Reflections on a full life and an empty home.
For as long as I’d known I was into women, I wanted to get married. I wanted to gaze adoringly into the eyes of my soulmate, take her out for croissants on an overcast Sunday, walk beneath the skyscrapers with her talking about the designated hitter and the way Nicolas Cage’s career nosedived after Leaving Las Vegas, and maybe string enough of those halcyon Sundays together, for enough years in a row, that it would make logical sense for me to plunk down the cost of a surgical procedure on a ring that told other would-be suitors to back the fuck off.
I wanted to plan a ceremony — not too large, but just enough for me to remember that there are a sizable chunk of people who care about my own happiness enough to fork over the cost of a plane ticket to wish us well as we started this new chapter in our lives — that satirized the Wedding Industrial Complex and all the odd trappings that go into crafting the idyllic most-Instagram-worthy and Pinterest-y moments, where women tear up at how beautiful the ceremony is and how graceful the bride looks, and fellas back-slap me and tell us how much we “deserved” each other, and how now that we’d gotten the business of crafting fully functional lives separately, we could kick off our joint venture in the most romantic, light-hearted way possible. There’d be a Biggie and Pac side of the church instead of the Bride and Groom side, the music would be wall-to-wall New Jack Swing and Gangsta Rap, the catering staff would monitor the Queso Fountain extra closely.
I started thinking about these things, and how ridiculous it sounds to want any of them — much less all of them — for the sake of commemorating the lifelong love I’d found. They are all patently strange. That we would go to such great lengths to prove to the world around us that, yes, we really mean it when we say “till death do us part” — nevermind the better than 54% chance we don’t actually mean it, but — what the hell — don’t let cold, hard statistics get in the way of the optics. How, after years upon years of watching friends and friends of ex-girlfriends pair off and settle down, how it would be just so damned nice if they all came back around that one time to celebrate the most hard-earned love of all: that of the eternally just-out-of-the-grasp bachelor finally finding someone who charmed him beyond a reasonable doubt, and that I hadn’t done enough in the intervening couple of years between meet-cute and aisle-walk to screw it up and watch her drift helplessly away.
Anyway, yes, I used to think I wanted a wedding. I thought about it a little more, and I realized I only wanted a reason for people to gather around and celebrate me before my funeral.
Wedon’t celebrate single people enough. There are no toasts for bachelors. No ceremonies for maids. Only the relentless march of time, ebbing and flowing, paved in Netflix and nachos, fueled by the beer in our fridge and the coffee in our french press. I often wonder what my best man would say about me, gun to his head, as he put his one hand on my shoulder while his other held up a microphone, and he was forced to say nice and/or embarrassing platitudes to a small lake of people I care about. Then I remember my best man probably would’ve been my brother, and we don’t talk much anymore, and that — if he was even invited to the ceremony at all — he’d probably tell me about the six separate occasions he fantasized about ending my life with an uncomfortable degree of seriousness. Silence would engulf the ballroom. And I’d remember, again, that I’m an asshole not deserving of someone’s lifelong affection and support.
I’m soon-to-be 35. And if 17 years is the unofficial American Long Count Unit — and you move through those units like a five-act play and your narrative arc proceeds as child, young adult, adult, elder, taxpayer burden — I’m finishing up Act II, and I’ve just spent all my young adulthood trying, and failing, to find someone willing to put up with my narcissism, on-again/off-again poverty, and occasional fits of depression and anxiety, at least just long enough where they’d entertain the thought of going all-in for a lifetime. I realize that time has come and gone. That the window of living the life of Great American Domestic Bliss has closed. The target demographic is always 18–34. The kids I thought were too young to know better are now sending their youngins off to elementary school. The ones who waited until they got their proverbial shit together are now posting pics of their spawn posing with jack-o-laterns and Santa Claus, and they can all formulate sentences better than I could at 23. And all of these swooning couples seem to send each other super-cute tributes on their anniversaries and birthdays. Of course, I’m comparing my game film with their highlights, so it’s entirely possible they spend the majority of their downtime arguing over who’s turn it is to be designated driver or who’s taking which kid to soccer camp on which morning. That’s basically 98% of our lives, anyway: arguments, champagne and soccer camp.
That’s not to say I haven’t fallen in love. I absolutely have. Several times over. My high school sweetheart would’ve probably been the smartest choice to double-down on, she was kind and smart and disarmingly beautiful, but I felt I was too young and hadn’t done enough living yet.
