"Soooo... Are you guys planning to tie the knot?"
A friend at work, who saw it all go down last year when I first met my guy, hears me mention our 1-year anniversary and pops the question. The latest in a long line of friends who seem to think my relationship won't be complete until I a) move in with him and b) marry the poor man.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not mad. In the same way that we routinely ask people "So, what do you do?" defining ourselves always by our jobs when we really just want to get to know each other better, I know that my friends are really saying "Is it serious? Does he treat you well? Do you want to spend the rest of your life with each other?" They're thrilled for me: against all the odds and statistics this 'older' woman found love- and through online dating, at that! I am a rare and lucky bird, this I know. And well-wishers, the answers to your unspoken questions are: yes, YES, and Probably.
But here's the thing: my guy and I have absolutely no plans to live together, let alone get married. And you can scratch your heads and wonder why we choose not to 'commit' further, but let me tell you that we are truly happy in each other's company. Far too happy to mess up a good thing.
The luxury of being with someone later in life is that we have so much less to prove. We've already lived with lovers in a marriage-like setup (one of us had a partner's kid living-in as well). Back when we were younger we both thought about having kids, and both of us rejected the idea. As I pass through the last of my childbearing years I feel slightly aghast at the idea that I am-biologically speaking- old, but I have very few regrets about being childless. It was a road I decided not to go down, that's all. I love kids, and now that I'm a teacher I am delighted to be around them more, but my ovaries aren't pining to be used. As for cohabitation? Speaking for myself, I enjoyed living with someone for a while, but love became routine, small faults became large annoyances, and delight withered. He was a good one, the best, but the flame died.
There are so many practical reasons not to live with my person. We both have eccentric work schedules and often work- or don't work- from home. So we'd be constantly in each other's way. One of us is a bit of a workaholic (spoiler alert: it's not me). When we get together it's a break from our responsibilities and worries; if we lived together it would be an endless wrestling match between wanting to have fun and needing to get work done.
We aren't going to combine our financial resources- both of us are better off handling the ups and downs of those by ourselves.
And we're squeamish about swearing eternal love to one another, again because we're old, dammit. We've seen love come and go and we know that what we have now might not last forever. I mean, we both hope that it does, but one way that we can ensure that we are still in love year after year is not to force something that wouldn't be right for us.
You know, for so many years I was stuck in I should, and I wish and If only. What relationship could possibly survive the weight of so many expectations? I was unhappy with myself, and no man could waltz in and fix that. I left a long-term relationship. I had an short and emotionally brutal romance that left me bewildered that I could be so unhappy, since this was nothing I'd ever experienced before.
But when it ended, and I was wrung out, happiness poked its head out again like a sturdy little weed and I realized that for the first time I was truly content to be who I was, where I was. I realized that I could "smack my lips over life" (to quote a character from one of my favourite children's books). I can remember roaming the streets of Victoria when I was doing a show over there, incredulous that I could feel so wonderfully vital and alive and content to my very bones.
And that feeling never left. Through rough times and loneliness and poverty I was- and AM- so very happy to be me. I don't know if torturing myself through an unsuitable affair was the 'answer'- whether having been through the fire of being so unhappy with who I was I landed on the other side just happy to have made it through. Ironically this unsuitable lover was always telling me to lose my expectations, a suggestion I vehemently ignored. But when I did... sweet relief.
Which brings me to my current relationship, where I simply expect the non-negotiables: love, respect, happiness. All of which are delivered in spades.
Every relationship brings choices. I choose the one I can laugh with, the one whose body feels right pressed against mine, the one I can talk with on the phone and in person like I've never talked with anyone before. The one who celebrates our differences, listens to and remembers the things I say, who brushes off our arguments because he knows there's rock-solid love underneath. The one who needs the space of his own home just as I do. The one who chose not to have kids, just like me.
For those of you who are happily married, or who want that for yourselves, I salute you and I wish you well on your journey. But know that there is more than one way to live happily ever after, and my way won't include an "I do."