Annie Lalish left a marriage to a good man because she didn’t think she was ready. But what does that even mean?
As my first marriage drifts off into the horizon, there are a lot of issues I’m trying to sort out. I left a very good man for a very vague and pretty selfish reason: I hadn’t had enough time on my own. I felt as though I was not yet fully formed, that I didn’t know what I wanted or how to discover that from within the marriage. We had gotten married young and fast; we were best friends. I knew I had more discovering and self-exploration to do but the framework of a marriage felt too confining for me to really be able to enact those (vague, unnameable) things.
I got caught up in all the things I felt I had missed out on: living on my own or with girlfriends, studying abroad; being a single, independent adult, and traveling on my own. Admittedly, I was blinded by self-pity. And now, outside of the relationship I have been going over and over in my mind about whether or not I could have figured out a way to grow and change and explore my sense of self from within it. I have been wondering about the actual value of independence, of the Self, and of being single.
Marriage is clearly changing in this country, it is diversifying in form and process. Is a sense of independence now a requirement for a lasting marriage? Do we really consider a decade or more of being single as a prerequisite for being able to commit to one person for the rest of our lives? Clearly people enter into marriages from all sorts of backgrounds and experience, but the trends are also clear in this country. We are putting marriage off in favor of establishing ourselves first as individuals. I am not suggesting that this is a bad trend, only questioning its ultimate value. I think about the fact that there will be less and less 50 and 60-year marriages, like some of us have seen from our grandparents’ generation. And maybe that means that we have healthier, happier married people now than sixty years ago. I hope that’s the case, anyway.
During my marriage I returned to college after a hiatus of two years, took on a second major in Women’s Studies (in addition to Sociology) and became a feminist. I am still, not surprisingly, still discovering what that means for me. I do not believe that women need to “take over” the world from men, or that we should simply replace men in traditionally male roles and careers. Equality is more important to me than gaining some sort of power in society.
Becoming a feminist, however, did lead me to question the fact of being a wife and having become one fairly young, at 22. I thought a lot about my grandmother, how she got married in the 1940’s at 21 because that was basically her only option. Marriage was expected of her at that age and she didn’t have much access to other opportunities. The little I’ve been able to get her to talk about in regards to being a wife and stay-at-home mother does not indicate that she regrets her life. She misses my grandfather deeply; he passed away about ten years ago. They had one of those 50-odd-years long marriages. She does, however, talk repeatedly about her year in Washington. She moved there to work as a typist for the FBI, she lived in a house with a handful of other young women and went dancing nearly every night. Sailors and soldiers were plentiful, and she loved to dance.
The story simply conveys a feeling of wonder, of excitement and adventure. She doesn’t say she regrets moving back to Duluth and getting married and pregnant in the same year. But when I was married I would think about her story and all of the opportunities I had access to compared to what was available for women in the 1940’s. I felt like I had not explored all of the advances for women that the feminist movement had opened up. I felt like I had squandered a fortune. I had the opportunity to live and travel on my own, to create a life for myself and yes, to establish myself as an individual and I had given it up. I had given it up for one of the best men I’ve ever known, I have to say, but it was given up nonetheless.
Marriage felt like a trap to me, a trick coffin for a lousy magician. I panicked, and I got out. As I write this I am not proud of that fact or how it all went down. I feel some sense of relief, but I also have so many questions and “what-if’s” running through my brain. I am not cynical towards marriage. Someday I hope to be able to create a healthy, loving and long-lasting partnership. My goal is to be more knowledgeable about what it takes to foster such a relationship the next time I attempt such a feat. I am mourning the loss of a great love, a wonderful man, and risking possibly never meeting anyone as truly good as he is. I have to believe that my desire to learn, to do better, to be as good of a woman in comparison will lead me to another chance.
photo: CdnMathTeacher2009 / flickr