I titled this "Friends & Lovers," but last time I talked mostly about friendships. This time I'm talking about the other type of relationship. Sorry, this won't be a chronicle of my affairs. (If your want to find out about my love life, at least up until 13 years ago, read the fall issue of DIMENSIONS magazine - it's available online; I wrote an article about being smart & sexy, complete with a pin-up shot of me!)
I just want to talk about intimate relationships in general, marriage specifically. I know. Having never ventured into matrimony, how can I talk about this subject? I am not speaking as an expert or from any experience with committed relationships; just as an observer who doesn't like what she sees. Just hear me out - then you can voice your opinion on the subject.
I was in the lobby of the hotel where I went to type the manuscript for my book and the hotel staff was watching Tyra Banks' show, which was about a website that encourages married women to have affairs. As usual, I was confused by married people who cheat on their spouses. My father did this 35 years of the 50 years he and my mother were married and I have younger half-brothers to prove it, but although I eventually forgave him, I never understood completely why he did it.
I know it had something to do with his mother (whom he named me for and then never called me by my - his mother's - name; my family uses my middle name and I didn't even know my first name until I went to school - my father even made checks out to me using my middle and last name.) As a young child, my father saw his mother cheating on his father unaware that she was engaged in the world's oldest profession and that his father probably knew and approved of the dalliances she had with other men after he left home for work every day. He came from a rather scandalous family; his grandmother purportedly ran a brothel and his mother, who died when he was a young boy, was rumored to have had syphillis.
This image of his mother with other men formed my father's opinion of women as either whores or madonnas. My mother, who he met in Bible College after he became a Christian and was called into the ministry, came from a very religious family and was the virginal madonna he was looking for to be his wife. However, he was always attraced to the women he considered whores - those who would commit adultery with him. It's all very complicated, so I'll never fully understand it. I also will probably never understand why my father's adultery has prevented me from being able to trust any man to honor a committed relationship.
Why do people get married if they don't plan to be faithful? Or do they get married and infidelity just creeps upon them like a sickness? I don't understand. I listen to the marriage vows whenever I go to a wedding and I often wonder if the people saying them realize what they are promising. How can you vow to be faithful with no intention of being faithful? I heard women on Tyra's show talking about how the passion was gone out of their marriage as justification for their infidelity. Doesn't that come under the heading of "for better or worse"? I would think that with the pressures of paying bills, rearing children, and just trying to share a house with another adult, passion would eventually fade and more practical considerations would take its place.
However, that does not mean that passion can't be re-kindled from time to time. But is it realistic or even mature to think that a marriage is going to be one long, passionate honeymoon? My mother, who loved my father more than anything on this planet, often talks about how she and Daddy talked about every detail of their lives before they were married: how they would handle their finances, who would be the breadwinner, how they would rear their children, where they would live, everything.
On a personal note, the idea of living day in and day out with a man has kept me from getting married, to be perfectly honest. I not only like living alone now that I do, the only people I've ever lived with have been women. I lived with my maternal grandmother while I was after my grandfather died until I graduated from high school and, starting when I went away to college, I shared my living quarters with female roommates up until just eight years ago when my best friend and last roommate died.
I once dated a man who was somewhat older than me and who was a widower, who wanted to get married again. We met when I went to the summer musical theatre series in Wichita and found out they'd sold out the show I wanted to see. This white man in his fifties (I was in my mid-twenties at the time) offered me a ticket on the condition that I sat with him. I thought that was fair and I agreed. He asked me to attend the rest of the season with him and I agreed. He would pick me up and take me to dinner, then we'd see the show. Being a feminist and feeling that I owed him at least one meal in appreciation of the tickets (he'd bought season tickets for his wife and himself every summer and after she died, he forgot to cancel hers). He would not hear of it, but did agree to let me buy him dessert after one show. We started talking about marriage and I told him I thougth husbands and wives should have separate houses. He said, "That sounds like a sexual arrangement."
