black hole

January 6, 2010

things are afoot, people. wedding-type things. and since it’s my best friend who’s getting hitched, and we talk about it a lot, lately I’ve been thinking a lot about marriage and commitment and the purpose of marriage (versus just saying “let’s stay together!”) and probing the gaping wounds in my soul and trying to figure out why, for real, I don’t really want to get married.

I’ve always said that I don’t feel the need to get married because I’m not religious and I don’t feel like I need some external validation of my relationship. I understand the legal reasons for marriage, the legal and civil (even financial) protections it offers a couple, but I never felt like those reasons were particularly important to me. I used to be kind of militant about the whole topic (ah, the militancy of youth), but I’ve relaxed in recent years. I like the idea of weddings as an opportunity to bring your family and friends together to celebrate your new family, and I figured that if I ever met someone and it became an issue, I’d get married if it really mattered to him.

however, I’ve been forcing myself to really think about these things, and I think part of my hesitancy is that the idea of standing up in front of a bunch of people seems so public, and it scares the shit out of me. so I thought, well why is that? I mean yes, I hate public speaking, but come on, it’s a wedding. for any reasonable person, “fear of public attention” would be a minor issue, hardly worth considering not getting married, ever for.

I think the real fear here is that when you stand up in front of everyone you know and look at this other person and swear to him that you will love him forever, that you want to create a new family with him, there’s this terrifying sense of permanence and vulnerability. holy crap, saying how I feel in front of 100 people! there have been times in the past when I could not say such a thing to the person I was in a relationship with. how will I survive such a public display of emotion? the part of me that is terrified of rejection at all costs envisions this scenario and sees it ending with mockery and abandonment. which, again, is not the vision most people have of how their wedding ceremony will go. it’s also fairly implausible, and the logical part of my mind is fully aware of that.

the problem, of course, is that my logical mind is not in charge on this topic. my logical mind would like to be in charge, but it’s been beaten into submission by a freakish cycle of fears relating to failure/rejection (like every type-A perfectionist, I believe that failure = rejection). unlike the commitment-phobes of pop culture, I don’t worry about being tied down, unable to play the field. I don’t fret about becoming bored with my spouse. my fears of commitment are actually fears of failure. if you’re just with someone, and you break up, it’s sad, especially if you were together for a long time, but it’s not really a big deal in some public sense. regardless of your private commitments, to society you were only ever “just dating.” but once you’ve taken that step to stand in front of everyone and make promises, then a break-up becomes a divorce. it becomes a public failure. everyone has ex-boyfriends, not everyone has ex-husbands.

now, I’m not saying this is objectively true, or saying it to be cruel. I have nothing against divorced people (cue the “some of my best friends…” litany). I don’t think divorce is a social ill. hell, I wish my parents had stayed divorced. I’m just saying that in my mind, if I were to get divorced, I would perceive it as a massive, public failure on my part.

so, so far, we have fear of abandonment and fear of public failure, but there’s a third fear here, too, that of turning into my family. my relatives, by and large, seem to have no problem getting married and divorced. I don’t want to be like them, and if I get married and then I fail, if I get divorced, then I’m just another in a long line of women who made foolish mistakes. I cannot tell you how often I have described various women in my family – including my mother – as strong and tough, but with absolutely terrible taste in men.

like everyone in the entire history of ever, I have, in the past, made some questionable relationship decisions. but instead of taking these as par for the course, youthful mistakes, learning experiences, or any other reasonable thing, I seem to be taking them as solid proof of some genetic inability to date guys who are good for me. my last “relationship” did nothing but cement this idea. so now, when I’m actually interested in guys, I don’t pursue it. I mean, I’ve never exactly been what one would call aggressive in pursuing men, but lately it’s like I distrust every man I’m attracted to. I assume that if I like him, he’s bad news (at least for me). I won’t take whoever comes my way just so I don’t end up alone, and I don’t want to be trapped in an unhealthy relationship, which are laudable goals, but I can’t seem to find the happy medium. I don’t trust my own judgment, so I don’t trust myself to be in a decent relationship. and in my warped little mind, if I don’t actually do something like legally, publicly marry a dude, then there’s still hope that I’m not one of those women, the kind that make people shake their heads, roll their eyes, and say “smart girl, but stupid about men.”

bottom line: as I said to a friend recently, when we were discussing this very topic, underneath all my liberal hipster ideological posturing about outdated social institutions, I am a fucking pussy.

well then, where to go from here? step one: identify the problem. check. step two: find a solution. somewhat more complicated. at this point, some of you are probably thinking get thee to a therapist, nutcase. and you would not be entirely wrong. after all, my crazy fucking fears didn’t just appear out of thin air. there is, presumably, a root cause. and I know what it is (bet you do too!). but I am resistant to therapy, partly out of pure stubbornness, by which I mean I like to think that I can figure this all out by myself (or at least with the help of a blog).

there’s also this part of me that finds this all completely ludicrous. it’s not bad enough that my fears are so trite and cliché – half the time I feel like a broadly drawn character from a trashy mass-market paperback – but OMG daddy issues to boot! while half of me is a cringing mess of neuroses, the other half is rolling her eyes and saying “get over yourself and get it together.”

and then there’s the real reason, underneath it all, why I am unwilling to deal with the root cause: I am deeply resentful of it. it isn’t fair that he gets to walk out and abandon me and then his absence casts this pall over my life. it isn’t fair that I have this gaping hole inside me that colors how I view my relationships. it isn’t fair that he gets this power over me.

is this a stubbornly childish way to view the situation? absolutely. but, once again, logic has left the building. there’s a part of me that believes if I don’t admit to this, if I don’t actually say out loud, in words, that my dad’s abandonment fucked me up to the point that I am rather distrustful of most people, and terrified of being vulnerable to anyone, than it isn’t actually true. and if it isn’t true, isn’t real, then I don’t have to deal with it.

I know that one day I’m going to have to face this, pierce the wound and let the pus out, or whatever less-gross analogy you’d like to use. certainly this past year has been forcing me to face it more than I had previously. but I’m still not ready.


One comment

  1. I’ll write you an email that addresses this in more detail, as it deserves, but here I just wanted to say that I don’t know how anyone can decide on what they would do in circumstances they haven’t faced yet. What does ‘I want (or don’t want) to get married.’ mean? Whatever it means it has little to do with the concrete ‘I want to marry Joe-Bob.’ Until you’re with the person that makes you feel it, of course the idea doesn’t make any god-damned sense. Otherwise it is just an expression of your vanity. (not yours, you understand, “one’s”) Same with kids. Context is all. So you haven’t met anyone you want to marry yet. It doesn’t mean you’re incapable of it– it just means the question isn’t real yet. Often we think our way into prisons that aren’t really there. We can think our way out as well, once we admit that. Hamlet said the same thing, basically, and everything worked out all right for him, eh?

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