There is a decidedly frustrating “pressure to partner” that exists in nearly every generation. Christian M. Lyons declares that it ‘ain’t necessarily so.’
There’s a woman I know who is in her late sixties. We’ll call her Betty. She was put up for adoption as an infant and, along with her sister, were taken in by a lovely couple in Nebraska. The girls were raised lovingly and with everything they could’ve hoped for in their new environment.
Betty was born with osteoarthritis, and from the time she was in her teens, has walked with a metal brace on one or both of her legs. Despite that debilitating factor, she has led a very full life. She learned how to manage money from her adoptive father, who was a financial wizard of sorts. Because of her lifelong lessons, Betty knew how to handle herself, especially in an era when strong women were frowned upon. When she divorced her third husband after he calmly announced from his easy chair exactly how he was going to kill her, she decided she’d had enough with men who believed – like many men and women from certain generations – that a woman’s place was in the home, waiting on their men hand and foot.
Betty possesses an amazing intellect. It puts mine to shame. In her career, she became the very first female City Clerk for a local municipality. The first time she applied for the position, she discovered that they were considering her for the position, but at nearly 60% less salary than the man before her had earned. She stood up and demanded that she be paid the same wage. The city declined, and passed her over for an outside candidate. Male. Because of her refusal to take a demeaning “woman’s wage,” she waited for 15 more years before the city council agreed to put her in that seat, at full wages. There, she was the City Clerk for more than 30 years.
She retired 15 years ago with full pension, and drawing the full amount of her considerable financial portfolio.
I have the honor of sharing breakfast with her every Saturday. We talk and laugh for hours. She’s an excellent storyteller as well as kind and caring. Even at near-70, she is still the strong, self-respecting person she’s been her entire life. Despite the fact that she now must walk with an aluminum walker and endure infusions every five weeks in order to keep the arthritis at bay – well, as much as it can be, that is – she’s fully self-sufficient. She smokes, she cusses, and drives her late model Cadillac perhaps a bit over the speed limit. These are only some of the endearing qualities she possesses. She resembles in appearance my deceased grandmother, whom I adored and respected in the highest order. And we’re friends.
She’s been fiercely single for twenty-five years, and we each share that theory: that we’re much better off on our own than we are partnered. Our philosophies are derived from very personal and different life lessons, but the end result is the same.
Betty loves to tell the story of her late dog, Tinkerbell. She says, “That dog had me wrapped around her paw so tightly, it’s a wonder I could breathe!” There’s the twinkle of tears in her eyes at the memory. “She’d tell me to jump, and I’d ask her ‘How high?’ But if a man ever told me to jump? I’d tell him to jump up his own ass, and then hand him the divorce papers.”
She’d laugh every time, and though I hear the story every week, I still laugh, because it’s so her.
“I was married three times,” she’d tell me. “That last one, Homer, I almost didn’t survive. If I hadn’t had the gumption to call the police, I’d probably be buried in the back yard right now.” The story has the ease of practiced telling. I don’t mind hearing her tales, as they’re always engaging.
People of earlier eras – the 20s through the 60s – were expected to get married, settle down, have kids, and live out the American dream. Neither Betty nor I have ever subscribed to that idea. Me, because I pretty much raised my 13 siblings single-handedly and by the time I left home at the age of 14, had already decided that I didn’t want another family to raise. I’m happy with my dogs, thank you very much. Betty’s reasoning is obvious. She’s her own boss, and doesn’t like anyone telling her what to do or how to think. However, in our fierce independence, both Betty and myself meet with quite a bit of opposition. There are more times than I can recount that a well-meaning acquaintance decides I need a wife, and sets out to make it so. Betty receives the same insistence, especially from eligible older men who mistake “wife” for “house maid.” It’s spectacular to see her put these men in their ego-inflated place every time. They shuffle away, deflated, and she laughs at their retreat.
“I don’t understand it,” she says. “Why in the world would I want to have someone ordering me around twenty-four hours a day? As it is now, I eat when I want and what I want. I watch the programs I want to see, and I keep my own hours. And none of it is dictated by the whining of another. These men don’t want true partners, they want the memory of their mommies. Well, I’ll be dead before I ever allow that to happen again.”
I believe her.
What is this innate pressure to partner that seems to invade every aspect of our lives? I’ve had roommates, girlfriends, and one-night stands. But I knew I would never marry. In the fifties, I’d be called a “confirmed bachelor,” which since has become a euphemism for a closeted gay man. I don’t mind the designation, as I find no onus in being considered gay OR a bachelor. It’s the life I have chosen. But those who cannot seem to accept my decision tend to interfere. And it’s really quite frustrating and annoying. Like many of my gay male friends whose poorly intentioned friends and relatives claim that they “just haven’t found the right woman,” I hear that sentence at least once or twice a week, aimed directly at my confirmed bachelorhood.
Why is it so difficult a concept to accept that an individual doesn’t want to partner? Why does society insist that we be like everybody else?
For awhile, when same-sex marriage was being fought for around the world, I stood up against it. I felt that no one should be pressured to partner. Just because we can doesn’t mean we should. It’s not for everyone.
I have since changed my tune, seeing that it’s about the right to marry a same-sex partner and enjoy the same benefits that separate-sex couples enjoy, and not about pressuring anyone to marry.
I hear, You must get lonely, and I know just the woman for you too many times. What, are people like Betty and me a challenge to the status quo? There are millions of men and women eager to get married in the world. It appears that we non-partnered elders are a special commodity among others of a similar age.
Not everyone wants a partner. That doesn’t make us lonely, or sad, or depressed, or weird – though we get called that far too often. We’re not ill, either mentally or physically. We simply have come to understand that we’re not the partnering kind. It happens.
In 2013, TV Land premiered a new reality show called “Forever Young.” This concept had a group of octogenarians become roommates with a group of millennials to see how both groups would approach their misperceptions of the others. I thought it was an excellent concept, as, by the end of the first (and I believe only) season, many friendships had been created. There were several hilarious episodes where generational dating tips were traded. At the end of the day, though, what this show pointed out, and pretty glaringly, is that all generations “should” be partnered.
Just like we don’t go around telling married people that they connected with the wrong partner for them, why do others feel it’s appropriate to point out the fact that (1) I’m not currently partnered, and (2) that I need to be?
The pressure to partner appears to be ageless. Mothers and fathers hold those expectations for their children. Then their children hold similar expectations for their children, and so on. Like we are slowly becoming more accepting of same-sex partners, so should we be more accepting of those who choose not to partner.
Betty is one of the better people I have ever met. She’s what others of her generation would call “a real catch.” Though our politics and certain generational beliefs do differ at times, we’re far more willing to meet each other halfway on those topics. There is no underlying tension to our friendship, because we both agree on the fact that we’re intentionally single. We do not “need” a date, a partner, a spouse, a significant other, or any of the misconceptions that come with them. Many have implied that Betty and I are in fact partners…but those implications don’t upset us. In fact, we laugh privately about it, calling it the “Harold and Maude” effect. As long as they believe – however mistakenly – that both of us are otherwise taken, the sooner they’ll stop trying to partner us up with their uncles, aunts, grandmothers, or grandfathers.
Photo: Leonardo Shinagawa/Flickr