Over at Salon.com, Alexandra Gelfenbein has written — “But Mom, what if I don’t want to get married?” — about how one learns to be single in a sea of advice about how to get and keep a man. At 27, she’s tempted to keep her Russian Jewish mother happy by continuing to date a nice Jewish lawyer who looks good on paper but leaves her cold every time she kisses him. Her mother likes to say things like, “And you wonder why you aren’t married yet?” and give her lots of helpful advice, like that she shouldn’t introduce any of her prettier friends to prospective suitors. (Oh, moms!)
But this isn’t really a story about Gelfenbein’s mom or even moms everywhere. Scanning her bookshelf, full of titles about how to avoid ending up single, Gelfenbein wonders if she’ll ever find a dude that, when he talks about a shared future, doesn’t make her feel queasy. Is she dating the wrong dudes or can you be happy and single — forever?
She writes: “There are so many good reasons to choose being single even when you have men at your doorstep, asking you to do otherwise. There is the radical notion of pursuing what makes you happy. And there is, of course, the desire to avoid being a statistic. If you move in or get married to someone in a panic state (or on the advice of a book), the likelihood is you’ll become part of the charming 50-percent divorce rate. Then again, stay single until you’re pushing 30 and people start checking their watches and tapping their feet impatiently.”
Even though I’m — cough, cough — a few years older than Gelfenbein, I really don’t feel much external pressure to get married. But I do often feel personally ambivalent about getting all coupled up. While so many of the people I know look for partners like they’re trying to fill a job vacancy, I’ve never felt incomplete while single. (But I have often felt nauseous while coupled.)
The reality of a ticking biological clock has certainly propelled plenty of men and women into relationships that are just “good enough.” And, no doubt, for some that’s enough to offer them a level of contentedness they can live with. After all, we all make choices we think we can live with. But for some, the idea of setting up a life with someone who will do — rather than someone who rattles the core — is unfathomable.
True, it can be a waiting game where time is not always on your side. But if you know yourself well, and know what truly makes you happy, you can’t settle for anything else. And in the meantime, Gelfenbein suggests adopting George Clooney’s apparent mantra: “It’s my life, I’m having fun. Any questions?”