It happened on the way to Culver’s, of all places. The kids were in their car seats and I was listening to the radio on a short jaunt just up the street to meet my parents for dinner. My daughter and I had just returned back from 4 days at Disney and my parents were leaving the following day for a snowbird trip. At that single moment, I was so sick of the phrase, “I’ve waited my whole life…”
I started reflecting in 5 years, how different it all seemed. Always engaged, never married. But perhaps, that was such a blessing. I can’t remember if it was a song lyric, or a commercial, but someone said, “I’ve waited my whole life to find my husband.” I crinkled my nose. I remember maybe saying that once, to someone I truly loved. At the time I meant it. I’m sure I did. Maybe it’s the older woman in me, but I thought the saying now seemed so trite. If I had spent my life waiting for someone, I wouldn’t have lived in the way I promised myself I would.
I looked back at my children in the car. My son was kicking his Lightning McQueen shoes off while singing something in the language only known as: toddler. My daughter was looking out the window and focusing on the scenery going by. I never, thought my life would evolve into what it did. Cancer three times. Two children from two failed relationships. A successful career. My own existence.
I think we can date successfully, without it leading to marriage. I think I can be successful in a relationship, while still breaking up. I can be a great mom, while being single. I can be a wonderful partner, without living in the same house. I can be a fantastic co-parent, without letting a failed relationship dominate each parental decision.
Daring to say, “I’m happy,” without being married, or in a successfully-committed relationship seems to bring out the advice and judgement. Just earlier this week someone asked me when I was going to, “just get married.” Marriage for so long was the end goal. It complicated my entire existence with the dualism of both how close and how far it seemed.
My parent’s downstairs closet boasts 2 wedding dresses and 4 failed engagements. The dresses reflect who I thought I was at the time of their purchase. One, a simple fold-over, a-line satin gown. The other Swarovski crystals and gathered pleats off to the left side. For engagements three and four, I never bought dresses. I thought it was a waste of money and surely, I’d need to fix my track record- first. Turns out, life happened exactly how it was meant to. The brutal lessons I learned, the incomprehensible sadness and regret- turned into something else in my thirties. I stopped waiting for someone else. I started investing into my business and the energy I spent dating, fixing relationships or trying to get the ring, was spent in making money and fighting cancer to make a difference.
Four broken engagements could be viewed as failures to some, I suppose. Friends were kind, extended family was less so. I entered full-spinster mode with two brilliant co-pilots, who at the ages of 9 and 2 are miraculous little examples of how a very awkward and socially-unacceptable twists of fate can be humbling- to say the least. In my Irish-Catholic family, I have no doubt that I’ve been the focus of gossip. Letting go of those who merely only sent occasional birthday cards and said they loved me on holidays brought absolute freedom.
The harder battle was reconciling with myself that the house isn’t empty because there’s no one on the right side of the bed. The bed is not too big. The space is not too wide. The quiet is not too deafening. I’m not waiting my whole life- far from it. If I had merely waited, I would have missed some of my favorite moments which often sprung from prior failed relationships. And, I would have missed the growing and becoming, too. Far too often, I hear, “you’re just getting ready to find the best guy!” But frankly, I’m not. That seems like entirely too much work and a slap in the face to everything I’ve achieved. He might be out there, he might not. I may have more adventures in dating waiting for me. He’s hopefully having the time of his life and not obsessing over someone he doesn’t know yet.
I should have been married over 10 years by now- imagine that. It’s strange how in teens, my beliefs were black and white: Jesus. Marriage. Babies. My twenties brought all the questions: Why Jesus? Why Marriage? Why wait for babies? My thirties brought the peace and wisdom that knowing that I wasn’t going to be smited for my twenties- thankfully. My goal in this life is to let life teach me, without hardening me. I want to be curious, while still being focused. I want to be happy, while unattached. There won’t be a failed fifth.