Being single in my 40s feels quite different from being single in my 20s. I would say the main word to describe it would be "a relief". I am frustrated that I can't understand my mind set from my 20s.
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I recall a feeling that it was "wrong" to be single, and a yearning to be in a partnership. Each day as I travelled on the subway I would spend the journey checking women's ring fingers. Then an internal dialogue would ensue - "Well She's married and I'm much prettier than her" it was just a nirvana, it was a goal I desperately wanted to attain. I thought being married was a measure of how attractive and normal I was, and felt, I now cringe to admit, sorry for those who were not in that happy state by the time they were 25. I had no concept of people marrying for any reason other than love. In my mind, each and every one of these ringed creatures on the subway had been singled out, loved, and given the greatest gift life can bestow.
I thought marriage was the right way to exist. I didn't mind so much if the person was a soul mate. All I wanted was for someone, who I found attractive, and therefore could have sex with for 40+ years without gagging, to promise to love me for ever. In return I felt my status would rise. I would be a married woman and at length I would therefore have my own home and family and someone to share it with me through thick and thin. I assumed this would just follow. I was happy that we both should work outside the home to achieve this. That was the deal. But I had no idea how to make a man commit. Men were a mystery to me. None of them had ever been particularly emotionally close to me. It had all been rather superficial, teasing, flirting, having sex, talking about the news, politics....
Significantly money, or the ability to earn it, was not important to me in a mate. My Grandfather even said to me at one point "for goodness sake marry a man that can work". To me this sounded crass. Of course my boyfriend was a hard worker, and had the capacity, he was very young, and in time, like the rest of his family, he would find a profession that suited him.
If you had asked me I would've said "of course marriage takes work, it is a two way street both partners have to work at it" I would've also been quite happy to give myself over to this person in love. To really be there for them and be fiercely loyal to them.
In all of this however, no concept of a man providing a lifestyle ever entered into my head. Along with my Jane-Austen confused pretty-headed attitude to love and marriage, I nursed a strong feminist streak - I will never depend on a man, I will stand on my own two feet. In fact to look for that type of assurance would be wrong, sexist, and smack of grotesque inequality.
In this, I have since learned, I am somewhat unusual. Many, if not most girls are brought up to single out a good worker, and would not marry someone who was not. My time working in Asia underlined this most decidedly. A man's qualifications and earning capacity and assets are most definitely part of the package, and if I had read my Jane Austen properly, and listened to my Grandfather, I would've known that.
At this point, I might say though, I have an intuition. That there are many happily married women out there who went into marriage with this precise same mind set, and it worked out for them. Because they happened to pick (sorry, be picked by) the right guy, or they managed the one they did get well. They are happily celebrating their 25th wedding anniversaries none the wiser that this set of critical success factors were entirely the wrong set for picking a husband.
But back to me....
So in walks Simon. Simon pretty much exists for his own pleasure. And this girl who desperately wants to commit to him and give him a home and earn a living and is pretty and clever to boot certainly gives him pleasure. To date he has been rather unsuccessful in love because the other girls were looking for providers. He is pretty, there's no doubt about that, but he's also fairly dim, ineffective, combative, opinionated (without basis), irrational, stubborn and has a latent mental illness.
And in walks me... happy to settle, after all if you fancy someone, are prepared to work at it, and they're happy to commit, everything else will fall into place right? wrong! And so followed 16 years at the hands of an irrational dictator, where I bent myself into a pretzel to try to "make him" happy, and he subjected me to his whims, belittled all my dreams and milked me dry. Despite coming from a well-off family, and having a good education, he literally embraced poverty and actively rejected any form of providence or empire building rather he would give up jobs at the slightest provocation, live off my earnings in a rather louche style and yet always enjoy the best of everything - Italian mineral water, red wine, organic meat, pure new wool socks, skiing holidays...
Which, when reading that back, is what many women do, although they have child rearing as a focus. In the final analysis maybe he was a much better Elizabeth Bennet that me.