He never called me again. Later, he brought a date to the movie theater/community theatre where I volunteered on the weekends (and eventual every night) in an effort, I believe, to make me jealous. She was a white woman about his age and I expressed my joy that he had found someone to be his companion and, hopefully, his wife. He didn't seem happy that I was happy for him. (I still don't know what this straight-laced guy who worked as a computer programmer thought he was going to do with me, an exotic black woman half his age! When we met, I was wearing a caftan made from black and white abstract cloth and my head was nearly bald - the huge earrings I was wearing and the make-up were needed to identify me as a female!)
I know I am not in any way suited to be talking about marriage, but I think the institution is in dire trouble. I hear people speak vehemently against same-sex marriage, but I don't see why they are trying so hard to preserve the institution of marriage when so many people who are married do little to preserve their own marriages. I have friends who are happily married, but I can count them on one hand. I don't have enough fingers (or toes) to count the number of friends I have who have been divorced or who have been in bad relationships. I would have been divorced as many times as I was asked to marry had I consented. Every time a man asked me, I suddenly became psychic and could see my future as an unhappily married woman. None of these men were suited to be married to me and I knew it. I've only known one man who had the kind of personality that would in any way accomodate me.
Not my father's! He once told me when I dumped my brother's catch from a fishing trip because he tracked mud on the kitchen floor that I had just mopped, that I would never find a man who would put up with me. (My mother, on the other hand, told me that I should have been the one that married the minister my sister married who later physically abused her, causing her to get a divorce - obviously my father knew me better than my mother did!) The man whose personality made him the best man I ever knew was my mother's father. He died the year I turned seven, but I remember him very well. I still see him now in my mother's personality.
My grandfather was married to a woman who was so volatile and temperamental, I used to get headaches just watching her moods change as a child. However, he was the calm, patient one in the relationship. They called each other "partner" and that's what they were. She was the outdoors type, having grown up in the country, while Grandpa, a city boy, was the indoors type.
My mother said he provided most of the child care, cleaned the house, and shared in the cooking at times (my grandmother, the best cook I've ever known, closely followed by my mother and her younger brother, a professional chef, did most of the cooking). She spent her time in the barn, the garden, and the fields. That was her passion. I remember spending hours with Grandpa and my brother, John, when I was small. Grandpa loved teaching us things, playing the piano for us, and singing to us.
He was a teacher and later an elementary school principal and he knew how to relate to children. Grandma, not so much, even though she was very strict and effective sixth grade teacher (I know because I was in her class.). They were a great team. She knew everything about raising livestock and plants and he knew everything about kids. Mom said if she or one of her siblings had a nightmare or got sick in the night, Grandpa was the one who came to comfort them, not Grandma. She'd sleep through the whole thing. Although I didn't get my grandmother's bi-polar disorder (thank God!), I do have a lot of her temperament. I am not a parent and have not one maternal bone in my body.
I thank God every day that I was not able to have children and make the life of anyone miserable trying to be his or her mother. I also have no interest in being a housekeeper or a cook. I cook occasionally when I want to, usually to try some complicated recipe or something. But, unlike my mother, I don't live to keep house and fix meals. So, why would I ever get married to a man whose idea of marriage is women in the traditional role of a housewife, even if she has a fulltime career, and the man in the position of provider, even when he's unable to do so? I see far too many women come in to work tired because they went home the night before and cooked, cleaned, did laundry, and took care of their children until bedtime while their husbands relaxed in front of the television. Not my idea of how I want to live!
I know many men are starting to help with household chores, but they really think they're doing their wives a favor when they "help" with the dinner, the dishes, the kids,or the laundry, not realizing all of these things are as much their responsibility as they are their wives. Maybe this unfair division of household chores has something to do with the failure of so many marriages. I wouldn't know. The only thing I know about marriage is to avoid it like the plague!