Rites of Passage: Mid-Life Marriage | Julie Danis

“Why aren’t you married?”

That’s the number one question on a single woman’s hit list. Running close, in second place is: “Why isn’t a woman like you married?” The latter moves to first place if any of the following adjectives modify woman: smart, pretty, and wonderful.

“Why isn’t a wonderful woman like you married?” Those complimentary words only underscore the absurdity of your situation. You’re such a catch but still at sea.

Over the course of my extensive singlehood—I dated for 33 years—I collected an arsenal of retorts to questions about my single status:

  • Because you haven’t introduced me yet.
  • I haven’t found a man that makes me want to share my closets.
  • My husband must still be married to his first wife.

Past dates have also supplied reasons for my single status.

  • “You’re too independent.”
  • “You’re not vulnerable enough.”

And…

  • “Your ovaries are too old.”

Okay, my blind date didn’t say that to me. To me he said, “Do you want to have children?”

“Sure, but I’m in no hurry, I have plenty of time,” I replied.

“You’re over 30, I wouldn’t be too sure,” he said. Then to the manicurist, who fixed us up, he said I was reproductively undesirable.

I married for the first time when I was 48-years old to someone I had known, on and off for 12 years. Being so use to the “why aren’t you married” question I was caught off guard when post-wedding a twice-divorced college friend of mine asked: “Why did you get married at this point in your life?”

I didn’t have a quick answer to this two-part question. Why get married, period? Why get married when you’re past child bearing and rearing age and all the benefits of a relationship can be had without marriage? Why not?

“I married for love and adventure,” I answered.

Marriage was one of life’s great adventures that I had never experienced. Not even pretend experienced. I had never lived with a man before I married. I’m not even sure a man ever stored a toothbrush or razor at my apartment before I married. Not that I’m against co-habitation before or instead of marriage but merging without a contractual commitment never made sense to me, especially as I got older and bought, decorated, and lived in my space in my way. Control is my friend. Why would I give it up without a license?

The Man-Who-Would-Become-My-Husband and I met on a blind date when I was 36 and he was a 48-year old, divorced, father of a college-aged daughter. I wanted children and wondered if he wanted more. I broached the subject while kissing.

“Do you like children?”
“Of course, I have a daughter.”
“I mean would you have any more?”
“I could but…”
“You could, good.”
“Isn’t it a bit early to be talking about babies?”

Yes, it was. We dated maybe five times over the course of the summer and the relationship faded as summer did. His impression lingered, though. In my journal where I summed up each man I dated with three words, The Man-Who-Would-Become-My-Husband got four: “handsome, intelligent, good cook.”

Fast-forward eight years to a charity art auction. A small event, maybe 75 people. Hoping to meet men, a girlfriend and I dressed up in leather skirts and boots and headed off to an up-and-coming but not-quite-there-yet Chicago neighborhood. I walked in the room and stopped cold.

“What?” my friend asked.

“See that man over there,” I threw my head to the left and described a tall man with salt and pepper hair, blue eyes, and a blonde on his arm. “I went out with him years ago and just never called him back.” I told my friend that he was the only man I had dated – if five dates constitutes dating –to whom I wished I had given more of a chance.

“He was such a man,” I said, “and I was used to boys.” He told me jokes in German and knew about art past the Impressionists. We danced in Greek restaurants, to Natalie Cole in my den, and to the music in our heads on the deck off his bedroom. But I let him go.

That night I bought a piece of art that I didn’t like just to spend time talking to him at the auction table. I made sure he had my telephone number and the following week we went to dinner and he did not ask, “Why aren’t you married?” I learned that he had just started seeing someone in London and I told him about a budding relationship of mine with a man who lives in Wales.

For the next two years we casually went out to dinner when we were both in town. His cross-Atlantic relationship ended before mine. For a year he patiently listened to me agonize over whether or not I should marry the man from Wales. Then one night on our way home from dinner, as he placed me in a cab, he said:

“I’ll dance at your wedding if you marry this guy but, if you don’t, I think we could have something special.”

The walk down the aisle didn’t come right away. My need for control tested and retested our relationship. I had to stop at the edge of the crosswalk; he waited a foot back from the curb. I needed to know exact directions to a location. He enjoyed the serendipity of getting lost and then found. But nothing was more irritating to him than my popcorn rule. I insisted on my own small, no butter popcorn on movie dates. He was perplexed and mildly put off. It was as if I had committed Dating Crime #1. If I couldn’t share something as inconsequential as popcorn could I share The New York Times crossword puzzle? The last squeeze of toothpaste? My 401K?

In my defense, I was used to buying my own movie ticket, my own Diet Coke, and especially my own popcorn. I’m not selfish. I just like to ration my popcorn so it lasts past the seventh preview and into the first half hour of the movie. If I share I can’t control the pace.

On one typical movie date night at Century Landmark Theaters, after we found seats in the front row behind the break in seats, he went to the concession stand.

“A small, no butter popcorn and medium Diet Coke for me, please,” I ordered.

He returned with two popcorns. One child’s size with butter for him and the jumbo tub of popcorn no butter for me. Jumbo, as in big-enough-to-feed-the-rest-of-the-audience, please-take-some-as-you-walk-by popcorn. Jumbo, as in see-how-ridiculous-it-is-to-insist-on-your-own-popcorn-when-you’re-in-an-intimate-relationship-with-someone popcorn. I got the message as well as everyone else in the movie theater.

So on the next movie outing, in a spirit of compromise and in an effort to see if I could live outside my control zone I agreed to share a medium no butter popcorn. Sharing that first box of popcorn was as stressful as I had imagined. His big hand, which never seemed big before, opened and closed like one of those claws in arcade games that try to grab a stuffed animal or plastic encased prize but never does. Similarly, his claw grabbed at kernels, nabbing some but losing more.

I watched him eat, his fist moving from bag to mouth, bag to mouth. Bits of popcorn decorated his sweater, staring at me, daring me to not pick them off. Popcorn shrapnel trailed from the box to my jeans to his jeans and beyond. I cleaned up after him, off of him and off of me.

If we were going to make it as a couple I needed to take control in a non-controlling way. I needed to take care of myself without hurting him. I spread a napkin over my lap and created a bowl like shape. I poured a large amount of popcorn out of the box into my makeshift receptacle and handed the box to him. I proceeded to slowly eat by the 1s, 2s and 3s, hoping that he would see this as behavior he should model.

He didn’t drop as much popcorn on our laps and I got the amount I needed. I squeezed his hand and said, “You know, this could work.”

A couple more years and a few more adjustments to coupledom passed before we married. Bit by bit my single behavior and habitat have changed.

· I like sleeping in a cool room.

· I shop, plan, and even cook diner to avoid meals of popcorn and wine.

· I have even relinquished control over the remote control and sometimes watch the military channel but draw the line at auto auctions and anything golf-related.

But some things will never change. I’m a night owl. He’s a morning lark. He buys in bulk, I buy just in time. I’m a planner. He’s the poster child for spontaneity or indecision, depending upon how I look at it.

One more thing will never change: My name.

This doesn’t bother my husband. “It’s a sign of the times,” he says. “My first wife won’t give up my name, and my second wife won’t take it.” As I see it, there are only so many adventures that can be accommodated in my middle age marriage.

 


 

9657817_origJulie Danis is a former advertising/marketing executive, Chicago Tribune workplace columnist, and radio commentator for American Public Media’s Marketplace program. She is currently am a freelance write and teaches Consumer Insight at Northwestern University’s Medill School.

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