I dated a woman in my early 20s for over two years, and we laughed a lot, but she had this unshakable paranoia that I’d leave her for another woman, and that got real irksome to the point where I had to literally leave her in a high speed chase down the Kensington Expressway on a warm summer evening a decade ago.
I fell for another woman in my late 20s who I dated for nearly four years, and she had a good family life and a level head on her shoulders, but she felt too safe and too (literally) distant (she lived over an hour away) and could occasionally be cold and maybe I didn’t want to uproot my entire life (again) to take that on.
And, yeah, I fell for another woman in my early 30s who was an absolute riot, a self-reliant polymath with a particular set of social gifts that lit up every room of every size, but I ended up losing my sense of self and trampling all over her sense of boundaries and so she left without saying goodbye, the way you would if you were trying to escape a hostage situation. That one’s on me. I’ll take that L.
I’m not incapable of love, but I do appear to be incapable of closing the deal, or make spending a lifetime of partnership and romance seem like a good enough idea that we’d at least give it a trial run long enough to say “I do” in front of a crowd and an open bar. I didn’t grow older, or wiser, or together with another a human. I was just young, until I wasn’t.
Which of course leads me to think something is “wrong” with me. Which, unless you’re new to this Medium page, you’re probably well aware that there is plenty “wrong.” I’m self-aggrandizing, self-deprecating, self-flagellating, paranoid, neurotic, anxious, eccentric, not-in-the-best-physical-shape, and occasionally in over my head with strong booze and fast women. On their own, these are all minor turnoffs. Taken together, they’re mate repellent. So I’ve spent Act II distracting myself with other things: building a successful career, pursuing my passions, cooking, traveling, running, charity work, playing music, taking up photography, doing speaking engagements, throwing myself into my side-businesses, making my own hot sauce and planting my own herb garden. And then I woke up with less hair than I thought I had, and more grays among the ones that remained than I expected, and a bit more dough in the middle than I remember eating. So perhaps something is wrong. Unless nothing is.
But now I don’t feel compelled to right those wrongs. And I don’t want to pair off and tie the knot just for the sake of feeling “complete.” Every other goal I’ve ever set for myself has been completed. All the other boxes are checked. And yet when I got up to the top of the mountain, and raised my hands in joyous triumph, I turned back around and realized no one could see me, and no one could hear me scream — everyone else was on top of the other mountain, tearing up at each other’s success, and toasting each other with champagne.
I’m still here, after all, in my one-bedroom condo in a nice city, with a cat and a career and a couple thousand loyal readers, still trying things like squid ink as a steak marinade, and making plans to climb rocks in the desert, and getting my musings scooped up by massive websites who think my words are pretty great. And it’s all nice, and it fills me up, and it at the very least gives me stories to tell. But I wonder if my parents wished I would’ve settled down instead. I wonder if they look longingly at pictures of my friends’ children and wanted to cash in all the stories I’ve told for just one grandchild. I wonder how many of my friends think I’m a failure to some degree because the lone wolf life chose me. I wonder what percentage of my ex-girlfriends breathe sighs of relief that they’ve dodged a bullet, and how close that percentage really is to 100.
There was a time when I wanted to get married. Yes, I wanted to find a woman I’d fall so deeply in love with that dolphins would rise from the ocean just to sing our praises, and that every morning we’d be greeted by a rainbow on our morning run, and that even in our darkest moments where we’d cuss each other out over locking the front door by the knob instead of the deadbolt, that we’d still remember there was no place we’d rather be and surely no one we’d rather be nowhere with. I wanted that. When I was young. And if there’s one thing I’m not anymore, it’s that.
Instead, I would still very much like to feel some kind of lifelong affinity toward one person in particular, a person who felt that same feeling back at me, and just see how long we can ride that out and see if we can drag the thing into Act V with all four wheels still on it and the motor still running. It’s work, but it feels like rewarding work, and it sure as hell beats loneliness or settling for marrying someone who’s less than what completes you.
With the benefit of age, here’s what I’ve learned — I think: Rings feel like an incredible waste of money, weddings mean a lot less as you get older (the last one I went to, in particular, felt like a party for the youngs and I felt like the sorta uncool Uncle who was just there for the free booze and awkward dialogue), optics mean a lot more than they should, and a Queso Fountain is still a bomb-ass idea … though, you frankly don’t need a reason to have a Queso Fountain. Any occasion will do.
And, if I ever do trip and fall into marriage, I’m calling out every single one of you who doesn’t sit on the 2pac side of the room. That’s my side. And, dammit, if this ever really happens and the impossible comes true, I feel like I’m going to need as many of you people my side to celebrate it with me as possible.
by John Gorman
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