private life of a married couple.
And then there are all those hours one aches to devote to saving the planet, feeding the hungry and homeless, curing a disease, electing a candidate, or speaking out at a town meeting – all those things that so often strain a marriage. Remember the movie Norma Rae, when the husband of Sally Field’s character complains about being neglected because she’s spending so much time organizing a union? Then there was Erin Brokovich, whose burning passion to earn retribution for victims of industrial pollution resulted in a barrage of complaints of emotional neglect from a boyfriend who eventually left her. “It was like watching a movie about myself,” my sister Karyn told me with discomfort, recalling her round-the-clock obsession with researching and battling her son’s autism. The countless exhausted hours that she put into her quest lead her not only to find ways to completely reverse her son’s autistic symptoms, but also to write a best-selling book on autism that helped hundreds of thousands. It also strained and ultimately led to the destruction of her marriage. (A postscript: From an online, global network of other autism parents with whom Karyn became connected as the result of her work, she fell in love over the Internet with the father of an autistic child in another country. Besides being someone who shared her passion, this man was, in Karyn’s words, her soul mate. She relocated and they married, and now remain about the most in-love married couple I know.)
And what about love? Am I advocating for independence over love? Not exactly. Love is a grand and wonderful thing. But I’ll say this. When you fall in love and get married, there’s gain but there’s also loss. Like everything else in life, wedding oneself to a partner comes with a cost.
Admittedly, there is one pitfall of remaining unmarried. The pleasures of being single can be awfully hard to give up.
This chaper is excerpted from Happily Ever After Divorce: Notes of a Joyful Journey (Health Communications, Inc. April 2009) by Jessica Bram
About Jessica Bram
Jessica Bram is a writer, radio commentator and author of Happily Ever After Divorce: Notes of a Joyful Journey published by Health Communications, Inc. April, 2009. Her commentaries, which have twice earned her first prize in the radio commentary category of the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists’ “Excellence in Journalism” competition, are frequently heard on the National Public Radio station WSHU. during NPR’s “All Things Considered” and “Morning Edition.”
Jessica’s personal essays have been published and syndicated in national and regional newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, NY Times HERS column, Child Magazine, Country Accents and the Gannett Newspapers. She was formerly special sections editor of the Fairfield County Business Journal and a freelance journalist.